Freehold Raceway Sportsbook Delayed — Again

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The first legal, regulated brick-and-mortar sportsbooks opened in New Jersey in mid-June of 2018.

By the end of that year, there were 10 such sites: the Meadowlands Racetrack, Monmouth Park, and eight of the nine Atlantic City casinos (Caesars sharing a sportsbook with adjacent Bally’s casino).

But one racetrack has lagged behind: Freehold Raceway.

In December 2018, an executive with Penn National told NJ Online Gambling that a partner could be lined up “by the end of the month.” That partner was scheduled to run both the sportsbook and a mobile version — important because as it turns out, almost 90% of monthly sports betting revenue is coming from online wagering. But December came and went — as did all of 2019 and the first half of 2020 — and still no sportsbook.

New target date set at Freehold

Word then went out last month that the sportsbook at the Monmouth County site would open in the middle of this week.

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A visit to Freehold on Wednesday, however, revealed only the usual simulcast regulars who have been showing up almost every day for many years. There was no sportsbook.

General Manager Howard Bruno said that the new target date is Sept. 24, subject to state regulatory approvals.

Few other details are available, however.

Barstool could be a factor

The most intriguing question is whether Barstool Sports will play a role in the branding of the sportsbook both at the track and online.

Penn National announced a deal seven months ago with Barstool, a brand with millions of mostly male, young followers who enjoy a website and personalities that at times have proven controversial due to edgy content that for some crosses the line into misogyny.

But for Penn National, which operates casinos and racetracks in an industry-leading 19 states, the risk was well worth it based on the company’s observation of the New Jersey sports betting landscape.

Atlantic City casino operators had large databases of gamblers, while DraftKings and FanDuel had millions of daily fantasy sports fans. The latter two companies have dominated for more than two years, an indication to Penn National that acquiring a large amount of sports-obsessed fan information was the ticket to instant relevance.

Penn National officials say that Pennsylvania will be the first state where the Barstool linkage will debut. A Barstool app is scheduled to go live next week, in fact.

Dual ownership

Freehold officials have been noncommittal on Barstool, and it’s worth noting that Penn National owns just 50% of the fabled racetrack.

The other half is owned by Greenwood Racing, which owns the Parx Casino and Racing thoroughbred track in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem.

It appears some answers could be only a couple of weeks away.

Photo courtesy of 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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