Why It’s Time For New Jersey To Lift Golden Nugget’s NBA Betting Ban

Written By Martin Derbyshire on June 21, 2019 - Last Updated on March 7, 2022

New Jersey lawmakers have a great opportunity in front of them. They can right one of the very few wrongs contained in the bill that legalized sports betting in the Garden State last year.

All they need to do is get behind a new bill. One that would remove the restriction preventing casino and sports team owners from taking bets on the sports they are involved with.

Apparently, the bill passed the NJ Assembly this week and a companion bill awaits action in the Senate.

The restriction really only affected one Atlantic City casino. However, it had a major impact on that casino’s ability to compete in the emerging NJ sports betting market.

Of course, we’re talking about Golden Nugget Atlantic City and its owner Tilman Fertitta. Fertitta also owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

Golden Nugget is dead last in revenue

A direct result of the restriction on NBA betting at Golden Nugget was the property finishing dead last in sports betting revenue in May 2019. This is all while the NBA Playoffs were in full swing.

But it’s worse than that.

Golden Nugget is also bringing up the rear in year-to-date NJ sports betting revenue. Plus, a successful partner, SugarHouse Sportsbook, jumped ship last year just so it could offer NBA betting.

Suffice it to say, Golden Nugget’s ability to compete in the burgeoning NJ sports betting market has been severely hampered.

Golden Nugget launched its retail sportsbook in August 2018. It didn’t launch its Golden Nugget Sportsbook online and mobile sports betting product until February of this year. That was just a few weeks after Churchill Downs’ BetAmerica online sportsbook launched under its license.

We’ll never know if these operations would have put up significantly better numbers had they been allowed to take bets on the NBA. Or, if SugarHouse would have stayed. But we do know the playing field in NJ sports betting would have been significantly more even.

Nevada had the right idea

The field is more even in Nevada. That’s where Fertitta’s Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas can offer bets on the NBA, just not on the Rockets. That sounds fair.

New Jersey lawmakers would have been better off following this example. Although, at least they didn’t go with the original version of the NJ bill. It included a full ban on sports betting at casinos with owners who hold a more than 10% ownership stake in a sports team.

Of course, Golden Nugget lobbied against the full sports betting ban. The NBA betting restriction was the compromise it was forced to live with.

It’s really hard to say NJ did anything wrong when they legalized sports betting in 2018.

June 14 marked the first anniversary of the launch of the state’s first sportsbooks. NJ sports betting has proven to be an unmitigated success. NJ sportsbooks have taken in an estimated $3 billion in bets in the first year. They turned that into approximately $200 million in revenue. They also paid out some $23 million of it in taxes to the state.

But what the state didn’t do was create a level playing field for the entire industry. Now that they have the chance to do that by removing a restriction that only affected one casino, they ought to take it.

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New Jersey is wrong about Golden Nugget’s ban

If the restriction was put in place to prevent Golden Nugget and the Houston Rockets from doing something untoward they needn’t bother. For the most part, the public nature of legal sports betting and pro sports does that job already.

With a year’s worth of sports betting experience under their belts, NJ lawmakers should be able to see that now.

If they can’t, a Golden Nugget antitrust attorney will probably point it out to them before long.

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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