Straight Talk From Meadowlands Track Operator On All Things Sports Betting

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After Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural introduced himself at a Betting on Sports America panel in the Meadowlands last week, a fellow panelist amused the audience when he commented, “I don’t know how to follow that!”

Indeed, hundreds of industry insiders attending the wide-ranging two-day conference got an opportunity to get to know the personality of the straight-talking real estate mogul and operator of racetracks whose Meadowlands property is now touted as the world’s highest-volume sportsbook.

The 76-year-old Gural noted that he got lucky when the U.S. Supreme Court surprisingly decided in 2017 to take up the long-running court battle between New Jersey and five major sports organizations. After the court ruled in the state’s favor a year ago, Gural quipped, “I went from going broke to making a lot of money. I tell my grandchildren that it’s important to work hard and study hard — but luck comes into life, and this was just a lucky break.”

Pick of the litter

Of course, as in all sports, the real key is taking advantage of good fortune and opportunity when they come. Gural said once sports betting was on its way to New Jersey, he received seven formal pitches — or “requests for proposals” — for partnerships.

“I knew I was in position to really pick and choose who to partner with, and I arranged to meet with all seven vendors,” Gural said. “I came to the conclusion, based on common sense, that FanDuel or DraftKings would dominate the market because of their name recognition [from their daily fantasy sports operations]. The only problem that they had was that they had no idea what they were doing as far as sports betting. I decided I had to find a partner for them.”

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As it happened, the regulated gambling landscape was shifting last year. European online gambling giant Betfair, which had acquired TVG in 2009, completed a merger with Paddy Power in 2016. TVG runs the off-track wagering operations in dozens of states — including New Jersey.

“I knew, and liked, TVG and Paddy Power Betfair, so I knew the people and had a level of comfort,” Gural said, adding that he told the parties that if they merged with FanDuel, they would have a deal both at the Meadowlands and at Tioga Downs, Gural’s upstate New York racino.

Whatever the level of influence Gural may have had, Paddy Power Betfair announced it had acquired FanDuel just 10 days after the May 14, 2018 Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for any state to legalize sports betting.

Two weeks after that, Gural announced that he had a deal as well.

Gural’s second “skin” partner was not the same sort of industry giant. Instead, Gural chose a feisty Australian upstart called PointsBet.

“I liked them. They were young guys, and they felt like underdogs instead of being a massive company,” Gural said. “It seemed like they would try harder. And I’ve seen steady growth from PointsBet.”

(The third and final skin partner for Gural is Nevada-based bookmaker CG Technology, which is awaiting final approval from state regulators.)

How self-betting kiosks changed the Meadowlands game

Gural said that there were typically “lines out the door” of his sportsbook on college football Saturdays last fall because technical issues delayed the rollout of self-betting kiosks.

“We knew that with the kiosks, we could advertise for March Madness,” Gural said. “We ran some ads in the New York Post, which has a great sports section; the rest of it is garbage.”

Gural, an energetic progressive, explained his interest in the right-leaning Post, owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

“I had to figure out who are my customers — and they’re going to look at the Post,” Gural said. “It has the highest degree of betting information. Then I basically leased all of the billboards in the area to really push March Madness and get different customers. Plus I could get people to see that the lines were gone [thanks to the kiosks].”

Gural seems bemused by the change in his daily work schedule.

“Every morning, I wake up and get a report to see how people did,” Gural said, referring to gamblers. “And before I go to sleep at night, I go on the CBS Sports website to see the results of games. Basically, I root for underdogs. It’s amazing that we are on a real hot streak here, despite losing a million dollars on Tiger Woods.

“My FanDuel experts are all excited that Tiger won. They think that losing a million is a good thing, because people are going to keep betting Tiger for the next two years. I hope he doesn’t win a Grand Slam — that would bury us. But the whole thing has been fascinating to me.”

More Gural sound bites

Gural also told the audience that he is learning from conversations with his sportsbook tellers.

“The one consistent thing they tell me is that it’s almost unheard of for someone to come to them with a winning ticket and not make another bet immediately,” Gural said. “Only if it’s 2 a.m. and the place is closing will someone just get cash and leave.”

Gural also said that his sportsbook visitors “are not interested in going to Atlantic City or Las Vegas. That’s not who they are.”

Another source of intrigue for Gural is people-watching near the “minimum bet $2,000” window, which includes some bettors “who look like they might have two dollars in their pocket.”

Gural doesn’t talk much in his horse racing/sports betting environment about his real estate holdings, but they are impressive. He got into the family business in the early 1970s, and eventually oversaw the management for Newmark Knight Frank of more than 8 million square feet of property, much of it in Manhattan and North Jersey.

Estimates of Gural’s net worth vary, but last year he pledged to donate more than $1 million annually to non-profits in the communities near his Tioga Downs racino in New York. Both his father and two uncles were Manhattan real estate tycoons. He’s — well, he’s very wealthy.

But being rich and owning racetracks doesn’t mean that Gural never met a gamble he doesn’t like. You’re very unlikely to find him at a casino, for example.

And though he can afford to make huge sports bets, he told the audience at the Meadowlands Exposition Center that he’s not interested.

“I would never in a million years bet $2,000 on a game,” Gural said. “But I’ll bet $100 on a game and get a big kick out of it.”

Gural has noticed that his core customer thinks differently.

“One reason we do so well is we’re not just catering to people who want to bet $10 and have a sandwich,” he said. “We’re catering to people who are there to bet, and they are going to bet over and over again. That’s what we see.”

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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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