HOLD YOUR BETS

Es­tab­lish­ing sports­book at Mon­mouth is not so sim­ple

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - BY EVAN GROSS­MAN Trans­form­ing the Wil­liam Hill Race and Sports Bar (in­set) at Mon­mouth into a sports­book is one thing, get­ting the go-ahead from New Jer­sey law­mak­ers is an­other as track of­fi­cials wait on the OK.

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.

EVAN GROSS­MAN/DAILY NEWS

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