Governor Phil Murphy beamed triumphantly as he wagered $20 on the New Jersey Devils to win the Stanley Cup at Monmouth Park on June 14. It marked the end of a bitter nine-year legal battle that has seen the state fight tooth and nail to roll out legal sports betting. It met plenty of challenges, notably with major sports leagues, but it was exultant after the US Supreme Court decided to strike down a federal ban in May 2018. The much maligned Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was no longer, and a month later the Garden State’s casinos were accepting legal sports bets.
Murphy got things underway by placing two $20 bets, one on Germany to win the World Cup, which kicked off a couple of hours later, and another on the Devils. The state that had done so much to open the doors to legalized sports wagering across the USA was finally able to grab a slice of the action that Nevada had enjoyed for so long, allowing residents to bet on NFL, NBA, MLB and more.
The masses flocked to New Jersey casinos to get involved. Stu Feiner bet $5,000 on the Chicago White Sox to beat the Cleveland Indians. Monmouth Park took 1,000 sports wagers on day one alone. Over in Atlantic City, Hall of Famer Julius Erving placed the first bet, staking $5 on the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl once more in 2019. Murphy headed to the Borgata to join him, and there the governor placed another two bets, $20 apiece on the Mets to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks and $20 on New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr. to win the next Daytona 500. The Borgata was doing a roaring trade throughout the day.
“Today, we’re finally making the dream of legalized sports betting a reality for New Jersey,” said Murphy. “This is the right move for New Jersey and it will strengthen our economy. We knew in our heads we were right. And we knew in our hearts that we would win. And we did.” He was entitled to feel a sense of relief. The state’s long and arduous legal battle against the leagues has cost the taxpayer the princely sum of $9 million and there have been some dark days along the way for Murphy and his colleagues. Until May’s ruling, only Nevada enjoyed legalized sports betting, and it massively bolstered the state’s coffers, while drawing plenty of tourism to Las Vegas.
New Jersey officials have long craved a piece of the action, but it was a senator from the state that initially came up with the idea of a federal ban. In 1991, former New York Knicks and Princeton University star Bill Bradley, state senator for New Jersey, conceived the idea and sponsored the ban. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all agreed and backed the ban, lobbying government to introduce PASPA. Nevada was exempted, because it already had a form of sportsbook, and Bradley shot down an attempt to exempt Atlantic City in order to keep it competitive with Vegas. George Bush Sr signed PASPA into law in 1992.
For years, New Jersey officials watched Nevada flourish, while Atlantic City and the state’s other casinos failed to keep pace. In 2009, New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak proposed the idea of challenging the federal ban, exploring whether or not PASPA could be struck down. In 2011, the people of New Jersey voted for a constitutional amendment allowing sports betting to take place at casinos and tracks across the state. Governor Chris Christie, Murphy’s predecessor signed it into law in 2012. But the professional sports leagues challenged it, sued the state and said it threatened to compromise the integrity of their games.
The leagues won two legal battles in Federal Court, and Christie was despondent. Lesniak then thought he had found a loophole, allowing New Jersey to decriminalize sports betting at casinos and tracks as long as the state did not sanction or regulate it, and Christie signed it into law, but the leagues challenged again and won again. However the battle finally reached the Supreme Court, and the country’s top judges ruled that the federal ban went against the US constitution, paving the way for states across the nation to pass laws allowing sports betting.
Delaware pipped New Jersey to the post, becoming the first state to roll out legal sports wagering after the ban. But the First State will be small fry compared to New Jersey. William Hill, one of the world’s largest betting operators, estimates that sports betting will be worth $10 billion a year to the Garden State once it has matured. “It was a long fight, with the odds against us,” said Lesniak. “But New Jersey spirit and determination prevailed.” State senate president Stephen Sweeney added: “We can now capitalize on the opportunities we worked for with a new sector of sports gaming that will help create jobs, generate economic activity and be an important boost to the state’s casinos and racetracks.”
When Murphy placed his bets in June, he promised that online sports wagering would be rolled out within a month, sparking joy among sports fans that want to grab a stake in the action from the comfort of their armchairs, in a legal and secure fashion. William Hill, which is supporting the Delaware lottery with its three casinos, operates all betting at Monmouth Park. Its US chief executive, Joseph Asher, said: “There are lots of things we can do together with the leagues. “Stream the games through an app and bet in-play while you’re watching on the app. And clearly there are sponsorship opportunities. Gambling companies in Europe are among the biggest sponsors of professional sports. Half the English Premier League teams have betting sponsors on their jerseys and signage around the stadium. That’ll take time. It’s new.”
It is certainly a brave new world for Garden State residents. Sports betting launched in New Jersey during a quiet period, with the NBA and NHL seasons having wound down and football still months away. But on opening weekend of the NFL, and when the Eagles play the Giants, it is sure to go berserk. Sports betting will also be offered at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford and Freehold Raceway sometime in 2018.
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