Monmouth Park has waited more than six years to open its betting windows to sports gamblers, and it doesn’t intend to wait much longer. After 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Monday’s opinion repealed the 25-year-old federal law that banned sports betting in most places outside Nevada. The news sent seismic shock waves through 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 Monmouth Park, a 147-year-old track that has been counting on legalized sports gambling to 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 sportsbook. Track officials are preparing to have 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 2018 sports calendar, such as the NCAA tournament and the Masters, they could be up and running for most of the baseball season and possibly by the conclusion of the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs.
“The anticipation of sports betting has been building for years,” Drazin said in an interview before 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, a perspective echoed in Monday’s opinion striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
“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, about an hour south of Newark — has the infrastructure in place and has been waiting for the green light. Twice before, it was on the precipice of taking bets before the courts intervened.
The track partnered with William Hill, the British betting conglomerate, to help run its sports gambling operation, with the parties agreeing to split the revenue. William Hill will build a new, Las Vegas-style sportsbook 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 CEO overseeing its efforts in the United States, 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 to Monmouth Park this week to help get the operation up and running. He declined to identify a date that betting windows might open 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 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 sportsbook 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 Supreme Court’s opinion will have wide-reaching effects on the teams, leagues and companies that sports fans love.
DraftKings and FanDuel, the popular daily fantasy sites, on Monday 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, 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, West Virginia and Mississippi also are poised to move quickly, said Daniel Wallach, a sports gaming law expert and attorney at Becker & Poliakoff. Other states — including Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — could get in the game within the next 90 days.
Some states have concluded their 2018 legislative session, which means those lawmakers can’t address the matter until next year. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) told reporters Monday that he is prepared to call a special session to get legislation on the books quickly.
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 revisited 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. 4 — 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, which aims to remove obstacles and provide the legal framework for states to adopt sports betting. And Monday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of the four PASPA authors 26 years ago, said he intends to introduce legislation “to help protect honesty and principle in the athletic arena.”