Meadowlands Racetrack Debuts Sports Betting To A Young, Male, Enthusiastic Crowd

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Nearly a decade after the legal fight began in New Jersey, the Meadowlands Racetrack finally got to offer sports betting on Saturday. An overwhelmingly male crowd gathered at the FanDuel Sportsbook — heretofore known as Victory Sports Bar & Club — and here are some of our Day One observations:

Youth is served

The age range of the sports betting crowd was more diverse than the older crowd expected for the evening’s prestigious Meadowlands Pace horse racing card.

Take 32-year-old Greg Gobran of Hoboken.

“I’ve never been here before — the whole reason I came is because of this,” Gobran said inside the sports book, bringing music to the ears of those hoping for just that result.

Fan-Duel-branding
FanDuel’s branding was prominent for the first day of sports betting

Tellers, TVs, and T-shirts

There were 10 tellers working, with lines going 15 or so deep in the first hour Saturday morning. There was some modest, Jersey-style grumbling from fans, which is not too surprising. The plan is to have 15 sports betting windows by football season, with the number of TVs increasing from 27 to 65 as renovations take root.

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Bets could be placed on the MLB games of day, and futures bets were available on MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL. There was also boxing and mixed martial arts wagering. Not in sight were additional options offered at Monmouth Park such as WNBA and CFL games. We didn’t see any sheets for the British Open golf major, though we were told it was an option.

FanDuel offered free T-shirts as well as a “How to Bet Betting Guide” — but most seemed to bypass the latter option.

Big spenders and big shots

More bettors than not in the first hour seemed to be betting $100-$500, if not more. It makes sense, given that these are patrons who couldn’t wait to make their wagers.

Retired State Senator Ray Lesniak, the founding father of the end of Nevada’s virtual monopoly on sports betting, doubled down on last month’s pick of France to win the World Cup one day before the final between France and Croatia. Lesniak — who also again bet on the Giants to win the Super Bowl — wore a, well, snug Colombia soccer jersey to the event.

Other politicians bet with their hearts: Ex-Governor Richard Codey picked the Cincinnati Reds (and Croatia), State Senator Paul Sarlo went with the Mets (!), and State Senator Teresa Ruiz took the Yankees (and the Giants to win the Super Bowl, for her husband).

Male bonding at the Meadowlands

The best line of the press conference came from Ruiz: “My only job this morning was to break up the testosterone zone.”

The media gathers for the Meadowlands press conference

Codey and Sarlo used the occasion to press for more aid to the state’s racetracks. Codey said freshman Governor Phil Murphy has been meeting with horsemen since before the election, and that Murphy is “in” as far as backing a plan for a $31 million purse subsidy by the state to mirror the one that Atlantic City’s casino industry used to offer more than a decade ago.

Asked if the plan is likely to get through the legislature next year, Codey said, “I think we can get it done.”

Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural, a major Manhattan real estate mogul, commented, “Good thing I have a real job — the real job pays for my fun job.” Gural said he has provided $18 million of his own cash in recent years to keep Meadowlands afloat.

An insider told me that the first online sports betting site in New Jersey should be up and running “by the end of the month.” It’s not clear if that will be Monmouth Park or Borgata, the co-favorites.

Bettor sound bites

One bettor was overheard sharing his philosophy: “All you have to do is win the first one or two games, and then you are playing with house money. What’s better than to play with house money?”

“Michael Z.” gave his review of the launch as he checked his baseball parlay plays: “It could have been done better. I like going in person, but 90 percent of my friends would rather bet at home.”

Gobran, a Rutgers alumnus, said of the ban on wagering on New Jersey’s college teams, “Me and my buddies go every year to the Rutgers-Seton Hall [men’s basketball] game, and it would have been kind of cool to have a [bet]on that.”

The wide-scale media presence was capitalized on by Joe Wisniewski of Hoboken, whose website makes some very confident claims about his picks, shall we say. He wore a T-shirt emblazoned with his name and told some TV crews that he was leaning toward betting $5,000-$10,000 on the Oakland A’s to beat the San Francisco Giants tonight.

Meanwhile, tout Stu Feiner of Long Island, who proved adept at muscling in before the cameras last month at the sports betting launches at Dover Downs in Delaware and at Monmouth Park, was not seen or heard in the opening hour this time.

Local flavor

Odds for local teams included the Giants at 50/1 to win the Super Bowl, Jets at 200/1 (the biggest longshot on the NFL card), Devils at 30/1, Rangers at 35/1, Islanders at 45/1, Yankees at 6/1, and Mets, currently 13 games out of the second wild card spot, at 500/1 (good luck with that).

Concerns about possible overflow of crowds led to a minimum of advertising for the sports betting debut. So while plenty of New Yorkers are expected to cross the Hudson River to place bets eventually (even with the online sports betting, you have to be within state lines), on opening day, only a smattering of cars in the parking lot bore New York license plates.

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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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