Thursday was a day that many New Jersians, sports fans, business owners and state officials had been waiting years and years for. A dream that would’ve seemed improbable only months ago has now materialized as the Garden State opened its legal sports betting industry for business.
The passage of Assembly Bill 4111 through the state legislature as well as the signature of Governor Phil Murphy sealed the deal Monday giving the state’s casinos and racetracks to prepare for the extensive list of first-bet festivities.
The hub of all the excitement was the William Hill Sports Bar at Monmouth Park as it became one of the first fully functioning American sportsbooks outside Nevada.
CEO Dennis Drazin received the biggest ovation of the day as he had invested his own time and money into the construction of the sportsbook when the idea of sports betting was still a distant hope.
According to Drazin, in addition to taking in-person bets, the racetrack will soon accept mobile wagering in 30 days as well as in-play betting.
It was only fitting that Drazin’s track would be the first to accept bets and the Governor himself would be on hand to get the party started. His presence brought back memories of the last governor to take part in a such an event as Governor Brendan Byrne rolled the first dice at an Atlantic City Casino opening in 1978.
Governor Murphy played to the local crowd and his electors by wagering $20 on the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League to take home the Stanley Cup next season (40/1 odds). He also took a shot at some much more favorable 7/2 odds placing a $20 bet on Germany’s national soccer team to win the World Cup which began minutes after the festivities.
Former State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who was as instrumental as anyone in bringing sports wagering to New Jersey placed some bets of his own starting with the hometown New York Giants of the NFL to win the Super Bowl at 35/1 odds. He then picked the French national soccer team to win the World Cup at 11/2 odds.
When speaking about the process of bringing sports betting to his state, Murphy recalled an old saying to “bet with your head, not with your heart.”
“We knew in our heads we were right and we knew in our hearts we would win. We've got a lot of good times ahead.”
The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa kicked off its sports betting about 30 minutes after Monmouth Park with a celebrity presence all its own. NBA Hall of Famer and New York Nets and Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving, also known as Dr. J, was on hand to place the first wager.
Erving said he would think “long-term” on the wager mentioning the Las Vegas Golden Knights and how far they went this season to the shock of everyone. He ended up taking the Philadelphia Eagles to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
The Borgata was the only Atlantic City-based casino to begin offering sports betting on Thursday as others still have to build sportsbooks out and undergo further preparations. Ocean Resorts Casino plans to open June 28 and will be making its sportsbook the centerpiece of its main casino floor in a thoughtful move.
While hitting a bit of a snag related to an NFL stadium naming rights deal, Hard Rock International plans to open the eagerly awaited Hard Rock AC the same day as Ocean Resorts and it will also offer sports betting as well as a tremendous musical lineup.