It’s been three years since Jeff Gural took control of the Meadowlands Racetrack, and he knew from the start it wouldn’t be easy.
He still feels that way today, but the horseman and real estate mogul feels he’s accomplished one key goal in his bid to reverse the fortunes of the historic East Rutherford venue:
“We had to downsize,” Gural said recently at the Meadowlands’ new state-of-the-art grandstand, which sits across the track from its predecessor and is about one-third the size of the 38-year-old facility it replaced.
“One thing we did right — we’ve got the right size,” he said. “Some people thought it was too small, but it’s not. It’s the perfect size, and the trick now is to try to get new customers and new people to bet. And that’s the harder part.”
Building the $85 million, 155,000- square-foot grandstand was Gural’s first step after state officials gave him the reins in 2011, following years of decline for the racing industry. NJBIZ spoke to him about what’s next for the historic harness racing venue.
NJBIZ: This grandstand opened just about a year ago. What are you doing to get the word out?
Jeff Gural: I hear all the time, ‘I used to go to the Meadowlands. My father, my grandfather took me and I haven’t been there in years’ — and they don’t even know that we built a new building. It’s not that easy to get the word out, although we’re really focusing on social media now. So I think we’ll really have a better idea in the spring when it gets nice.
We have a roof deck — (for) anyone who’s been up there watching the races, it’s really spectacular. We have an outdoor area with a terrific barbecue restaurant and stuff for kids to do, so I’m anxious to see what happens when the weather warms up again in a couple of months, if the effort that we’ve put into social media comes to fruition.
NJBIZ: You knew the challenges when you took over this facility. What are you still grappling with today?
JG: When the old place opened, all of the business was at the racetrack. So they would get 17,000, 18,000 people, because if you wanted to make a bet on a horse race, you had to come to the racetrack.
Now, if you want to make a bet, you have a lot of options open to you. You can come to the racetrack, but you can also bet over the phone or online, you can go to an OTW (off-track wagering facility). You can go to another racetrack and bet, so 90 percent of the money wagered on our product is bet somewhere else.