Unless you just emerged from an extended hibernation, you’ve probably heard something about sports betting legalization.
In the most momentous shift in America’s gambling landscape since Atlantic City’s first casino opened in 1978, the United States Supreme Court has struck down the federal ban on sports betting.
But while you might hear people talking about heading to their local sportsbook some time soon, the situation isn’t that simple. While the nationwide ban (outside of Nevada that is) on sports wagering has been lifted, it’s up to individual states to legalize and regulate their own industries.
So far, only Delaware has gone live with legal sportsbooks, but New Jersey is ready to roll after signing its own bill into law this week. With the red tape finally out of the way, gamblers in the Garden State will soon have a smorgasbord of sports betting options to choose from.
On that note, I’ve put together this primer on New Jersey’s sports betting scene to help get you ready for the Garden State’s coming out party.
Whether you’re a local who wants to know how their favorite casino will handle the transition or a resident of one of New Jersey’s regional neighbors hoping to make a trip sometime soon – this guide will spell out everything you need to know about sports betting in New Jersey.
First things first.
Despite its status as a multibillion-dollar business – both in the Silver State’s legal sportsbooks and nationwide through underground wagering – betting on sports was banned on the federal level in 1992.
That year, then Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey – a former NBA basketball player turned three-term Democratic Senator – introduced the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in Congress. According to Bradley, an increase in point-shaving scandals plaguing collegiate sports needed to be addressed through firm federal legislation.
Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize PASPA, which banned sports betting altogether in 46 states, while offering Nevada a “grandfather” clause to exempt its existing legal industry. Three other states – Delaware, Oregon, and Montana – were offered limited exemptions allowing their respective state lotteries to offer “parlay card” games centered around predicting NFL football results.
With PASPA – also known as the Bradley Act – the recognized law of the land, sports betting remained illegal, but that didn’t stop states like New Jersey from mounting challenges.
In 2011, voters in the Garden State were faced with a simple question on their ballot – “should the state legalize and regulate sports wagering?”
When 64 percent of voters answered in the affirmative, state legislators set to work crafting and passing the Sports Wagering Act of 2012. Unfortunately, when the news broke about New Jersey’s attempt to legalize the industry, the nation’s five major collegiate and professional sports leagues – the NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL – filed a lawsuit against then Governor Chris Christie seeking to block the Act.
According to the leagues, New Jersey’s statewide law violated the federal authority of PASPA. The resulting court case, known as Christie v. NCAA at the time (and eventually Murphy v. NCAA after current Governor Phil Murphy replaced Christie), wound its way through the system for the next few years.
In each lower court ruling, judges found in favor of the leagues, declaring that New Jersey couldn’t expressly “authorize” sports betting due to PASPA. This language compelled lawmakers to pass a second Sports Wagering Act in 2014, with the new bill simply repealing statewide laws outlawing sports betting, and directing law enforcement to cease investigations and prosecutions related to the industry.
A second legal battle ensued between the state and the leagues, which managed to win every lower court and appeals ruling once again.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort, New Jersey petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to examine the case. In a surprising move, the Court agreed to take Christie v. NCAA, and oral arguments were heard in December of last year.
After months of deliberation, the Court issued a landmark ruling on May 14 of this year, finding 6-3 in favor of New Jersey.
Writing in the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito agreed with the state’s argument that PASPA violated the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the 10th Amendment’s anticommandeering doctrine, states have the right to regulate their own affairs in instances where Congress has not already done so.
Alito’s majority opinion was scathing in its rebuke of PASPA, and rather than simply amend the law, the Court repealed it altogether:
That provision unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do. And this is true under either our interpretation or that advocated by respondents and the United States.
In either event, state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress. It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals.
A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”
Just like that, the 26-year era of PASPA sports betting prohibition was over. States are now free to address sports betting legality as they see fit, and as mentioned already, Delaware became the first state outside of Nevada to accept a legal sports wager on June 5th.
As for New Jersey, after winning its seven-year legal struggle, the plan was to launch sports betting almost immediately – beating Delaware to the punch in the process. But just before the first sportsbook was to launch on Memorial Day, lawmakers decided to take a fine-toothed comb to their final sports betting bill.
The Latest Developments
That bill, known officially as AB-4111, was introduced by state senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) on the same day that the Court’s PASPA repeal was handed down.
Before the bill came to light, the original plan for New Jersey’s sports betting launch was set for Memorial Day, May 28th, at the Monmouth Park Racetrack in the city of Oceanport. That would’ve had New Jersey out in front of Delaware, but Sweeney wanted the state legislature to take one last look at the tax rates, licensing procedures, and other minutiae before making things official.
In a statement issued by his office to local media outlets, Sweeney explained why the delay was necessary to ensure the new industry’s eventual success:
I expect to have the sports betting legislation approved by the Senate at our next session on June 7th so that sports gaming in New Jersey is up and running as soon as the governor signs the bill.
New Jersey will continue to be the leader on sports betting but we want to ensure its long-term success with the right rules and procedures in place.”
Lawmakers settled on a tax rate of 8.5 percent on annual gross revenue from brick and mortar sports betting, while wagers placed online will be taxed at 13.5 percent.
AB-4111 also set up a licensing system whereby casinos in Atlantic City, as well as racetracks throughout the state, can apply to add sportsbooks onsite. That licensing system included waivers for licensed racebook operators, however, allowing venues like Monmouth Park and the Borgata casino, among others, to begin operating immediately.
The bill sailed through both houses of the legislature, and on June 11th, Murphy officially signed it into law.
After putting his pen to paper, Murphy issued the following statement celebrating New Jersey’s long-awaited introduction of legal sports betting:
“I’m thrilled to sign Assembly Bill 4111 because it means that our casinos in Atlantic City and our racetracks throughout our state can attract new business and new fans, boosting their own long-term financial prospects.
This is the right move for New Jersey and it will strengthen our economy.”
The economic boon promised by Murphy is based on research provided by analysts from the firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, which estimated that a “mature” statewide market that included online and mobile wagering would generate $502 million in annual revenue for the state.
That revenue haul would be based on forecasted handle of $7.75 billion, a far cry larger than the $248 million in revenue on $4.8 billion handle taken in by Nevada in 2017.
In 2017, New Jersey’s thriving online casino and poker industry sent $245 million in revenue to state coffers.
The Launch of Legal Sports Betting
The first legal sports wager in New Jersey history was placed on June 14th at 10:30 a.m. local time by Governor Murphy, who visited Monmouth Park for a ceremony of sorts.
Dennis Drazin, the chairman and chief executive officer of Monmouth Park’s operator Darby Development LLC, issued a statement praising Murphy for bringing the first bet to his venue:
Throughout this process Governor Murphy has always had Monmouth Park’s back and as a Monmouth County resident we’re delighted that sports betting in New Jersey gets started right in his backyard.
We are thankful to all those who will make this Thursday a day long remembered and even more so, looking forward to sports fans from all over converging on Monmouth Park to partake in sports betting, which was overwhelming approved by Garden State voters nearly seven years ago.”
Monmouth Park has long been connected to the fight for sports betting, as the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association – which Drazin leads as president – was named as a plaintiff in one of the original cases filed by the NCAA and other leagues. With the horseracing industry struggling mightily over the last decade, Monmouth Park’s leadership has fully embraced the shift toward full-fledged sports betting.
To that end, Monmouth Park began planning ahead all the way back in 2013, when the racetrack inked a deal with William Hill US. As the American arm of William Hill – the dominant bet shop in the United Kingdom for nearly a century and counting – William Hill US has made similar progress in Las Vegas, where it services more than 100 sportsbooks as Sin City’s leading operator.
Five years ago, Monmouth Park brought William Hill US onboard for two reasons – to service the venue’s racebook, but more importantly, to develop a full-scale sportsbook. A convertible sports bar was built onsite, and after more than $2.5 million was invested, the facility was setup and ready to roll on the day PASPA was repealed.
Joe Asher, the chief executive officer for William Hill US, offered the following commentary when the Court’s historic decision was released:
We’ve been working towards this day for a long time and take great satisfaction in the Supreme Court’s decision. Just as we have with our 100+ locations in Nevada, we look forward to working to make legal and regulated sports betting a big winner for consumers, state governments and all interested parties across the country.
If we do this the right way, the only losers will be the illegal bookies that have been operating a massive black market.”
Now that June 14h has come and gone, Monmouth Park and William Hill US hold the honor of being the first American sportsbook operators to accept a legal wager in New Jersey.
The Sportsbooks Already Up and Running
Monmouth Park Racetrack
I touched on the background in the preceding passage, so it’s only fitting to begin the reviews with Monmouth Park.
When you head to the main entrance, the first sight awaiting you – aside from the venue’s famous giant sandcastle – will be the oval-shaped William Hill Race & Sports Bar, which is open during the following hours (local time):
- Monday – Thursday: 10a.m. to 1a.m.
- Friday: 10a.m. to 2a.m.
- Saturday: 8a.m. to 2a.m.
- Sunday: 8a.m. to 1a.m.
Step inside, and prepare to be transported to a scene straight out of the Las Vegas Strip. Gleaming high-definition screens display the day’s lines and odds, with everything color-coded and brightly lit to make deciphering the information easy for beginning bettors.
Those betting boards offer every major sporting event you can imagine, from the full lineup of Major League Baseball action, the ongoing 2018 World Cup, major golf and tennis tournaments, and even futures betting on NFL win totals. Simply put, if a sporting game, match, or event is taking place that day, Monmouth Park will gladly write you a ticket.
To get better acquainted with the venue’s look and layout, I suggest taking this short 1-minute video tour hosted by Michael Grodsky, vice president of marketing for William Hill US. Grodsky will show you around the premises, explain how to place your bets at any of the 16 windows, and offer insight into the book’s plans for the foreseeable future.
In an interview with NJ.com, Grodsky talked about the training his Monmouth Park staff has received, and how that will provide bettors with a more enjoyable experience:
After investing $1 million in the William Hill Race and Sports Bar, Monmouth Park spent an additional $1.5 million to renovate the venue’s main grandstand. Here you’ll find over 50 HD television screens showcasing the day’s big games, so be sure to take a stroll over to the grandstand when you get a chance.
All things considered, becoming the first entrant into a competitive market like sportsbook operation should be a godsend for Monmouth Park. The first legal bet in New Jersey history was placed here, and undoubtedly, millions more will follow in the years to come.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
The second player in the Garden State’s sportsbook party is the Borgata, the crown jewel of Atlantic City’s casino industry.
Owned and operated by MGM Resorts International, the Borgata has long been the most popular gambling destination on the East Coast. While it’s primarily known for a massive poker room – host site for the Borgata Poker Open series and several World Poker Tour (WPT) main events – the Borgata is a casino resort on par with the Bellagio and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
MGM announced a major investment of $7 million into a new Borgata sportsbook last November, sending vice president of race and sports operations Jay Rood to Atlantic City in a supervisory role.
The new Borgata sportsbook essentially co-opted and upgraded the venue’s existing racebook, already a state of the art facility in its own right. After pouring millions into the renovation project, the Borgata now brings bettors seating for more than 100 guests, 40-inch color personal betting kiosks, 10 in-person betting windows, and a massive HD video wall encircling the entire area.
Windows open promptly at 11 a.m. local time each day, and close when the last game of the night goes final.
Based on the Borgata’s track record with casino and poker room operations, it won’t be long before this place is nipping at Monmouth Park’s heels. If you’re a gambler of all trades – somebody who wants to try your hand at a Texas Hold’em tournament or the slots while sweating your latest bet – the Borgata will be the sportsbook for you.
The Casinos and Racetracks Where Sportsbooks Will Open Soon
Along with Monmouth Park and the Borgata, New Jersey is home to dozens of casinos and racetracks that are eligible to apply for sports betting licenses.
While most have not gone on record about their plans as of yet, both the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City and the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford have released public statements.
The Golden Nugget
When it comes to the Golden Nugget, a potential disaster has been averted.
The casino is owned by billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who also happens to own the Houston Rockets of the NBA. Because the state’s new law precludes any conflicts of interest involving sportsbook operators, many feared the Golden Nugget would be boxed out entirely.
Thankfully, legislators included an exemption for Fertitta, so long as his sportsbook accepts no action whatsoever on NBA games.
Tom Pohlman, the general manager of Golden Nugget Atlantic City, offered his praise for the lawmaker’s pragmatism:
While we recognize that today the legislation will prohibit us from accepting wagers solely on the NBA, we hope to persuade the lawmakers over time that the total NBA ban is unnecessary and should be limited simply to the Houston Rockets team owned by Mr. Fertitta.”
As a result of the decision, Golden Nugget has been delayed quite a bit, but higher-ups there have mentioned the beginning of NFL football in September as the expected launch date.
Another racetrack looking to join the fray is Meadowlands, located in East Rutherford where the New York Giants used to play.
So far, Meadowlands hasn’t been in any hurry to race Monmouth Park, but they have partnered up with Irish bookmaking titan Paddy Power to provide sportsbook services.
Jeff Gural, who operates Meadowlands, spoke to local media about his venue’s progress on the sports betting front:
We’ve got to work with Paddy Power on where we want to put up a temporary facility, and go from there. The governor’s delay is not a factor in our plans.
Hopefully, we can be up and running in a month, on a temporary basis, and be up online for the football season.”
According to Gural, once those wrinkles have been smoothed over, the site expects to begin accepting bets by the beginning of NFL action.
Sports betting options are quickly opening up for players across the US. This will continue as more states take advantage of the new laws. I predict that sports betting will be available in almost every state with a casino within the next few years.