New Jersey takes first sports bets: Gov. Murphy puts $20 on Devils to win Stanley Cup

Philadelphia sports radio personality Angelo Cataldi (holding bills) photobombs a group photo of (from left) Sixers Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving; Borgata president and chief operating officer Marcus Glover; and N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney displaying their tickets after placing their sports bets at the Borgata as the casino offers the first sports bets at a New Jersey casino in Atlantic City.

OCEANPORT, N.J. — With a frenzied crowd, some jubilant officials, and 21 open windows, Monmouth Park Racetrack became the first place in the state to take a legal sports bet Thursday — as Gov. Murphy wagered $20 on Germany to win the World Cup and $20 more on the New Jersey Devils to capture another championship in 2019.

“This is a huge step forward for gaming, for the tracks, for the economy of the state,” Murphy said before placing his bets around 10:30 a.m. “We’ve got a lot of good times ahead.”

It was a triumphant culmination of the Garden State’s eight-year struggle to legalize sports betting, one that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its favor last month and struck down the federal ban on sports wagering. The decision paved the way for expansion of a multibillion-dollar industry in Delaware, New Jersey, and more states to come.

Politicians have hailed sports betting as an anticipated boon to the state’s flagging racetracks and casinos, casting the new law as a testament to New Jersey’s grit, and saying it will bring visitors and strengthen non-gambling industries in addition to generating tax revenue.

“This means survival for Monmouth Park. It means the horsemen no longer have to worry about the park closing,” said Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of the company that operates the racetrack, said Thursday from inside the grandstand, where the sportsbook is being run by William Hill, the most prolific sportsbook in Las Vegas.

Drazin invested $1.5 million in the endeavor after the Supreme Court heard arguments in the sports-betting case in December, so confident was he that wagering would become legal.

“It means 13,000 jobs, 176,000 open space and preserved acres in this state,” he said, citing equine industry numbers. “A $4 billion industry has been saved.”

Camera icon Noah K. Murray
Gov. Murphy makes the first wager with Monmouth Park sportsbook ticket writer Quentin Harris.

In Atlantic City particularly — where Borgata became the state’s first casino with sports betting, opening a half-hour after Monmouth Park — the coming of legal wagering fueled hopes that the casino city is entering a resurgent era after near-municipal bankruptcy and years of casino closings. The sportsbooks also come in time to draw the summer beach crowds.

“My bet is on A.C., 125 percent,” Mayor Frank Gilliam said at Borgata.

But its fate still could depend on how many bettors show up this summer — and once the NFL season starts. Delaware opened its sportsbooks earlier this month, and Pennsylvania and New York are expected to follow.

Some at Thursday’s celebrations were measured, saying the pastime they fought so hard for likely won’t be a major moneymaker.

Sports betting won’t be a big tax generator but is “about bringing people in to Atlantic City,” State Senate Presidemt Stephen Sweeney said at the Borgata. Marcus Glover, the casino’s president, said it wouldn’t “drive tremendous revenue to us.”

But for the hundreds of bettors and sports fans who lined up and crowded in to place an opening-day wager at the two venues, the victory is less about the bigger economic picture and more about making bets on games they love — something they said gives them a greater reason to tune in to sporting events.

“I’ve been out to Vegas for March Madness, and to see that [type of] excitement come to Jersey is just unbelievable,” said John Patrick Burke, 71, of Brick, who showed up at Monmouth Park planning to bet on Russia in Thursday’s World Cup game.

Besides coinciding with the first day of the World Cup tournament, the opening day offered bettors a 1 p.m. Phillies game to consider. Under the law, people in New Jersey can bet on professional and collegiate games — but not any contests involving New Jersey colleges or taking place at colleges in the state. New Jersey lawmakers passed the sports-betting bill June 7, and Murphy signed it Monday, after a delay that rankled sports-betting proponents. Online betting — via computer and cellphone but only by in-state bettors — can start 30 days after the governor’s signing.

Carl Zingle (left) of Ambler and Mike Facciponte of Forked River, N.J., are among the first to place their sports bets at the Borgata. Sportsbook writer Anita Poma (center) takes Zingle’s bet.

Still, the mood Thursday at Borgata was buoyant, and by lunchtime, the line of hopeful bettors snaked out the door. The sportsbook was added to the existing racebook off the entrance from a parking lot behind the casino. It has 100 seats, 10 betting windows and a video wall. The casino plans to build a dedicated sportsbook in the future.

Sixers legend Julius Erving cast the first bet to cheers just after 11 a.m., wagering $5 (the minimum) on the Eagles for another Super Bowl win. (The odds were 8-1.)

Camera icon Tom Gralish
Sixers Hall of Famer Julius Erving holds his ticket after becoming the first (along with N.J. Senate President Stephen Sweeney) to place a sports bet at a New Jersey casino, at the Borgata.

Between the two gaming venues, a cast of local celebrities and politicians were on hand to place ceremonial bets, including former Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, who spearheaded the effort to bring legal sports betting to New Jersey beginning in 2009 ($50 each on the New York Giants for the Super Bowl and France for the World Cup), Sweeney (two $100 bills on the Green Bay Packers), and Atlantic City Council President Marty Small Sr., who proclaimed himself the first A.C. resident to place a bet ($50 on the Phillies).

After the celebrities and politicians, regular people lined up to place their bets. Mike Facciponte, 24, of Forked River, wearing a Brian Dawkins jersey, bet a total of $130 on baseball games.

“I went to Vegas a couple of times. It’s amazing to have it here in our home state,” he said.

The Supreme Court’s decision has sparked a wave of celebration among gaming aficionados and touched off discussion about legalization in states across the country. Previously, Nevada was the only state with sports gambling. Pennsylvania officials have said they are not rushing to finish regulations needed before betting can begin.

The effort to legalize was strongly opposed by the NCAA and professional sports leagues. After the Supreme Court decision, they lobbied for concessions in New Jersey’s legislation, including an “integrity fee” that would have given them a cut of profits, but they were roundly rebuked by lawmakers.

Ocean Resort Casino, opening June 28 in the old Revel casino, is building a sportsbook at the center of its casino, also run by William Hill. Resorts is partnering with DraftKings but has not announced a start date. Golden Nugget plans to be ready by the start of the NFL season. Meadowlands Racetrack is reported to be planning to take bets next month. Other casinos and Freehold Raceway have not announced specific plans.