It was June 14 of last year when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made the first legal sports wager in Garden State history:
- $20 on Germany to win the 2019 World Cup
- $20 on the New Jersey Devils to win the 2019 Stanley Cup
Neither of those bets panned out. But that betting slip, coupled with years of legal battles, put Monmouth Park in the NJ sports betting history books for good.
The governor is invited once again to the Monmouth Park Sportsbook by William Hill this Friday (yep, June 14) to take part in the one-year anniversary toast to legal sports betting.
It is not known, however, if Murphy will actually make an appearance. But Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development — the company that operates Monmouth Park — will definitely be there.
When Drazin reflects on the past year, June 14 is one of those days that is hard to forget.
“The highlight for me was having Gov. Murphy come and make the first sports bet at Monmouth Park and turning around and seeing a huge crowd of standing room only people.
“It was like a dream come true.”
The Monmouth Park + William Hill connection
Dreams can take a very long time to come true.
In New Jersey’s case, it took nearly seven years in and out of courts to get the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) overturned. The case went before the US Supreme Court on Dec. 4, 2017.
Without hesitation, Drazin picked up his bags and traveled to Washington, DC, to be there for the hearing. (The ruling wasn’t announced until May 14, 2018.)
But behind the scenes, the racetrack and partner William Hill were hard at work developing their plans. Monmouth reached a partnership agreement with the London-based bookmaker back in 2012.
That was long before any hope of legal sports betting in the state. Even so, William Hill and Drazin started planning.
The idea was simple: Convert a cafeteria into a 4,000-square-foot space with seating for 300 people. But in reality, the space needed to be bigger, and both companies realized it.
So they added an auxiliary space in the grandstand (a tad over 4,500 square feet.)
Looking back, Joe Asher, CEO at William Hill US, said building out the auxiliary space was definitely the right decision.
“The sportsbook itself was completely packed. You couldn’t really get in there,” Asher said. “Everybody was hanging out in there. It was great. It was a fun day.”
Here’s a look back at Murphy’s first official bets courtesy of NJ.com.
Being the first for NJ sports betting
But how did Monmouth Park, a racetrack in Central New Jersey, beat out nine Atlantic City casinos?
The market-leading FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands Racetrack, located just outside of New York City, didn’t open until July 14.
Putting plans in place several years in advance is always a good start, but there is more to the story.
Drazin noted there was initial hesitation by the other parties involved because they were licensed to operate in other states.
“They were concerned if they did something under state law that conflicted with federal law they could find themselves with regulatory problems in their states.”
Monmouth Park, on the other hand, only operates in the Garden State.
“They all sort of sat back and said, ‘We’ll let MonmouthPark be the test case for this.’ … By the time we got to the Supreme Court decision, we were probably in this for $5 million.”
This included building out the facility and getting ready to launch.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was the only AC casino that was ready to go on June 14.
Instead of building a new sportsbook, the MGM-owned property added a temporary sportsbook to its previously existing racebook. The Moneyline Bar & Book, the much-anticipated permanent location, is opening on June 29.
The law allows casinos and racetracks to open temporary sportsbooks with a 270-day window to build out the spaces.
So Drazin had no problem with Monmouth Park being the first out of the gate.
“I think the state recognized my role, Monmouth Park’s role, in getting this done, so they wanted us to be first. They certainly cooperated to make it happen,” Drazin said.
And William Hill was betting on New Jersey
Monmouth Park is where William Hill got its sports betting start in NJ, but it’s crystal clear the sports betting giant is investing heavily in the Garden State.
Offices are set up in Jersey City and Monmouth Park, and the mobile app launched on Sept. 1, 2018.
Plus, we can’t forget about the two additional retail spots on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
The 7,500-square-foot sportsbook at Ocean Casino Resort has been open since June 28 — the same day as the property.
Asher noted New Jersey is an important market because it’s located in a heavily populated area of the country. And keep in mind, neighboring New York is still in pre-launch phase for sports betting, and it’s retail only, for now.
Keeping score with Monmouth’s online skins
Pretty soon, Monmouth Park will be the latest license holder to have all three of its online skins slots filled.
TheScore from Bet.Works is expected to launch sometime before football season, possibly as soon as Aug. 1, according to Drazin.
William Hill got its US mobile sports betting start in Nevada first. But the NJ version launched just fine for Android devices while iOS users experienced a slight delay.
And as a result, William Hill pulled its promotional advertising.
“It’s important to remember there was a big issue with Apple approving the sports betting app. You could add sports betting mobile, but if you didn’t have an app in the store you got held up.”
But overall, Asher said they feel pretty good about where the app is through the first nine months.
“The result was we weren’t able to launch on Apple until the end of September. … [But] we feel pretty good about what we were able to do based on the realities of the situation. We will continue to grow.”
Sports betting brings horse racing back to life
Yes, mobile sports betting has taken much of the spotlight over the past year, but Monmouth Park is one of three remaining New Jersey racetracks.
The others are of course the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway, the latter of which has yet to announce its sports betting plans.
Drazin has been around horse racing since his childhood days and has held numerous roles in the industry leading up to his current role at Monmouth.
He has seen the track through the best and worst of times. Believe it or not, thanks to legal sports gambling, it looks like horse racing is here to stay.
When people used to ask Drazin why he took an active role in the fight against getting PASPA overturned, his reasoning was simple:
“I am doing this to save an industry. I want Monmouth Park to be here for forever. I want your grandchildren and their children to come out and enjoy everything that is so important to all of us in terms of horse racing and what it means to the state, and to our lives.
“I think we’ve accomplished that. Monmouth Park is no longer in jeopardy of closing down. We’re on solid financial footing.”
Haskell Invitational + Maximum Security
Speaking of horse racing, there is a pretty big one taking place at Monmouth Park later this summer. The Haskell Invitational (the signature event) is on July 20, and Maximum Security is expected to be favored.
Yes, we are talking about the same Maximum Security that was disqualified from this year’s Kentucky Derby. He is currently living and training at Monmouth.
The excitement is building months in advance, and a crowd in excess of 35,000 to 40,000 could be there for race day.
In terms of the controversy surrounding Maximum Security, Drazin weighs in:
“He is probably the best horse in the country, bar none.
“He crossed the finish line first at the Derby, although there is some controversy about the disqualification. There is no one I know of in racing that doesn’t believe that he was the best horse in racing that day.”
And the addition of sports betting has livened things up around the racetrack. Drazin said the horse bettors have dabbled in sports betting, creating a natural crossover.
“It makes your whole venue [feel] alive,” he said.
“Before it was how do we get people to come back out to the racetrack because we do live racing May through October. Now it’s become different. You have people in the facility all year round.”
Monmouth has its eyes on the future
Friday may be the big anniversary day for sports betting, but Monmouth Park and William Hill are eyeing the future.
Instead of resting on their laurels, plans are in the works for an expanded sports betting facility in the clubhouse area.
The specifics are still in the planning stages, but Drazin used the words “upscale Vegas-type venue” to describe the space. It will include a food and beverage component with comfortable seating.
In terms of Monmouth Park’s current setup, Asher wasted little time passing credit Drazin’s way:
“He doesn’t nearly get the recognition he deserves as the guy who really made it happen.
“It’s been a great relationship. The sportsbook has done well, [not just] from a betting volume perspective but from a social perspective, giving folks in the area a place to come and hang out and enjoy the games. You can’t beat it during a busy time on the sports calendar.”