It was the rest period of the sports calendar. July is not supposed to be a big-money month. After all, in terms of sports betting in New Jersey, all that’s available is baseball, some NBA Summer League, and a little bit of World Cup action.
Yet Meadowlands Racetrack CEO and owner Jeff Gural sensed something. His facility in East Rutherford opened its FanDuel Sportsbook midway through the month. Gural said at the time he had no idea what to expect. Yet he know something big was in store.
“It’s very promising,” Gural said in a phone call Wednesday. “We were busy. When I was there, it was always busy. That’s all you can ask for, obviously. It varies; some customers bet more than others. But by and large, the place was busy, and that’s really what I was hoping for.
“It’s the worst time of the year, and we’re very encouraged by what’s happening so far.”
Gural is not the only one to express that sentiment.
Small start, great potential
The legal sports betting market in New Jersey continues to expand this summer.
What began with sportsbooks at only Monmouth Park, Borgata and Ocean Resort Casino in June has since grown to eight facilities in the Garden State. Meadowlands entered the industry July 14, followed 16 days later by Bally’s.
In July, five operating books combined for $3,831,141 in gross revenue, less than $400,000 more than what three establishments reported in just 17 days a month earlier.
The amount wagered, however, grew substantially, from $16.4 million in June to over $40 million last month.
“It’s definitely a small start,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV. “But I think it has the potential to do a lot more.”
The reason for such optimism is obvious, and it’s the same reason Gural, like many other NJ sports betting personnel, is ready for the fall to arrive.
Carrying pigskin to overtake Nevada
Gural uses Las Vegas sports betting as a barometer. In Sin City, he said, sportsbooks “do over twice as much business” in October versus July. There is more product on which to wager: NBA, NHL, MLB, and, more important, professional and college football.
“There will be a much bigger level of sports betting once football season starts, for sure,” Schwartz said. “Last year, for example, from July to September, sports betting revenue in Nevada increased by about 8,000 percent. So it should increase substantially (in New Jersey).”
If the summer was the first crawl for New Jersey, the fall will be its first step toward a lofty goal set forth by NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement director David Rebuck.
Nevada has obviously long been the leader in the US sports betting industry. Speaking with GamblingCompliance (subscription required) last month, however, Rebuck said he wants New Jersey to take over the top spot.
“My mission is very simple,” he said. “I want us to be the leader in sports wagering in the United States — for all the issues — period.”
“It’s definitely possible,” Schwartz said. “There’s a much bigger population there. So that certainly is possible.”
The population is vital for NJ, which in 2017 had more than 9 million residents, compared with the less than 3 million in Nevada. (The Silver State, though, benefits greatly from tourism, particularly in Vegas and Reno.)
Additionally, New Jersey ranks second in the country in per-capita income (and second in per-capita millionaires); Nevada is 35th. Nevada does feature nearly 200 sportsbooks and is home to many of the major players in the industry.
But New Jersey is on the threshold of reaching a key goal that could help the state become the industry leader.
Mobile sports wagering favors NJ
That came a few days after MGM Resorts International announced its plans to roll out a mobile platform via the playMGM sports betting app, and just after Caesars Entertainment did the same with its Caesars Casino & Sports app.
The mobile market, Schwartz said, will give New Jersey a strong step toward overtaking Nevada.
“I think it’ll definitely have a big impact,” Schwartz said. “In Nevada, mobile’s about 50 percent of the handle. As they (New Jersey operators) roll that out and people get more used to it, that’ll make the numbers go up a lot.”
Gural agreed. Though he noted his goals begin with the customer rather than the bottom line.
“We want it to enhance the customer experience of someone going to a Jets or Giants game,” said Gural, whose racetrack neighbors MetLife Stadium. “I think it’s critical. … Our goal is to make the experience of coming to a game better than it was before we were allowed to have sports betting.”