Fixed-odds Racing, In-State College Betting: NJ Takes Lead Again On Legal Progress

Posted By Brant James on July 2, 2021

A decade ago, New Jersey horsemen made the opening move in a long game that made legal sports betting a national possibility.

Three years ago, Gov. Phil Murphy made the first legal bet in the state at Monmouth Park, bringing in-state fruition to the work of politicians like he, former State Senator Ray Lesniak and former governor Chris Christie.

Flast forward to last week, where sports betting in some form of legalization and implementation was present in a remarkable 31 jurisdictions. There are business models and markets as varied as the states they serve from Rockaway Beach, NY, to Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Three years after legal sports betting in New Jersey became the envy and a template for a whopping $60 billion industry, the state might have recouped its position as the national bellwether.

In legalizing fixed-odds horse betting – a long-time project of Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin, who represented the horsemen in pushing for legal sports betting in New Jersey – the state legislature threw a potential lifeline to its equine industry, and perhaps others struggling as badly in other states.

And, on another note in the betting realm, in sending a proposal to legalize betting on in-state college teams back to the voters, New Jersey could cue a round of law-editing in the numerous states that followed its lead in disallowing it after the nullification of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018.

“New Jersey under Gov. Christie, previously, and now Gov. Murphy, with the leadership in the Senate and the Assembly have continued to be a thought leader on all things gaming,” Bill Pascrell III of Princeton Public Affairs Group told PlayUSA. “First in the nation to do exchange wagering in horse racing. Number two, one of the early states, if not the first state to do online gaming, poker and casino. Delaware and Nevada did it, but in a much more limited fashion.

“Number three, sports betting, and we’re on the verge of doing e-sports. I think it could be done by the end of the year, for sure. Now fixed odds.”

New Jersey online gambling market a global power

Joe Bertolone, executive director of the UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation said that even though gaming markets develop to adapt to their own landscapes, New Jersey has led by example by being proactive.

“What we’ve seen is New Jersey taking a lead in the sense that they got iGaming on. They got it on early,” he told PlayUSA. “Pennsylvania got it on early. Now, Michigan’s got it. So in addition to the traditional land-based offerings, New Jersey has just gone ahead and said, ‘We get this. We’re going to drive sports betting. We’re going to drive iGaming. We’re going to put the regulatory things in place that help speed the process.’

“One of the most effective programs that you have in New Jersey is the program for new technology that was out a couple of years ago, where they said, ‘Look, if you bring us some technology, we’ll take a look at this and we’ll get it into the marketplace first, make sure that we expedite things as much as safely possible.’”

But this was possible, Bertolone said, because New Jersey addressed its specific needs.

“It was largely driven out of the fact that Atlantic City is in debt,” he said. “So, clearly, because of that and clearly because of Director [David] Rebuck’s very aggressive attitude, that helps New Jersey become a thought leader. But, again, the New Jersey market is radically different than a Nevada market, for instance, radically different than a Michigan market.”

New Jersey voters will choose if they can bet on Rutgers, Seton Hall

Pascrell said New Jersey sports betting advocates were “mindful” of the debate over allowing wagering on in-state college teams many years ago. Lesniak has in the past concurred that there was an insufficient appetite for it when he helped steward through legislation that eventually led to the Supreme Court challenge that toppled PASPA and made national legal sports betting viable.

“I think that the governor, the Senate president and the speaker, and some of the leadership in the gaming committees wanted to see this play out first. And what we’ve been doing for the last two and a half years-plus is trying to explain the only way to avoid issues of integrity and concerns you may have is to regulate it, for it to be transparent,” Pascrell III explained. “And I think they now understand that. People want to bet on Rutgers and Seton Hall and Princeton, et cetera, et cetera, and why force them to go to another state and let that state take it?

After it was announced last week that allowing betting on in-state teams will be placed on the ballot in November, Democratic Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey said in a joint statement: “Events and tournaments such as March Madness are highly anticipated by sports bettors all over the country. With a majority vote, we will be able to give the people in New Jersey the opportunity to place wagers on our collegiate teams and continue to enjoy the sporting events in our state.”

The ballot question will be worded, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to permit wagering through casinos and current or former horse racetracks on all college sport or athletic events? Currently, wagering is prohibited on college sport or athletic events that take place in New Jersey. Wagering is also prohibited on an event in which a team from a New Jersey college participates.”

The Rutgers men’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA Tournament in March, but NJ residents couldn’t legally wager on the Scarlet Knights in-state. The same was the case in Illinois, where the second-seeded Illini lost to Loyola-Chicago in the second round.

Fixed-odds horse racing brings NJ horseman to forefront again

Fixed-odds horse wagering — which is under active discussion in the Colorado legislature and in the past has been considered in Kentucky — could, Bertolone said “potentially breathe some life” into horse racing wagering. Bertolone noted PointsBet’s agreement with fixed-odds wagering platform BetMakers as evidence that major American sportsbooks are interested.

Fixed-odds wagering is prevalent in the rest of the world – with PointsBet involved in Australia – DraftKings has previously offered fixed-odds betting on the Haskell provisionally and Flutter Entertainment, FanDuel’s parent company, also owns the TVG pari-mutuel wagering site. Betfair’s experiment with exchange wagering on horses in New Jersey ended last year when it was not widely embraced in a five-year run.

“Fixed odds betting does work in Australia,” Bertolone said. “[PointsBet] is placing a bet if you will, on fixed odds.”

BetMakers Technology Group recently announced a 10-year deal with the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the ownership of Monmouth Park to offer fixed-odds wagering there.

“I think you’ll see the first fixed-odds bet placed in New Jersey at the Haskell [Invitational Stakes on July 17]. And then that will allow into move the dial in other states like Colorado,” Pascrell III said.
Still, Bertolone wonders what the crossover is currently between traditional sports bettors and horse players, mainly because of his observations as director of operations for William Hill in Nevada.

“I used to build all of William Hill’s sports racing/sportsbooks in Nevada. The last couple of books that I built, the horse players pissed off the sports bettors so much and vice versa that we had to separate the book,” he chuckled. “We had to separate the race space from the sportsbook space. Go into a modern sports book now. Where is racing addressed?”

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More to come for groundbreaking state

So what now for New Jersey? A lot. Pascrell III hinted at other possible refinements in New Jersey gambling law that likely won’t be resolved in this session, namely a discussion on the use of cryptocurrency and allowing financial fund funds to place wagers.

“We’re third to Germany and the UK in online gaming markets in the world, and yet we’re continuing to make some fixes to continue to improve,” he said. “It’s one of those domino effects, and New Jersey continues to be a thought leader on those types of issues.”

Photo by Mel Evans / Associated Press
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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