Golden Nugget Now Poised To Take Most NBA Bets

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Visitors to the Golden Nugget casino and users of their sports betting app will be able to wager on most NBA games this season — unless Governor Phil Murphy delivers an unlikely veto.

The state Senate on Monday passed a bill by a 26-1 margin allowing for wagering on all NBA games except those involving the Houston Rockets, a team owned by Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta. The bill had passed the Assembly in June by a 76-0 vote. The dissenting vote on Monday was cast by Michael Doherty of Warren County, a Republican.

The bill was necessary because the state’s revised sports betting law, passed last year in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing any state to offer such gambling, banned wagering at the Golden Nugget on any NBA games due to Fertitta’s Rockets association.

Sweeney’s switch

The initial plan was to bar Golden Nugget from offering any sports betting at all, before a compromise was reached. We spoke to NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney — a sports fan and particularly of his beloved Green Bay Packers — about this issue in Trenton last year. He seemed genuinely convinced that this ownership issue could lead to public distrust — ironically, about as conservative a position as the sports leagues had in their losing seven-year battle with New Jersey.

But Sweeney ultimately decided to compromise and allow betting at GN on any sport but the NBA. The card-carrying ironworker doesn’t even allow bills to get out of Senate committees without his say-so, which means that this vote — and he was one of the 26 “yes” votes — is by his authority.

There is little reason to believe that Murphy, who did not weigh in on this technicality, would object.

The state Legislature tends to be in recess for all of July and August, and only four bills were up for a vote in today’s session. That, too, bodes well for the bill.

The devil and the details

“This bill permits a direct or indirect legal or beneficial owner of 10 percent or more of a member team of a sports governing body to place or accept wagers on a sports event in which other member teams participate when the owner’s team is not participating,” the bill reads. “Currently, a legal or beneficial owner of 10 percent or more of a team may not place or accept wagers on any sports event in which any of the other member teams of the team’s sports governing body participate. This bill would permit placing and accepting wagers on those events when the owner’s team is not a participant in the event.”

Earlier this year, Fertitta attempted to merge his holdings with that of Caesars, which at the time owned three of Atlantic City’s nine casinos.

That bid was rejected, and instead Eldorado struck a tentative deal with Caesars that would place a different fourth casino — Tropicana — under the same umbrella.

That deal has brought concerns about whether all four Caesars/Eldorado properties will survive, since the addition of two new casinos, Hard Rock and Ocean Casino Resort, has led to reduced profits across the board.

The bill, which now sits on Murphy’s desk for up to 45 days — so, no longer than the NBA preseason — would put Golden Nugget on a nearly-even playing field with the other Atlantic City casinos regarding the NBA, which proved particularly popular with in-game bettors during its inaugural New Jersey legal sports betting season.

Photo by Racheal Grazias / 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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