Monmouth Park has waited more than six years to open its betting windows to sports gamblers, and it doesn’t intend to wait any longer. With Monday’s Supreme Court opinion, the New Jersey track is racing ahead with plans to take its first sports bets within the next two weeks.
“There’s a possibility we could be ready sooner,” said Dennis Drazin, the CEO of Darby Development LLC, which operates Monmouth Park.
Monday’s opinion repealed the 25-year-old federal law that outlawed sports betting in most places outside of Nevada. The news sent seismic shock waves throughout the sports and gambling worlds, from casinos to ballparks, gaming operators to state lawmakers, as all the vested parties started racing to sort out the impact and implications.
The news was celebrated at the 147-year-old track, which has been counting on legalized sports gambling to help revive its business. Monmouth Park likely will be the first big New Jersey venue to take sports bets and the first business significantly affected by Monday’s opinion.
Track officials have spent years preparing for this day, planning in earnest since New Jersey voters passed a referendum in 2011 to allow sports wagering. Monmouth Park created a sports bar in 2013 that quickly will transform into the track’s temporary sports book. Track officials are prepared to have even more betting machines and betting windows in an adjacent grandstand area to cater to more than 5,000 gamblers at a time.
While they missed out on early events on the sports calendar, such as the Final Four and the Masters golf tournament, they still could be up and running for almost all of the baseball season and possibly the conclusion of the NHL and NBA playoffs.
“The anticipation of sports betting has been building for years,” Drazin said in an interview prior to Monday’s opinion. “There’s no place I can go that I can hide. Everyone wants to know when are you going to start taking bets. I anticipate the flow coming to Monmouth Park to be overwhelming just as soon as we go live.”
For gambling proponents, the debate always centered on states’ rights, an opinion echoed in Monday’s ruling.
“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” the opinion stated. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”
So while other states weigh their options, several venues in New Jersey will be racing to add sports wagering. Monmouth Park, located in Oceanport, N.J., about an hour south of Newark, already has the infrastructure in place and has just been waiting for a green light. Twice before, in fact, racetrack executives were on the precipice of taking bets before the courts stopped them.
The track partnered with William Hill, the British betting conglomerate, to help run its sports gambling operation, with the two parties agreeing to split the revenues. William Hill also will build a new Las Vegas-style sports book on the property that will cost at least $5 million, but that’s at least 1 1/2 years away.
William Hill already takes bets in 107 locations in Nevada. Joe Asher, the company’s CEO, said the sports gambling market in New Jersey could be twice as large as Nevada’s, which saw $5 billion in legal sports betting last year, according to UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.
Asher said he planned to dispatch staff immediately to Monmouth Park this week to help get the operation up and running. He declined to identify a possible date that betting windows might open there but would not rule out sports gambling taking place before the end of the NBA playoffs.
“We want to be open for business as soon as responsibly possible,” he said. “We’ll see what that that actually means in terms of the number of weeks it takes to get this thing going. Clearly, you want to be open in advance of football season, just so you have the time to train staff and customers get a feel for how this works as well.”
For the time being, the track’s converted sports book will handle the bulk of the sports wagers. Bettors have been using the machines there for horse racing, free play and fantasy sports for the past few years. The operation will be entirely a brick-and-mortar business initially. As the track and lawmakers sort through logistics, they hope to add mobile and online wagering as soon as possible.
The ruling will have wide-reaching effects on the teams, leagues and companies many sports fans love. DraftKings and FanDuel, the two popular daily fantasy sites immediately announced intentions to enter the sports betting space, as many expected. In the short-term, that likely means partnering with casinos, tracks and gambling operators and offering a platform for wagering.
“This is great news for us,” said Jason Robins, the CEO of DraftKings. “It really is obviously just the starting point. You have to have the states now that open up their doors and allow things in the right way with smart regulation. Everything seems to be progressing well there and they’ll now kick it into high gear. I think you’ll see a lot of states aiming to get ready for NFL and try to take bets before the season kicks off.”
While New Jersey and Delaware could have betting windows open first, states such as West Virginia and Mississippi also are poised to move quickly, said Daniel Wallach, a sports gaming law expert and attorney at Becker & Poliakof. Others like Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island could also race to get in the game within the next 90 days.
Some places have concluded their 2018 legislative sessions, which means those state lawmakers can’t address the matter until next year. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy told reporters Monday he’s prepared to call a special session in order to get legislation on the books quickly.
In all, nearly 20 states have introduced bills this year that could legalize sports betting, and a 2017 report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimated that as many as 32 states could offer legal sports betting within the next five years. By that point, Congress could have re-visited the matter, creating federal guidelines that would produce uniformity from state to state.
“A patchwork of state laws is not an efficient way to regulate sports betting, which has cross-border issues,” Wallach said. “The cleanest way is a uniform solution, and there’s only one vehicle to accomplish that, via an act of Congress.”
On Dec. 7 – the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case – Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) introduced the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act, or GAME Act, which aims to remove obstacles and provide the legal framework for states to adopt sports betting. And Monday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) one of the four original PASPA authors 25 years ago, said he also intends to introduce legislation “to help protect honesty and principle in the athletic arena.”