Freehold Raceway Closing In On Sports Betting, Both Live And Online, VP Reveals

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The Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park have gotten the national publicity for their sports betting exploits the past six months, but there is another racetrack in New Jersey: Freehold Raceway.

And while there is no sports betting there yet, it appears as if it is on the way.

“We are in negotiations with vendors for both retail and online, and we hope to have a decision by the end of the month,” Christopher McErlean, a longtime vice president at Penn National — which co-owns the track along with Greenwood Racing — told NJ Online Gambling.

McErlean said the goal is to have one vendor handle both the brick-and-mortar and online operations, just as the Meadowlands has with FanDuel and Monmouth Park has with William Hill US.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

A goal of nailing down a vendor before December 31 doesn’t mean that the track is scrambling to be open for NFL playoff weekends. McErlean said that such a deal would be followed by licensing and then by physical changes to whatever part of the nearly 200-year-old track — the oldest in the U.S., although the main facility only dates back to 1986 — will host the sportsbook.

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“We’ve been able to see how the landscape has lined up in New Jersey, and there is some advantage to a more measured approach,” McErlean said. “This is about playing the long game.”

And what does he think of the results so far for the two other tracks and the state as a whole?

“New Jersey is turning into a very good marketplace, and I think our location is very well-positioned,” McErlean said.

Freehold going hand-held

Online sports betting in New Jersey has surged well ahead of the betting handle at the tracks and the Atlantic City casinos, and McErlean said Freehold is eager to join that fray.

“There is a lot of interest online, and competing there is expensive, but the numbers overall are solid,” McErlean said. Freehold officials have been “deep in negotiations with multiple parties” throughout the football season, McErlean noted.

The regulars at Freehold, a harness racing track, have shown “definite interest” in sports betting, he added.

“I’m sure that right now some are potentially going to other locations,” McErlean said.

Penn National is no stranger to sports betting, having opened a sportsbook at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in November after opening a sportsbook at Charles Town Races in West Virginia in September. William Hill US is the partner in both states, so it will be interesting to see if William Hill scores the trifecta.

Five Penn National casinos in Mississippi, meanwhile, kicked off sports betting in time for the college football season.

“It’s too early to draw any major conclusions from our new sites, but we are learning from those experiences,” McErlean said.

Penn National operates gambling facilities in 15 states, with Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Mississippi being legal sports betting states already. Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio undoubtedly are among the many states Penn National officials are monitoring on that front.

The NJ online landscape

New Jersey has approved 14 sites to offer sports betting: the nine Atlantic City casinos, the three existing racetracks, and the former sites of Garden State Park in Cherry Hill and Atlantic City Race Course.

Each site can offer up to three online sports betting platforms, or “skins.”

So far two tracks and seven Atlantic City casinos have sportsbooks, while there are eight online sports betting options so far — with more to come. Insiders tell us, however, that it is more likely that the state will get halfway to the maximum of 42 sports betting websites than all the way there given the level of competition.

Photo by Cathleen A. Clapper / Shutterstock.com

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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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