American Dream Could Be A Nightmare For Sports Bettors At The Meadowlands Next Fall

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Many brick-and-mortar-loving sports bettors made a point of heading to the Meadowlands Racetrack’s FanDuel Sportsbook this past Sunday, knowing it was one of the rare fall Sundays when the Jets and Giants both were out of town.

That meant free parking at the track, compared to spending $30 on a parking pass or nearly half that for a roundtrip Secaucus Junction park-and-ride to the MetLife Stadium lots.

This deep into the NFL season, many sports betting enthusiasts have figured out the lay of the land in visiting the Meadowlands to make bets. Those who want a parking spot close to the entrance now know when to arrive before an evening’s top sporting events. Others have tracked when dining tables and barstools tend to fill up.

But just when they’re getting comfortable, they might as well know that things will all be different come next fall when it comes to potential traffic issues. The same goes for fans of live Meadowlands horse racing and simulcast visitors to the track.

That’s because there is every indication that the $5 billion, 3 million square foot American Dream Meadowlands project — 16 years in the making and counting, when we include predecessor Meadowlands Xanadu — will be open by mid-2019 at the latest.

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Company is coming

A massive indoor water park complex at the project site is slated to open just in time for the 2019 football season, joining 2 million square feet of shopping and other attractions.

For sports bettors, the difference will mainly be felt on Saturdays, which this season have been smooth-sailing at the Meadowlands all day, before competition for parking with live horse racing bettors picks up at night.

But American Dream’s developers anticipate an average of 82,000 visitors per day, based on their estimates of 30 million annual visitors (at times the estimate has been even higher). In an eerie coincidence, that’s the capacity of MetLife Stadium.

In other words, every day will feel like game day at the Meadowlands.

While the project at least is located across Route 120 from the track and stadium, many of the American Dream visitors will be using the same highways to get to the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

A Saturday night with a compelling college football game to watch at the sportsbook, an evening horse racing card (possibly with much larger purses that would attract extra visitors), and a special show at American Dream all going simultaneously could make things … interesting.

The simulcast betting regulars will fare better, since American Dream visitor traffic will be lighter during weekdays — with arrival times as spread out as that of those bettors, rather than tied to a football game with a defined opening kickoff.

Of course, Meadowlands leaders still harbor hopes of adding a convention center and casino at the Sports Complex, which would have the Complex buzzing at all times of day and night.

Traffic solutions?

Will the existence of American Dream alone prove too daunting, traffic-wise, for the FanDuel Sportsbook bettors?

There are positives, such as hundreds of millions of dollars spent on roadways in the region, particularly on doubling the capacity of off-ramps from the numerous highways.

There’s also that $185 million rail link in Secaucus that opened in 2009 and unfortunately is best-known for falling victim to the NFL’s overzealous mass transit pleas that compelled more than 30,000 people to swarm the train station for the 2014 Super Bowl.

By 2020, an 800-room hotel at the American Dream site may be open, cutting down on a modest amount of the tourist traffic. There is talk of shuttles to the site to transport visitors who take a ferry from Manhattan to the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. And those who really dream big can someday picture tourists from neighboring states taking an Amtrak train to Secaucus Junction rather than take to the highways.

There’s a solution, of course, for those brick-and-mortar gamblers if traffic is too congested next fall: There already are eight legal online sportsbooks in the state (FanDuel has one of them), with more on the way. So any adults with accounts can wager on their smart phones from their living rooms anywhere in New Jersey.

Those who want to enjoy a communal sports betting experience will come to realize, meanwhile, that online technology in effect turns every watering hole in the state into a sportsbook.

And in case they hadn’t thought about it, that already has been the case for decades — the difference being that such gambling was illegal, provided by the local bookie. Now they can talk about their big bet without having to look around to see who is within earshot.

What will American Dream be like, anyway?

When American Dream opens, look for the world’s largest indoor “water coaster” and indoor wave pool and the second-tallest body slide (142 feet, so almost half a football field length to the bottom) plus the Madagascar Rain Forest, Shrek’s Soggy Swamp, and the Kung Fu Panda Zone.

Nickelodeon characters will populate the indoor amusement park, the “X4D” movie theater complex will have 1,400 seats, and there is also an indoor amusement park, an NHL-sized skating rink, an “adult arcade,” Legoland Discovery Center, and more.

The logistics of how American Dream is being built in a swamp are fascinating. It’s all being built by the company that operates Mall of America in Minnesota, but its larger West Edmonton Mall in western Canada is a closer comparison.

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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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