Monmouth Park, a gem of a racetrack, is fighting for survival and got some encouraging news recently. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear its arguments that the ban on sports betting, which Monmouth is hoping to introduce as a new revenue source, is unconstitutional. It might be overly optimistic that sports betting will be a life saver but it surely beats the alternative.

Monmouth Park is hanging on by a hoof nail So being in the vicinity on my trip north I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to visit the New Jersey track for the first time in years and hopefully not the last time.

I’m supposed to be the wordsmith but my brother-in-law said all that needs to be said: “You forget how nice this place is.” Something has to be done to keep this gem of a racetrack alive.

Saratoga is Saratoga. There never has and never will be anything like it. However, Monmouth is as close as anyone can hope.

The Jersey shore track could not be more family friendly. The top of the stretch area is more expansive than Saratoga’s. Even on a Saturday, late arrivals have no trouble finding a table with an umbrella to settle for the day. (In fairness, the backyard, while sizable, doesn’t approach the acreage of the Spa.)

As soon as you pass through the entrance gate, signs direct you to the “BYOB area.” Tough to get more friendly than that. There’s plenty to do for family members not totally consumed by racing. The day I was there, a chocolate and cheese festival was well attended. Someone told me that food truck days pack the place.

If you don’t want to tote a cooler, concession prices are exceptionally reasonable: $4 for a 16-once beer; $3 for a hot dog, $2 for a coffee or soda. I proved a point to myself that I have made here. Charge me $4 for a beer I’ll buy three or four. Charge me $7 or $8, I’ll buy none.

The ambiance is magnificent. The backyard paddock is well shaded and spacious enough that comfortable positions by the fence are easy to find, even if there are three or four in your party. Tables at the outdoor Lady’s Secret Bar, which overlooks the paddock, also were plentiful.

This seaside gem must not be allowed to follow Hollywood Park, Calder, Bay Meadows, Rockingham Park and other tracks into history.

Fortunately, a few days after my visit, it was announced that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether the quarter-century old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—a title as misleading as the Affordable Care Act--is unconstitutional. Monmouth has been fighting to overturn the ban on sports gambling as a new source of fans and revenue but has been thwarted in lower courts for almost a decade.

A sports bar with a zillion TV monitors and almost as many stools has been created just in case.

A verdict could be as much as a year away and it still could go the wrong way but at least there is hope. Opposition from the professional sports leagues is not as strident as it has been. The NFL and NHL are putting teams in Las Vegas without demanding that their games be taken off the betting boards.

The infamously hypocritical NCAA, which fancies itself the guardian of “student athletes,” is still adamant in its opposition even though it has no problem with a half-dozen holiday and post-season conference basketball tournaments in Sin City as well as a full slate of UNLV football and basketball-- all on the boards.

Sports betting should have been legalized long ago. Billions are going offshore and to illegal bookmaking operations because it hasn’t been legalized. Anyone who wants to get down can, yet not a penny is going to legitimate concerns.

However, for myriad reasons, sports gambling is not a magic bullet for Monmouth or other race tracks anxious to get into the game.

Sports betting is cash intensive. I suppose $5 and $10 bets will be accepted but $50, $100 or more is likely to be the norm.

Sports players are more likely to be horse players than those who sit in front on a slot machine, but it is churn killing, the lifeline of horse racing. Money bet sits dormant for more than three hours.

Also, it is not a reliable source of revenue. The house can lose. Over the long haul, it doesn’t happen often but if games on a given day or week go the wrong way, a huge deficit can occur.

A veteran sports book operator once told me that every race book’s nightmare is a Thanksgiving Day when all the favorites and overs hit, since this is the way the majority of the action falls. Super Bowl Sundays can and have also gone the wrong way big time for the house.

Speaking of Thanksgiving Day, another issue for Monmouth is the heaviest sports gambling occurs during times of the year when the track isn’t open for live racing—football in the fall and early winter and March Madness. So it’s questionable how many new horse players will be created. However this would not be the case at other jurisdictions sure to jump right into the sports betting pool if Monmouth's arguments prevail at the Supreme Court.

All credit to Monmouth for fighting for sports betting the right way, as in the legal way. But if the verdict comes down against it, Monmouth should just ignore it and go ahead. On July 1, Nevada became the eighth state to legalize recreational marijuana, which is still fully against federal law. To add insult, pot is sold openly in D.C., within smelling distance of the Capital. Another dozen or so states appear on the verge of following suit. The government has done nothing to stop it. There is nothing to suggest the response would be any different if New Jersey and other states started taking bets on sports.

Racing a ratings killer?

Phil Mushnick of the New York Post is the platinum standard for media commentary. An item in his column at the end of last week should be cause for concern throughout the racing industry.

Mushnick reported that Mike Francesa, the Big Kahuna of New York sports talk, got into a screaming match with his boss at WFAN, Mark Chernoff, over a disappointing ratings book.

The issue, Mushnick reported, was Chernoff blaming the ratings dropoff on Francesa spending too much time discussing the Triple Crown. Even if this is not the cause, that the head of the industry leader in the nation’s largest market thinks so is chilling because of the message it sends to the rest of the market and the ripple effect it could have nationwide.

Among racing’s many problems, abandonment of coverage by the media is one of the most troubling and harmful. As best I know, there is not a single newspaper outside Kentucky that still has regular racing coverage. New York, which used to have tabloid wars over which had more thorough racing coverage, has totally cut it out of the daily sheets.

It’s hard to draw new fans to a game about which little information and excitement is generated. Devising ways to restore at least some coverage ought to be high on the agenda at the annual convention in Arizona and the Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga, as well as in the media department of every race track.