N.J. to racetracks: Don't start sports betting until gov. signs bill

SPORTSBOOK06-9
Delaware became the first state outside Nevada to have single-game sports betting Tuesday.

After New Jersey’s historic passage Thursday of a bill authorizing sports betting, the Murphy administration warned the heads of three racetracks not to start sports betting until the governor signs the bill.

The possibility that casinos or racetracks might open sports books this week or next rose Thursday when the legislature amended the bill to eliminate any penalties for operators who opened for bets before the bill is signed into law.

But Gov. Murphy’s administration quickly quashed any such plans, saying that operators who act prematurely could jeopardize their chances of obtaining licenses. (Murphy on Friday told the Associated Press he’d sign the bill “sooner rather than later” but wouldn’t offer a timetable.)

“The conduct of sports wagering related activities by persons or entities prior to the final passage of this legislation may bear upon their suitability for licensure under the anticipated law,” Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, which is housed under the Attorney General’s Office, wrote in the letter to the heads of the racetracks, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News.

“Accordingly, it should be fully understood that any improprieties or adverse conduct related to any unregulated activities would have the potential to jeopardize their ability to be licensed for sports wagering under the new law,” Zanzuccki wrote.

The bill states that sports-wagering licenses will not be issued by the state unless the applicant “has established its financial stability, integrity and responsibility and its good character, honesty and integrity.”

The letter, which was first reported by NJ.com, was sent to the CEOs or managers of Monmouth Park Racetrack, Meadowlands Racetrack, and Freehold Raceway.

After Thursday’s vote, Dennis Drazin, CEO of the firm that operates Monmouth Park, had said he would wait for the go-ahead from Murphy before the racetrack opened books.

“If the governor says, ‘I want you to wait a couple of days so I can review the bill and get it signed,’ then I’m going to wait for him to do that,” Drazin told reporters in Trenton.

Murphy’s office said Thursday he would review the legislation.

“The governor has long been supportive of New Jersey’s right to allow sports betting and he wants to ensure that the proposed regulatory scheme is fair and reasonable,” the office said in a statement.

Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R., Monmouth) issued a statement calling Murphy’s delay in enacting the law “inexplicable.”

“The governor claims he needs to review this legislation before signing it, but there is no practical reason why Monmouth Park cannot start accepting wagers while that’s happening – the sky won’t fall, lions won’t roam the streets, locusts won’t ravage our fields,” O’Scanlon said. “There is absolutely zero likelihood of any negative impact of Monmouth Park opening today.”