- The Garden State is ground zero for the impact of the Supreme Court's sports betting decision, and both startups and industry titans alike have a plan for what happens next.
It’s noon on a sunny Saturday in April, and although live racing is still seven hours away, the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J., is filled with people drinking beer, watching races on simulcasts from Aqueduct, Mahoning and Gulfstream, and placing bets. And because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state in Murphy v. NCAA, essentially allowing sports betting on all sports nationwide, the Meadowlands—and the state—is in prime position to benefit.
The track, a stone’s throw away from MetLife Stadium, is filled with nearly 400 television screens across three floors, three restaurants, two VIP rooms, and a large food court. A self-service betting station is never more than 20 steps away. And with TVs already set to ESPN and FS1, plus the pregame for that day’s Yankees game, all the park has to do is configure the betting machines to accept more sports. Let the profit ensue.
“We could quickly convert a portion of it to accept sports betting,” says Jeffrey Gural, the owner of the track and a real estate magnate. “Our goal would be to be up and running by the football season.”
New Jersey, which first legalized sports gambling in 2012, is ground zero for the impact of this court decision. A law is already in place, making it one of four states set to regulate it following the Supreme Court’s decision. Although the decision allows for sports gambling, any state that doesn’t have a law on the books would have to create new rules to allow for it, tax it and regulate it. New Jersey has that all in place. (Another state that is ready to go is Mississippi, which has a number of riverboat gambling cruises.) At Monmouth Park down the shore, William Hill, the venerable London-based bookmaker, already has a sports book in place at its eponymous sports bar. The track also recently installed nearly 50 new TVs above where the new betting action will take place. “The infrastructure is in place,” says Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill US. “We’re adding additional capacity adjacent to [the bar]. We won’t be starting from scratch. There will be quite a bit of hiring, but we’ll try to get it going as soon as we can.” Online startups, like PropSwap, are already planning to hit the state. “We’ll be live and active in [New Jersey] on day one,” says Ian Epstein, one of the founders.
The Borgata in Atlantic City announced construction last November on a $7 million sportsbook at the casino. Borgata, owned by MGM Resorts, said in an statement to SI: “We support efforts to bring this activity out of the shadows and provide consumers and sports leagues with the protections associated with proper regulations.” Ocean Resort, which is slated to open this summer, already has plans to open a “state of the art” sportsbook. With three major racetracks and four professional sports teams—plus easy access to both New York City and Philadelphia—the Supreme Court decision augurs a profitable future for the state. (Eilers and Krejcik, an industry research firm, estimates a potential profit of over a half billion per year for the state.)
Ideas to benefit from the decision at the Meadowlands are aplenty. The Victory Bar & Club, which already hosts Super Bowl and March Madness parties, is packed with televisions and a self-service station. It’s also home to corporate events and bar mitzvahs (nothing says L’Chaim like winning big!). Raceworld, which gives bettors a private desk with a TV for $3, was already filled early in the day. There’s the VIP room with a $500 daily wager and a $75,000 yearly minimum, and an even more VIP room off to the side for even more money. James Johnston, the player development manager for the track, brings up an app on his phone. Called MRE sports, the app hosts a weekly football parlay game for a $2,000 prize. The app also hosted a $6,500 prize for March Madness. The app is run by CG Technology, a Nevada-based tech company run by Cantor Fitzgerald. (In an ironic twist, the company was fined $22.5 million in 2016 for running an illegal gambling and money laundering operation called “Jersey Boys.”) Any room or restaurant can be easily configured to accept an MLB or NBA bet, all while taking action on the horses. This new future is easily imagined: A bettor will have an eye on the harness race at the track, another on a big race in Saratoga, a phone streaming MLB action (wifi is free) and a TV set to the NFL.
The challenge for the Meadowlands and other Jersey properties will be to get people into the building. Though centrally located (a 20 minute bus ride from midtown Manhattan, plus there’s free parking), a lot of betting action happens online. “I don’t think that you can expect, realistically, that if people are already betting illegally online, that they’re all of a sudden going to drive to the Meadowlands every time [they] want to make a bet,” says Gural.
Still, with big crowds for big events, and around 1,000 patrons on a typical weekend , there will be plenty of bets placed. It’s impossible to walk anywhere in the complex without seeing a race or a game. With sports gambling legalized, it’ll be impossible to walk anywhere in the complex without the opportunity to get a piece of all the action.