Editor’s note: This article was updated from its original version.
Could legal sports betting launch in New Jersey by Memorial Day?
Monmouth Park CEO Dennis Drazin certainly hopes so and has targeted May 28 as the day the Oceanport track’s William Hill Sports Bar can be converted back into a sportsbook and take the state’s first legal sports bet.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court released its heavily anticipated decision in the state’s sports betting case. In a 6-3 vote, the court deemed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) unconstitutional and upheld a 2014 New Jersey law allowing sports betting in Atlantic City casinos and racetracks across the state.
PASPA is the law that prohibited sports gambling everywhere except Nevada, and limited sports betting in Delaware, Montana, and Oregon.
The decision opens the door to legal sports gambling across the country. A handful of states have already passed sports betting legislation anticipating a decision in New Jersey’s favor. Of course, New Jersey is expected to get there first, but just how fast it can is still a question.
The William Hill Sports Bar at Monmouth Park
Back in 2014, Monmouth Park built a sportsbook-style lounge on the property.
The $3 million partnership between the track and British bookmaker William Hill was supposed to be the first place in New Jersey to take legal sports bets.
However, major sports leagues across the country took the state to court to have the NJ sports betting law struck down. The state appealed, but until now, could not find a court to rule in its favor.
The sportsbook was converted into a sports bar and has been running as such ever since.
Drazin held a press conference following the Supreme Court decision to say Monmouth Park is ready to convert the space back into a sportsbook and start taking bets almost immediately:
“It’s my intention, unless somebody stops us, to be up and running in two weeks. If the Legislature or the governor says ‘slow down,’ I’m gonna listen to them. We’re trying.”
Let’s not forget NJ sports betting regulations
Gov. Phil Murphy and other state lawmakers may want Monmouth Park to hold off until they can set up sports betting regulations in the Garden State.
At least one bill containing sports betting regulations is currently before the NJ Senate, having been introduced Monday.
It would ensure:
- Only casinos, racetracks, and former racetracks would be able to open sportsbooks.
- Gamblers must be 21 or older.
- No bets are placed on college sports played in the state or on college teams based in the state.
On Wednesday, however, NJ.com reported that the bill from state Senate President Stephen Sweeney also comes with a warning to Atlantic City casinos and racetracks in the state: “Anyone who opens a sports betting operation before the state puts regulations in place will be barred from accepting future bets on games.”
This puts a damper on Monmouth Park’s eagerness to get ahead of the pack.
Another bill with slightly different regulations stands before the Assembly. A more realistic date for getting a bill with the same regulations passed by both the Assembly and Senate and signed by Gov. Murphy would be the end of June.
“We’re moving quickly with legislation,” Sweeney told NJ.com. “I’m hopeful we should be ready by early June. Everyone should respect the legislative process rather than jumping out.”
Drazin said in an interview that he had not heard of such a provision in the bill but he wouldn’t challenge it either.
“I have not spoken to the Senate president yet,” Drazin said. “But I have said all along and I have said to the Senate president that I would go along with the legislative process. So I would comply.”
Weeks, not months
For its part, William Hill US Operations CEO Joe Asher told NJ.com Memorial Day is likely pushing it:
“I won’t give a date to anybody right now. I’m comfortable saying as soon as responsibly possible. But clearly we’re thinking in the realm of weeks. We’ll see how many that turns out to be.”
Going forward, another $2 million is expected to be spent expanding the William Hill Sports Bar at Monmouth Park into a full-fledged Las Vegas-style sportsbook.
And while Drazin has every reason to want to give Monmouth Park a financial boost from legal sports betting, Sweeney and NJ legislators are just asking for patience:
“We fought for this for seven years. I’m anxious to get started just like everyone else.”