For years, New Jersey horseplayers have been flummoxed and frustrated with the state’s limitations on online advance-deposit wagering options.
But in the years since sports betting was legalized in 2018, it’s been especially galling that New Jersey bettors are only allowed to wager on horse racing through one parimutuel operator, when sports betting options are in the 20s.
There is a sense, however, that a new era is on the horizon. The ADW monopoly in New Jersey, which goes through a site called 4NJBets (operated by TVG, a member of the FanDuel Group), could be coming to an end.
Unless, of course, you're in New Jersey. Then you're only "eligible" for the 0.002% "rebate." And you have no other (legal) ADW option. https://t.co/AxskKGG3wv
— Stu Kirshenbaum (@StuKirshenbaum) July 17, 2017
Why does New Jersey only have one ADW?
New Jersey’s Off-track and Account Wagering Act of 2001 allowed the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA) to operate telephone, online, and off-track wagering, presumably because NJSEA owned and operated two racetracks in the state — the thoroughbred track at Monmouth Park and the standardbred harness track at Meadowlands.
An entity was formed with a board that included representatives from the NJSEA tracks and Freehold Raceway, which led to the creation of 4NJBets. It was operated by NJSEA as the lone ADW in the state.
But after NJSEA leased Meadowlands to Jeff Gural in 2011 and Monmouth to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association — which created Darby Development to operate the track — in 2012, things changed. Darby, which was given authority to negotiate an ADW deal with an outside company through an agreement with NJSEA , agreed to terms with TVG to operate 4NJBets, after receiving bids from several ADWs.
TVG and Darby signed another contract in 2018, but that is set to expire in 2023, according to Dennis Drazin, Darby’s chairman and CEO.
A new interpretation from a new attorney general
Part of the reason Darby selected TVG to run its ADW in 2018, Drazin said, is that it guaranteed $9.9 million per year in revenue to the racetrack operators. Also, until recently, a succession of state attorneys general had the opinion that because the New Jersey Off-Track and Account Wagering Act only authorized NJSEA to run an ADW, that meant only one ADW was allowed to operate in the state.
That has changed with acting AG Matt Platkin, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy and sworn in Feb. 14.
According to a spokesman in Platkin’s office, “New Jersey law does not limit the account wagering system to one operator. The State’s Off-Track and Account Wagering Act defines the account wagering licensee to mean [NJSEA] or its assignee. … The NJSEA entered into a contract with Darby Development to manage the account wagering system. Darby entered into a contract with TVG Network to operate the system. Any additional questions should be referred to NJSEA.”
NJSEA representatives declined to comment beyond what is included in the racing statute that addresses ADW, which states NJSEA “is authorized to coordinate with other parties to establish an ‘account wagering system.’” An “account wagering system,” as defined by New Jersey statute, is “the system through which account wagers are processed by the account wagering licensee pursuant to this act.”
Drazin said the AG’s current interpretation “is new to me in terms of interpretation. It has not been the interpretation from the [New Jersey] Racing Commission (which is under the AG’s purview) for all these years.” A spokesman for Platkin’s office said Judith Nason, who has served as the racing commission’s executive director since 2019, would not be available for an interview on this topic.
With that interpretation, however, Drazin feels the ADW world could open up in New Jersey, once TVG’s contract expires in 2023, but he still wants some sort of revenue guarantee.
“The nuance right now is the interpretation from the AG,” Drazin said. “I’m not going to comment if I agree or disagree, but I gather what they’re telling you is when this contract expires, Darby would have an opportunity to have other operators. … Under the AG provision that they gave you, then it would make sense, in 2023, to look at … permitting multiple operators to come in.
“There should not be consideration for that unless they can give guarantees that we are currently enjoying. We need those revenues and guarantees to make sure our businesses are afloat.”
What other operators could join the market?
The largest ADW companies in the United states — TVG, XpressBet, and TwinSpires — declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment for this story. NYRA Bets, the New York Racing Association’s relatively new ADW operation that launched in 2016, issued a statement that said it “would absolutely pursue expanding into New Jersey, should the market be opened to additional ADW competition.”
“New Jerseyans frequent NYRA tracks in large numbers, and we would welcome the opportunity to provide New Jersey residents with the wagering services available through NYRA Bets,” the statement said.
Drazen indicated he is working on getting ADW companies together to offer some sort of shared revenue guarantee, in the range of $12 million. And to secure those ADW agreements, which are covered by the Interstate Horse Racing Act, a number of consents are required — from racetracks, horsemen’s groups, and racing commissions.
So, how’s all that going for a business that notoriously struggles at working together?
“I’ve had some difficulties, but we’re working on it,” Drazen said.
Photo: Peter Ackerman/Asbury Park Press