NJ Racetracks React To Big September Sports Betting Revenue Boosts

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Sports betting revenue at the Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park spiked heavily from August to September, but neither operator offered the word “stunning” that New Jersey’s top regulator tossed to the Global Gaming Expo crowd in Las Vegas last week.

“We saw some very solid numbers, like we expected,” Dennis Drazin, the Monmouth Park operator, told NJ Online Gambling on Monday. “The numbers demonstrate all the things we had been talking about for so long.”

Monmouth Park more than doubled to $2.14 million in on-site gross sports betting revenue, while the Meadowlands Racetrack took in $4.37 million — up almost 50 percent.

The overall handle on sports betting in the state was $183.9 million, compared to $95.6 million in August, which state Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck described as “stunning” three days before the announcement — leading overzealous industry analysts (like me) to expect a higher number than we got.

Jeff Gural, who runs the Meadowlands track, said his site “got the expected spike with football, and the online is going nicely.”

Gural isn’t kidding: FanDuel, which operates both the Meadowlands sportsbook and an online product, produced $2.85 million in additional gross revenue via its digital sportsbook.

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But the Monmouth Park online revenue for September was a mere $71,000. How come? Drazin noted that while daily fantasy sports operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings were able to “pass the app store test” right away, such approvals for casino-related companies such as William Hill, Monmouth’s British bookmaking partner, have been harder to come by.

Another increase coming?

The app store problem is just now starting to resolve, so look for an exponentially higher online figure on Monmouth’s balance sheet for October (though not as high as FanDuel or DraftKings, the latter of which combined with fellow Resorts-affiliated site BetStars NJ to produce more than $8.5M in September online revenue).

In fact, look for a healthy boost in overall October figures beyond the $183.9 million in statewide handle in September. The Yankees got a couple of playoff games in, the MLB postseason continues, and the NBA and NHL seasons are beginning or have begun.

Football, of course, remains the cash cow. Drazin said he has been pleased by the betting volume on MLB, and he projects that NBA wagering will be even stronger.

Consumer awareness also will continue to grow. Drazin notes that online casino gaming revenues in New Jersey were modest in the first months following launch in late 2013, but the monthly figures eventually snowballed. He says the same thing could happen with sports betting.

2019 horse racing outlook in NJ still in flux

Both track operators have other challenges on their minds besides sports betting. One is a bill that would provide the state’s racing industry with $20 million annually in purse subsidies for each of the next five years — greatly improving the competitiveness of each track if it passes.

“I have no idea what is happening with the purse subsidy bill, but I remain optimistic that common sense will prevail and [legislators]won’t let an important industry disappear,” Gural said.

Today was the day that the tracks needed to submit their 2019 racing schedule to the state Racing Commission. With the fate of the bill in flux, the operators took different approaches.

Gural, who last week said he would dip from 90 dates to just 68, found out that 75 is the minimum for his standardbred-focused track. So Gural put in for 76 dates.

Drazin, meanwhile, put in for 71 dates, but only 51 of them would be at Monmouth Park. The other 20 are for fall dates at the Meadowlands, where both turf and dirt thoroughbred races can be run.

But that is contingent on the purse subsidy passing. If it doesn’t, Drazin’s number will drop. If it does, Gural’s figure will rise.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Democrat who represents the Meadowlands district and who is one of the more powerful legislators in Trenton, tells NJ Online Gambling that “I am very optimistic that the bill will be signed [into law]by the end of the year.”

That’s not as quick a timetable as the operators probably want, but in the long run they’ll take it if they can get it — whenever they get it.

Steeplechase betting? NJ all over it

New Jersey, the only U.S. state to offer “in-race” betting in the middle of a horse race, is coming out with another wrinkle this weekend.

While the Far Hills Race Meeting has been a staple event for the blueblood “horse country” crowd in Somerset County for a century (though some unwashed masses have gotten past the monitors at times), this Saturday will mark the debut of legal wagering on the seven steeplechase races at the event. (Off-the-books betting has its own long tradition there).

With $850,000 in purse money at stake and a crowd of about 35,000 expected, with tellers and betting windows, this event may have more of a feel of the Hambletonian or the Haskell, the biggest standardbred and thoroughbred races of the year in the state.

Drazin will help oversee the betting aspect of the day with 45 live tellers and more than a dozen self-service kiosks. If you don’t want to pony up $475 for a parking space and four tickets, you can watch at the state’s off-track wagering sites or watch the simulcast online in the state.

Any racetrack partners who show Monmouth Park races can elect to do the same with the steeplechase races, Drazin said. The sport is far more popular in Europe than the U.S., so a comparison of overseas handle to domestic figures to be interesting.

There will be the usual win, place, and show betting as well as exactas, trifectas, and superfectas.

“The crowd will be large, but we expect the [on-site] handle to be more modest,” Drazin said. “It’s going to be a learning curve for us, and Year 2 and Year 3 will be better as we learn.”

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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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