While they were expected to be the first “newcomer” to the sports betting world after court decisions, New Jersey instead became the second (after Delaware) with their actions on Thursday.
The Garden State became the third state to officially open their borders for sports betting bright and early on a sunny Thursday on both ends of the state. The historic event was at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, site of one of the state’s horse racing facilities that quickly transferred over a few betting windows to be able to present a board and take sports bets. At the head of the pack on Thursday to place the first bet was New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who put down a bet on the German National Soccer Team to win the World Cup (a $20 wager) and a futures bet on the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils to win the 2019 Stanley Cup.
Meanwhile, 70 miles to the south of the events at Monmouth Park and simultaneously with Murphy’s wagers, Atlantic City offered its first sports betting action. At the Borgata on the Boardwalk, there was some star power in the room as Basketball Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving took to the windows. “The Doctor” was a bit more conservative in his choice for the first “live” bet in Atlantic City, putting $5 on the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The action at the Borgata’s sports book – the only one currently operational in the city as they converted some slot space into a temporary book until the main room can be completed – was active as the cash flowed. Many players remarked that it was a new day for gambling in the state, with some saying that it would be a new “home” for them come the fall. “My wife thinks I’m nuts for doing this,” the Associated Press quoted Al Pniewski of Hazlet, NJ, as saying. Pniewski took the day off from his warehouse job just to be in line to place a bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl (a $100 bet which, at 12-1, would pay him $1200 if a winner) and said that “(he) and my brother-in-law” would be there every weekend come college football season.
Other people commented on what should be the big drawing card for the new sports books – something they can now do in their home state rather than having to go to Las Vegas. Mike Sochasai of Toms River laid down a four-team parlay bet – all hinging on the New York Mets losing – said, “When I would go to Vegas, this is always what I wanted to do here, but couldn’t.” The “house” also seemed to be pleased, with Borgata President Marcus Glover saying he “couldn’t be happier” to open the casino’s sports book, while Dennis Drazin of Monmouth Park said he was “euphoric” to see the first bets hit the turnstiles.
The opening of sports betting in New Jersey is the end of a saga that dates to the 1990s. In 1992, the U. S. Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which banned sports betting except for a handful of states. New Jersey was offered one of those “grandfathered” spots, but Jersey voters defeated a referendum in 1993 that would have allowed Atlantic City to offer sports betting, leaving the state to fall under the PASPA ban.
Fast forward approximately 20 years and the story had changed. With casino revenues falling, the New Jersey Legislature passed a new law in 2012 allowing for the state’s casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting. Immediately the feds jumped in to exert the force of PASPA and the legal battle was on.
Through the federal court system, the lower courts consistently decided for the federal government, but the Supreme Court would prove to be a different beast. In December 2017, the SCOTUS heard arguments on the case, with New Jersey contending that gambling was traditionally the purveyance of the states and the U. S. Department of Justice arguing that PASPA (and its enforcement) was key to protecting the integrity of sporting events from college to the pros.
In a 6-3 vote in May, the SCOTUS overturned PASPA, saying that, while the federal government did have the right to regulate sports betting, it did not have the right to selectively put the law on some locations and not others (the “grandfather” clause). With the rumblings of legislation from PASPA creator Utah Senator Orrin Hatch to formulate a “PASPA 2,” many states have rushed to enact laws before potentially another federal ban is implemented. “We knew in our heads we were right, and we knew in our hearts we would win,” Murphy commented on the SCOTUS decision. “We’ve got a lot of good times ahead.”
Although the live books are open, online punters are going to have to wait for a bit longer before they can get in on the action. The first online options for sports betting in New Jersey will not be open for at least 30 days.
With the first bets in the books (no pun intended) in New Jersey, there are now three states that offer sports betting to their constituents. The longtime home of sports betting, Nevada, is now joined by Delaware and New Jersey in that gaming fraternity. The biggest question facing states now? How many states will step up and offer sports betting for their citizens – Pennsylvania is thought to be on the cusp and the Michigan House has passed a bill for online gaming and sports betting (the Senate will pick up debate this fall) – and which companies will offer sports betting online to the entire States of America, which will open a whole new world to the sports betting industry.