Delaware may have been the first state outside of Nevada to offer legalized sports betting. But New Jersey, it seemed, made us forget that fact.

A new era for the Garden State began last week after years of legal battles ultimately ended with the US Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) last month.

The first legalized NJ sports betting action took place at Monmouth Park racetrack and Borgata in Atlantic City. And there was much rejoicing.

Monmouth finally gets in on the action

Thursday was overdue for Monmouth Park.

Since being leased from New Jersey in 2012, the 72-year-old racetrack has sought alternative revenue streams just to stay afloat. The track was set to offer sports betting some six years ago until the sports leagues sued the state, shelving Monmouth’s plans to get a much-needed revenue boost.

Even after SCOTUS cleared the path for regulated sports betting, a delay in bill finalization — Gov. Phil Murphy taking his time in signing the legislation — prevented Monmouth from opening its $2.5 million William Hill sportsbook. This meant the park missed taking bets in time for Game 4 of the NBA Finals and the Belmont Stakes, among other events.

Last Monday, Murphy finally put pen to paper, and Monmouth’s long-awaited sports betting dreams came to fruition. Fittingly, as the state’s first legalized wagers, Murphy made two futures bets: Germany to win the World Cup and the New Jersey Devils to win next year’s Stanley Cup.

“This is a long time coming, so it’s very exciting,” said William Hill CEO Joe Asher. “To come here on the day it’s happening, and to see all the news trucks outside — you start to think of the path we traveled to get here. You see all the new employees working here. It just reinforces the jobs that have been created by the Supreme Court’s decision and the efforts of so many people for so long.”

So how good was NJ sports betting at Monmouth?

Statistics regarding sports betting revenue and handle were not released, but Monmouth Park president and CEO Dennis Drazin told the Asbury Park Press that the “numbers have been very strong.”

On-track handle for Saturday and Sunday was up 18 percent, and attendance spiked 21 percent. On Father’s Day alone, attendance jumped by more than 5,000 year over year and total handle was up nearly $750,000 from last year’s Father’s Day.

So just imagine what sports betting figures will look like, considering that lines at the William Hill kiosks were quite lengthy throughout the weekend.

Borgata and Atlantic City right behind

Thirty minutes after Monmouth opened sports betting, Atlantic City did the same. Borgata opened its renamed Race & Sports Book, while the casino moves forward in constructing a $7 million sportsbook lounge.

Hall of Fame basketball player Julius Erving was the casino’s special guest, laying down $5 for the Philadelphia Eagles to repeat as Super Bowl champions. NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney, a vocal proponent for sports betting, was right behind Erving, placing $200 on the Green Bay Packers to win the NFL title.

“This couldn’t be a better birthday present for Borgata and our team members today to bring on another form of entertainment,” Borgata president Marcus Glover, whose casino celebrates its 15th year this summer, told the Press of Atlantic City.

“(Sports betting) brings a sense of vibrancy and adds to the excitement that already exists inside the four walls of Borgata today. …Today, Borgata leads the way as New Jersey enters a new era of sports entertainment.”

After making his bet at Monmouth, Murphy made his way to Borgata, laying down two wagers: one on the New York Mets, the other on Martin Truex Jr. to win an upcoming NASCAR race.

“Obviously the specific revenue associated with sports betting is going to be significant and growing, but it’s going to have a knock-on impact,” Murphy said. “You can see, instead of going to Las Vegas for an NFL playoff weekend, you could see people posting up here in Atlantic City.”

Sports betting ready to take over NJ

Monmouth and Borgata proved to be the spark for a soon to be roaring fire in NJ sports betting.

A sportsbook is scheduled to open July 15 at Meadowlands Racetrack, which has partnered with Betfair US, while Resorts in Atlantic City could have a DraftKings-branded book opening in due time.

Late last week, it was reported that Caesars Entertainment was planning to open sportsbooks at each of its three Atlantic City properties — Caesars, Bally’s and Harrah’s — by mid-August.

Also in AC, Ocean Resort Casino, which is targeting a June 28 opening date, has teamed with William Hill for a casino-centric sportsbook.

Golden Nugget, meanwhile, is also expected to have a book soon, though the AC casino will not be able to offer NBA bets, as owner Tilman Fertitta also owns the Houston Rockets.

Clearly, New Jersey is ready to bask in the glow of legalized sports betting. Finally.

“There’s an old adage that you bet with your head not with your heart,” Murphy said. “For the past seven years, our heads and hearts were in alignment as we fought to overturn an unlawful and unfair federal law. We knew in our heads we were right, and we knew in our hearts that we’d win. And we have.”

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.