If Meadowlands Stops Offering Horse Racing? No More Sports Betting Either, Per Legislation

Another bill to allow for in-state betting on New Jersey college sports is also expected to pass
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The Meadowlands Racetrack, while hobbled until last month in terms of in-person visitation for gamblers to watch live racing, has maintained a steady flow of dollars wagered on harness races.

But just to ensure that is the case for the long term, the state Senate on Monday approved a bill requiring the track, as well as Freehold Raceway, to continue to feature races as a condition of keeping its sports betting license.

The bill, the first version of which was filed in November 2019, mirrors a previous requirement from many years ago when the legislature agreed to permit racetracks to accept wagering on televised horse races of out-of-state racetracks, known as simulcasting.

“These measures,” the current bill states, “ensure the continuation of live horse racing and its economic, agribusiness, and environmental benefits to the State.”

The bill requires racetracks to schedule at least 151 live standardbred race meetings per year in order to be eligible to hold a sports wagering license. That number may be decreased to 75 or more race dates, however, upon written consent from the Standardbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association of New Jersey.

“The bill is limited to standardbred racetracks only, in recognition of the inherent incentive to continue live horse racing that exists when a horsemen’s association operates the racetrack, as is currently the case with thoroughbred racetracks.”

The latter statement in the bill refers to the state thoroughbred horsemen’s association’s direct management of Monmouth Park racetrack — the other site of live racing in New Jersey.

The bill now heads to the Assembly, where passage is expected shortly before it is sent to Gov. Phil Murphy for signing.

Fixed odds on its way to New Jersey

A bill establishing “fixed odds” wagering on horse racing in the state is now even further along, having unanimously passed both the state Senate and Assembly on Monday.

Per the bill, gamblers would be able to “lock in their odds when the bet is first placed, and no fluctuation in potential payout may occur.”

That concept — popular in Australia and the United Kingdom as well as elsewhere in Europe — puts wagers on horse racing on a level playing field with ever-expanding sports betting in the state.

As an example of the traditional parimutuel format, a gambler could bet on a horse minutes before the race at 5-to-1 odds to win, only to see the potential payout become closer to even money by post time — or even shortly thereafter, as last-second bets are tabulated. With fixed odds, the bettor’s original odds would be locked in for him.

So far only Monmouth Park operators have shown a willingness to get going immediately, with a goal of offering fixed-odds wagering for the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes day of races at the Oceanport track on July 17.

During an Assembly commitee hearing last month on the bill , a Freehold Raceway executive expressed concerns that using fixed odds — which produces a lower percentage of revenue for tracks — could “cannibalize” the parimutuel side of wagering and harm the bottom line of the tracks.

Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin in early 2020 partnered with Australia-based firm Betmakers to offer the new form of wagering.

Hot dog! Eating contest betting also gets go-ahead

The state Division of Gaming Enforcement last year offered wagers on the Nathan’s July 4 hot dog eating contest, but only as a special exception.

Per a bill approved unanimously by the state Senate on Monday (after being passed by the Assembly nearly a year ago), gambling on “competitive eating contests” would be added to the list of sporting events permitted by the DGE.

The same goes for “awards competitions” such as the Academy Awards, which also previously required a special exception by state regulators. In either case, a maximum bet is a modest $100, with a limit of $500 to be won by a bettor trying their luck with a long shot.

But bill sponsor Ralph Caputo, an Essex County Democrat, told njonlinegambling.com on Monday that he was most excited by another aspect of the bill.

Under existing law, certain events, such as high school sporting events, are considered ‘prohibited sports events’ and cannot be wagered on. This bill expands on ‘prohibited sports events’ to include electronic sports competitions sponsored by or affiliated with high schools or competitions in which the majority of competitors are under the age of 18. The bill also clarifies the age limit regarding certain sports events to accommodate the growing trend of younger competitors in the video gaming community.

Caputo, 80, reiterated his stance that “eSports is the next big thing — people have no idea how popular these games are, and there is an opportunity for Atlantic City to be a hub for major tournaments.”

The previous legislative hesitation appears to have been based on the number of participants and fans of such entertainment who are under the age of 18.

NJ college betting delayed, not denied?

All but one of the 16 resolutions on the Assembly docket on Monday’s busy schedule passed unanimously. The lone exception was a bill to put a referendum to voters in November on whether to allow for wagering on college sporting events involving New Jersey universities.

To the surprise of supporters in both the Assembly and the Senate, that bill did not receive a vote amid the busy schedule of more than 100 bills. The Senate already posted a 36-1 approval vote on June 3.

But the Assembly now has the bill listed as the lone resolution up for vote on Thursday. An expected approval would leave enough time for bill sponsors to work with state officials on specific language of a ballot question that would go before voters in the next election.

In-state gamblers already can bet on all other college events approved for betting by state regulators, and the referendum would allow for legal wagering on games such as Rutgers football or Seton Hall basketball as well.

Another bill requiring an annual audit by the state Racing Commission also is up for vote in the Assembly on Thursday. That bill is in response to the State Auditor’s Office finding of “deficiencies” in commission practices in its review of 2016-2020 accounting practices.

Photo by Shutterstock

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