Editor’s note: This is an opinion article. 

New Jersey has a gambling problem. But not in the way you’re thinking.

It’s more about its approach to NJ sports betting and legal wagering on collegiate sports. More specifically, at least for this time of the sports calendar, as it relates to March Madness betting.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has tipped off. Over the next three weeks, 67 games will decide the national champion.

Sportsbooks in Nevada and Pennsylvania, among other states, expect to draw ample business, hopefully, to make up for a down February courtesy of an underwhelming Super Bowl.

New Jersey, though, will not have the whole gamut of March Madness games.

The state’s 10 retail and 13 mobile sportsbooks are prohibited from offering betting markets involving NJ teams or games.

Here. Lies. The problem.

NJ sports betting prohibits betting on NJ

When Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law legalizing wagering in the Garden State, he signed off on several provisions.

  • Bettors must be at least 21 years old.
  • Athletes, coaches, referees and “other persons with potential influence or access to non-public information regarding sporting events” are prohibited from placing wagers on events overseen by the leagues in which they participate.
  • Wagers on high school events or collegiate events held in New Jersey or involving New Jersey teams will not be accepted.

The last of the three stand out, specifically the collegiate aspect.

Sportsbook operators in the state cannot offer wagers on teams located in New Jersey. They also cannot take bets on events staged in the state. (To be fair, Nevada had a similar regulation years ago. That has since changed.)

Even when NJ sports betting became legal, that bit of regulation appeared, well, interesting. A purpose of legalizing wagering, after all, is to capture those who use illegal means of betting.

This regulation, however, still allows offshore operations to offer something New Jersey does not.

During March Madness, the spotlight shines brighter on this prohibition.

March Madness betting should be popular

This is not a hot take: March Madness is a big deal. Like, a big deal. Rivaled only by the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament stands as one of the most popular, most-watched and most-wagered-on events in America.

A recent survey from the American Gaming Association concluded that some 18 million adults would lay bets on the tournament. Of that total, a mere 4.1 million will use legal online or retail sportsbooks.

Bill Miller, AGA president and CEO, noted in a release that “sports fans are expected to bet 40 (percent) more than they did on this year’s Super Bowl.”

These figures, he adds, “indicate there’s still work to do to eradicate the vast illegal sports betting market in this country.”

New Jersey was, and still is, not doing its part.

NJ sports betting driving bets away

David Rebuck, director of the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement, has long hunted the illegal sportsbooks.

“It’s not going to be easy, but you can never let (illegal sports betting websites) just get a pass,” he said. “In the future, I see that being a major initiative for the regulated markets to work to figure out the best ways to go after people.”

Well, here is that opportunity.

Because the non-NJ teams rule, at this time of year, is just driving bettors toward out-of-state — even offshore — sportsbooks.

This is not to say that No. 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson, a 28-point underdog, had any chance against top-seeded Gonzaga. (Although, No. 16 UMBC gave the country hope last year.)

But No. 10 Seton Hall, a runner-up in the Big East tournament, could’ve made a Cinderella run. (Neither team made it past the first round.)

Even so, NJ residents couldn’t take advantage.

Two days ahead of Selection Sunday, the DGE released a statement reiterating the state’s law.

“The NJ Constitution prohibits any sports wagering on New Jersey collegiate teams whatsoever. Sportsbook operators must advise customers of this prohibition when wagers are accepted on collegiate tournament events that include New Jersey teams.”

For the first time since legalized sports betting began in the Garden State, the exclusionary rule came into play in a real way.

How the regulation affects bracket contests

Start with traditional NJ sports betting. Sportsbooks outside New Jersey obviously listed Seton Hall and Fairleigh Dickinson as underdogs.

SugarHouse Sportsbook in nearby Philadelphia, for example, listed the Pirates at +118 to win outright against Wofford. In Las Vegas, William Hill paid +3000 for a Fairleigh Dickinson victory.

For the first time in history, some bettors might’ve actually considered more strongly taking a No. 16-over-No. 1 upset.

And what a payday it would’ve been. But only outside of New Jersey.

What has rolled out in the state, however, are bracket pools.

DraftKings Sportsbook introduced its DraftKings Brackets feature, which includes a paid entry pool for NJ residents and a free-to-play pool for anyone in the country.

Because users lay down money for the paid pool, DraftKings Brackets does not allow them to make a pick in games involving NJ teams. Even its free-to-play pool bars players from doing so.

Surely that was just a safety measure for DraftKings. (Nobody wants to be in a position Caesars Entertainment was in last fall.)

That said, FanDuel SportsbookSugarHouse Sportsbook, and Caesars Sportsbook NJ have free-entry bracket pools that allowed users to select NJ teams.

Why the regulation should change

This prohibition prevents customers from fully enjoying the experience, whether that be related to legal sports betting or filling out a bracket.

The value of Seton Hall at a betting window could draw more action after all. And the joy of predicting, and eventually bragging about, a deep tourney run by the Pirates (or a 16-over-1 upset by FDU) goes unmatched.

Consider, too, what this regulation would do if New Jersey returns as a host site for one of the tournament weekends. Should that occur, and if this regulation is still in place, NJ sportsbooks would not be able to accept bets on six games.

Fortunately, state bookmakers do not have to worry about that just yet.

The NCAA has already set sites through the 2022 tournament, and New Jersey is not included. NJ has essentially been blackballed since it began the process of legalizing sports betting eight years ago.

New Jersey, though, wants the tournament to return. If so, the state needs to revisit its regulations.

Make a NJ sports betting compromise, at least

This is not to suggest the NJ Legislature should eliminate the “no NJ teams and games” rule completely. It’s a good rule. And let’s be reasonable: It likely won’t happen with a snap of a finger. At least in the interim.

What New Jersey should do, however, is look toward New Hampshire.

The state is currently considering a bill to legalize sports betting. Among its regulations is a section called “prohibited sports event.”

Within it are similarities to New Jersey. More important, though, is an addendum NJ should seriously consider if it won’t rid its books of the non-NJ teams and games regulation.

Like New Jersey, New Hampshire would prohibit wagering on high school events and collegiate teams and events held within its borders.

Here is the bit New Jersey should consider:

“… provided that “prohibited sports event” does not include the games of a collegiate sports tournament in which a New Hampshire college team participates, nor does it include any games of a collegiate sports tournament that occurs outside New Hampshire even though some of the individual games or events are held in New Hampshire …”

Basically, New Hampshire bars betting on its state teams or events held in the state. Come March Madness, however, that prohibition is lifted.

Take note, New Jersey. Allow the masses to enjoy all of March Madness. Not just pieces.

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.