A Look Back (And Ahead) At The Year That Was For NJ Sports Betting

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There is no question that the most important day of 2018 for sports betting legalization in New Jersey — and across the U.S. — was on May 14, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a 26-year-old federal law that made such activity illegal in most states.

But the second- and third-most important days of 2018 really occurred in 2017, though not everyone realized it.

A seven-year journey

New Jersey’s passage of a 2011 ballot question on sports betting, and subsequent passage of a state law permitting it, set the stage for a 2012 lawsuit by the NFL, NCAA, and three other sports organizations.

But in May 2017, the U.S. Solicitor General, who had been asked by the Court to review the merits of the case and make a recommendation on whether it was worthy of the Court’s time, recommended against taking on the case.

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The only thing rarer than the Supreme Court accepting an appeal to take up a case, which happens less than 1 percent of the time, would be for the Court to ask the Solicitor General’s advice, and then ignore it.

But remarkably, that’s just what the Court did on June 27, 2017. That was the turning point, ultimately, since this meant that at least four Justices wanted to hear oral arguments and the Court, with new Justice Neil Gorsuch, had pivoted more toward a conservative bent that figured to look favorably on a classic “state’s rights” case.

The other key date was Dec. 4, 2017. That’s when oral arguments were heard in Washington, D.C., and supporters of the “Jersey side” were giddy over the line of questioning.

Dennis Drazin, an attorney who also operates Monmouth Park for the state’s thoroughbred horsemen, told NJ Online Gambling that he was so certain of victory after the oral arguments that he immediately stepped up renovations to have his sportsbook ready to take bets by mid-2018.

Off to the races for sports betting

Just four weeks after the Court’s ruling in May, both Monmouth Park and Borgata – which retooled its unique horse racing book to accommodate other bets – were open for sports betting business. Ocean Resorts was in on the action just two weeks later in late June.

The Meadowlands Racetrack joined the fun in mid-July, and Bally’s, Harrah’s, Golden Nugget, Resorts all were taking bets by mid-August. Tropicana, which had been in the midst of closing on a sale of the casino, arrived to the party in late October.

Online sports betting arrived in the beginning of August, with DraftKings Sportsbook leading the charge for a few weeks before playMGM, Play Sugarhouse, FanDuel Sportsbook, William Hill, Caesars, 888, and Betstars joined in. The newest rival is PointsBet, which recently got its preliminary approval from state regulators.

And how did the public react to this new legal gambling option? With over $1 billion – yes, billion – in wagers by year’s end. We know this ahead of the release of December figures because by the end of November – a $330 million betting month – the handle had climbed to $915 million for the year (really, half-year) with more than four weeks to go.

Next up for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks figures to be Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City and Freehold Raceway. Up to 33 more online sports betting websites can be launched, but don’t expect more than half of that figure to be up and running by the time we close the calendar on 2019.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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