Monmouth Park has been ready to roll out sports betting for six years or so. The New Jersey racetrack had to put plans on hold during a yearslong US Supreme Court battle involving New Jersey and the sports leagues.

When the high court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) last month, it opened the door for legalized sports betting in New Jersey.

Yet with NJ sports betting legislation still unsigned by Gov. Phil Murphy, Monmouth must now wait longer before diving into the industry.

Murphy emphasizes no sports betting yet

On Thursday, legislation was unanimously passed by the New Jersey Assembly and Senate.

It was then passed on to Murphy, who has yet to sign the bill. Until he does so, sports betting still doesn’t have a green light in the Garden State.

The problem is the NJ properties and their sportsbooks have been eager to get into the sports betting game. Specifically, Monmouth had targeted this weekend for its debut of a $2.5 million sportsbook. The sportsbook is headed by British bookmaker William Hill.

Murphy, though, has told Monmouth Park president and CEO Dennis Drazin that the racetrack’s plans will have to be suspended. And they will continue to be shelved until Murphy has had an opportunity to review the legislation.

“We’re not going to sit on it, but we just got it,” Murphy said in a press conference. “We’re going to have sports betting sooner (rather) than later in New Jersey and I’m really excited about that. I’m not going to change my stripes just because it’s a big weekend. We’ve got to make sure we do what we do right.”

NJ sports betting bill in limbo?

Murphy’s actions have come as something of a surprise.

Immediately following the SCOTUS ruling to strike down PASPA, Murphy in a statement said he was “thrilled to see the Supreme Court finally side with New Jersey and strike down the arbitrary ban on sports betting imposed by Congress decades ago.”

He was eager to enact a law “authorizing and regulating sports betting in the very near future.”

In turn, racetracks and Atlantic City casinos were anticipating a quick turnaround of rules and regulations to make the state the first outside of Nevada to offer single-game wagering.

Nearly a month after the high court’s ruling, however, NJ is now looking to become the second state after Delaware rolled out legalized sports betting earlier this week.

Politico reported on Monday that Murphy may be using his signature as leverage during budget negotiations with the NJ Legislature. Others, however, believe Murphy has not put pen to paper because of amplified pressure on passing the bill. He wants to take his time and, as noted above, “make sure we do what we do right.”

Monmouth still waiting to turn things around

The 72-year-old racetrack has ridden a steady decline over the past few years. Most of Monmouth Park’s revenue since being leased from the state in 2012 has been generated by wagers. As a result, the track has had to spend its own money on race purses, which themselves have dropped in value.

For several years, Monmouth Park has sought alternative revenue streams to stay afloat. Then, SCOTUS cleared the path for NJ sports betting. An opportunity arose, and Drazin leaped at it. The racetrack partnered with William Hill and began plans to open a sportsbook lounge.

Drazin had aimed to have the book open by Friday, in time for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the MLB Subway Series between the New York Yankees and Mets and for the Belmont Stakes.

Once again, Monmouth’s wait will continue. The track cannot accept wagers until Murphy signs the bill. If it does, the New Jersey Racing Commission would have those bets reviewed, which could delay the licensing process even further.

“I’m trying to get open as soon as I can,” Drazin said, “But at the end of the day I have a responsibility to Monmouth Park and the state and the local community. If I do something that causes Monmouth Park to get delayed in opening, then that doesn’t help anybody, so I have to respect the process.”

Grant Lucas

About

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.