Legal sports betting begins in New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy made history, placing New Jersey’s first legal sports bet at Monmouth Park. Amid a crush of news media and sports fans, Murphy wagered $20 on Germany to win the World Cup and $20 on the New Jersey Devils to win the next Stanley Cup.

Only moments later at the Borgata Hotel Casino’s Sportsbook, NBA legend Julius Erving bet on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. Senate President Steve Sweeney bet $200 on the Green Bay Packers.

Both bets marked a triumphant end to a marathon, $9 million legal war New Jersey waged against major sports leagues for the same rights as Las Vegas.

“There’s an old adage that you bet with your head, not with your heart. So for the past seven years, our heads and hearts were in alignment as we fought to overturn an unlawful and unfair federal law. We knew in our heads we were right, and we knew in our hearts that we’d win,” Murphy said.

A line of politicians followed Murphy to the tellers’ windows in a cavernous sportsbook set up by William Hill under the Grandstand.

“So I bet $25 on the Yankees to win tonight and $25 on the Mets to win tonight,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

“I want to bet the Yankees tonight also, $20 on the Yankees,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.

“Fifty dollars on the Giants to win the Super Bowl and France to win the World Cup,” said former Sen. Ray Lesniak.

Lesniak kicked off Jersey’s sports betting court battle, filing the initial lawsuit in March 2009.

“Thanks to this team effort, which included Democrats and Republicans and three governors, New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks will get a big boost from sports betting fans. It was a long fight, with the odds and powerful interests against us, but New Jersey’s spirit and determination prevailed,” Lesniak said.

Crowds quickly formed lines, looking to bet on games and props from all over the world. As a live odds board flashed options, bettors who normally played in the shadows of a $150 billion black market stepped gladly into the light.

“If I lose it, I lose it. It’s my form of entertainment. It’s my only vice,” said Brick resident John Burke. “No more bookies.”

“Doing it illegally is a little, you know, but I think legally is very nice,” said Wayne Szpara from Hazlet.

“To finally start to begin to try to move that money out of the black market into a legal, regulated market where we’re creating jobs, states are raising tax revenue, we are providing consumer protections, you don’t have to worry about your bookie getting busted,” said William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher.

William Hill U.S. built the $5 million sports betting setup at Monmouth Park’s invitation. New Jersey’s $4 billion horse racing industry, long under siege, hopes this will pump desperately needed revenue into tracks where bets plummeted $200 million from 2010 to 2013 as bettors went to other states.

“They have slot revenue, they have ‘racinos,’ and we don’t,” said Monmouth Park President and CEO Dennis Drazin. “So now we have sports betting, and that gives us a revenue stream to let us offer the higher purses to be on the same competitive level as the surrounding states.”

Sports betting could generate $120,000 a day for Monmouth Park and $13 million in tax revenue for New Jersey next year. Online gaming starts in a month. The Borgata is the first Atlantic City casino to offer sports betting. Fans lined up there, too.

“I just turned 21,” said Leon Khanin, who came to the Borgata from Manhattan. “It’s my first time betting on sports, so I’m kind of excited.”

Other casinos will follow soon, and two more gaming halls opening later this month will add more than 6,000 jobs.

“Really what we’re hoping is that this brings more foot traffic into the casino. You can only imagine what Atlantic City would’ve been like with the Eagles in the Super Bowl,” said Sweeney.

So maybe it’s a down day for the bookies, but it’s the start of a new era for Jersey, especially the racetracks, who are betting this could help keep them in the winners circle.