HOLD YOUR BETS
Establishing sportsbook at Monmouth is not so simple
ONE DAY, perhaps next March, when everyone’s brackets are filled out, there might be more of a commotion. But on Thursday, all was quiet at Monmouth Park, where preparations to transform part of the racetrack into the state’s first sportsbook are quietly underway.
When daily fantasy sports was legalized in New York two years ago, all websites like DraftKings and FanDuel had to do was flip a switch to open DFS to players.
Transforming the sports bar at Monmouth Park into New Jersey’s first legal sportsbook is not as simple. Still, walking around the quiet grandstand, you would never know there is a massive operation going on behind the scenes to launch the sportsbook in just a matter of weeks.
“This is very different from daily fantasy sports betting,” Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill, the company that will operate Monmouth’s sportsbook, told the News. “This is going to be something to real gaming regulation. Daily fantasy was never subject to real gaming regulation that we and other gaming operators in the U.S. are accustomed to. It’s a very different world.”
Monmouth and William Hill, which manages more than 100 gambling parlors in Nevada, will split revenue from the track’s sports betting operation.
While getting the sportsbook at Monmouth operational and up to code may be a little more complicated than flipping a switch, most of the heavy lifting has already been done. The William Hill Race and Sports Bar is already open and looks no different than any other sports bar you’ve been in, covered in blue leather, brick, and beer pennants. The only difference will be in a matter of weeks, you’ll be able to put money down on a game while you eat your wings.
Monmouth Park built the sports bar in 2013 in anticipation of Monday’s Supreme Court decision to lift a federal ban on sports gambling. New Jersey has been fighting for legalization since 2011.
The Applebee’s-like facility will serve as the track’s first temporary sportsbook until a bigger $5 million gambling parlor expected to hold more than 5,000 players can be built. That might not be ready for another two years, so in the meantime, New Jersey sports gamblers will have to pile into the sports bar at Monmouth to place their bets.
New Jersey is expected to allow sports betting only at racetracks and casinos once the state passes a law regulating it.
At Monmouth, the biggest task facing sportsbook managers is hiring and training a staff to take those bets. Monday’s Supreme Court decision merely lifted a federal ban on sports gambling. Now it is up to individual states to sancion and regulate it, just like they did with fantasy sports.
Initially, Monmouth operators said they would be live by May 28, but they have since walked back those boasts to allow for state legislators to craft the laws.
“There’s a lot of pieces in play,” Asher said. “The legislation is consequential. What’s the bill say? That’s something that’s very important to us. We will be able to go live when we have things sorted out from the legislative and regulatory perspective. We’ve been in conversations throughout the process with the division of gaming and enforcement and continue to have those conversations. If anyone thinks it’s just flipping a switch and having at it, they don’t really understand our business at all.”
What’s happening right now at Monmouth has happened before in its long history. Monmouth Park first opened in 1870 as a way to bring tourists to the Jersey Shore. The venue lasted only three years and was forced to close because of finances. The track was reborn in 1882 under new owners, and a bigger, better Monmouth Park was built in 1890. But four years after that, New Jersey outlawed horse wagering and the track closed for more than 50 years.
In 1946, Monmouth Park reopened for the third time when the ban on betting was lifted. It has been open ever since, but now the old track is in store for yet another rebirth thanks to the legalization of another form of gambling that promises to drive the local economy.
Asher estimates that New Jersey’s sports gambling market could be twice the size of the one that exists in Nevada right now, simply because there are so many more people in the tri-state area than are in the middle of the desert. Asher said it is not out of the question for New Jersey to bring in a total of $10 billion a year, compared to the $5 billion handle in Nevada.
But there is also more competition for those bets in New Jersey than there is in Nevada. Asher emphasizes that illegal bookies may cut into the state’s gambling business. Also shaping just how much money gambling parlors like the one at Monmouth rake in are the taxes that lawmakers assign to bets.
“In Nevada you don’t really have much of an illegal market, certainly not that you see, because you have a reasonable tax rate and the infrastructure is such that there really is no point betting in the illegal market,” Asher said. “You do have a big illegal market in the northeast. I’m from Delaware and I spent a lot of time in Atlantic City and parts of New Jersey all my life ... so don’t underestimate the black market.
Despite the historic Supreme Court decision to allow states to govern sports gambling, many gamblers have been placing bets illegally for generations.
“You should not assume that all the illegal bookies in New Jersey are just going to throw in the towel and go back to school and do something else for a living,” Asher said. “People have decades-long relationships with their bookies. That is not going to change overnight.”
Change, even at places like Monmouth Park, may be gradual.