The future of legalized sports betting in New Jersey lies in the hands of nine US Supreme Court justices. Within the next few weeks, a ruling in Murphy vs. NCAA (formerly Christie vs NCAA) will be issued, bringing an end to a yearslong battle over sports wagering.
For Monmouth Park, the SCOTUS ruling means much more than just mere legality. It is about survival. And the 72-year-old, cash-strapped racetrack is anxiously waiting to learn its fate.
Monmouth Park in decline
The North Jersey horse track has been riding a steady decline over the past few years. Opened in 1946, Monmouth Park has been leased from the state since 2012 after former Gov. Chris Christie essentially privatized the horse racing industry.
As a result, annual subsidies from Atlantic City casinos were eliminated.
The majority of Monmouth Park’s revenue since then has been generated mostly by wagers. The track has been forced to spend its own money on purses, which have dropped from about $20 million in 2015 to $15.5 million last year.
With little winnings to offer, the quality of racing has fallen. Running hand-in-hand with that drop off is the amount of money spent on wagers.
For several years, Monmouth Park has sought an alternative revenue stream in its fight to remain relevant in a world of rising competition from tracks in neighboring states. In those states, horse tracks benefit from casino-generated dollars.
Despite Monmouth Park’s falling status, Dennis Drazin, CEO of the company that operates the track, never believed the facility would cave.
“I’ve always said there’s no danger in Monmouth Park closing because I’ll do what I have to do to stay open,” Drazin said. “It might not have been the world class racing we always want to offer, but now sports wagering eliminates that.”
Awaiting SCOTUS ruling on NJ sports betting
Oral arguments for Murphy vs. NCAA were heard in December. For several years, New Jersey has led a fight for sports betting to be legalized.
While no timetable has been given for the court’s ruling in the NJ sports betting case, a decision is definitely expected before the Supreme Court’s summer recess in July.
The NJ sports betting case focuses on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which is the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting outside of Nevada. The act prohibits legal sports betting in most states.
When arguments were heard in December, 20 states signed an amicus brief in support of New Jersey while four (Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Mississippi) passed legislation to allow sports betting if the federal ban is lifted. Since then, West Virginia has joined that list, too.
Odds have shifted that SCOTUS would rule in New Jersey’s favor. During December’s hearings, a majority of court justices appeared to agree that prohibiting sports betting in most states is unconstitutional.
Still, nothing is assured, and the wait for a ruling continues.
What legal sports betting will mean for Monmouth and AC
If SCOTUS rules in New Jersey’s favor, racetracks and casinos, as well as NJ gambling sites, in the state would be authorized to offer legalized sports betting. Several casinos in Atlantic City, including Ocean Resort Casino, are already planning to build their own sportsbooks.
Monmouth Park, on the other hand, is ready to begin its operations within weeks of a positive ruling, and could in a sense, be the first to do so.
Its recently expanded William Hill Sports Bar, located in the grandstands, would be converted into a sports wagering facility. William Hill is a British betting giant that has its US operation based in Las Vegas.
Expenses would come off the top to operate the racetrack sportsbook, and Monmouth Park and William Hill would split the proceeds that could exceed $50 million annually.
SCOTUS could rule that PASPA is constitutional, which would prevent New Jersey — not to mention other states — from offering legal sports betting. But if the 27-year-old act is deemed unconstitutional, Monmouth Park would only be several weeks away from getting its business back on track.
More important, with NJ sports betting legalized, the decades-old racetrack would have a strong chance at survival. Drazin never feared shutting the doors of Monmouth Park because he is convinced the inevitable is on its way, delivered by SCOTUS.
“I always have thought that the lower courts were wrong and that we would prevail at some point when the Supreme Court took the case,” Drazin said. “So it’s not really pins and needles for me at this point because I know we’re going to win.”
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