Cherry Hill sportsbook plans on hold amid COVID-19 uncertainty

The long-standing plans for a retail sportsbook in Cherry Hills, New Jersey – a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – look dead in the water with a recent filing from the owner of a shopping center which was the former site of the Garden State Racetrack.

The notice filed to the US District Court of New Jersey stated that the operator “no longer wishes to pursue this action at this time”. According to the operator, the COVID-19 pandemic had a big role in the decision.

Attorneys for the Cherry Hills shopping center wrote in a statement, “Over the past several months, the parties had been negotiating a possible settlement of this action, without the assistance or participation of counsel. Up until recently, the settlement negotiations were continuing, and included numerous communications between the parties. The parties’ negotiations have since ceased. The ongoing global pandemic and the concomitant federal, state, and local restrictions have made it nearly impossible for Plaintiffs to open and operate a ‘bricks and mortar’ sports wagering facility for the foreseeable future.”

The claims were later withdrawn “without prejudice and without costs”. While that leaves a chance for another claim at a later date, that is unlikely to happen.

In 2018, the owners of the former Garden State Racetrack property were sued by the Cherry Hill Towne Center. This was after the US Supreme Court struck down Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 and thus legalized sports betting on a state-by-state basis.

New Jersey was quick to act, legalizing sports betting in June of 2018. This allowed for wagering on sports at the Atlantic City casinos, the three racetracks in the state, and the former racetrack properties of Atlantic City Racecourse and Garden State Park.

However, there was a 1998 covenant in place regarding the future sale of Garden State Park. It prohibited future owners of the property from allowing “horse racing, simulcasting, off-track betting, wagering activities, and gambling of any sort… anywhere on the GSP property”.

The clause in the covenant was termed “overly broad” by the Cherry Hill Towne Center and stated that there was no language that explicitly dealt with sports betting.

The final straw came in September of 2019 when, in a 20-page opinion piece, Judge Renee Bumb wrote that “the covenant can only mean exactly what it says” and that “sports wagering is a ‘sort’ of wagering”. However, she did conclude that a sportsbook at the site could happen but would have to be implemented by the former owners of GS Park Racing and Greenwood Racing.

The Cherry Hill property was a big prize until Pennsylvania launched its own sports betting industry in 2019. Since then, several sportsbooks have commenced operations at land-based casinos in the Philadelphia area.

Freehold Raceway in New Jersey is 50% owned by Greenwood Racing, which holds the right to decide if it is worthwhile to open a sportsbook in Cherry Hill.

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