As they have for more than 50 years, thousands of patrons will arrive in the greater New York City area to witness what is now known as the Northern Trust, one of the most prestigious events on the PGA Tour calendar.
Unlike any other year, they can place a legal bet from the course.
Beginning Aug. 16, the Northern Trust brings the first-ever event from a major American sports league into a state outside Nevada with legalized gambling. With the antiquated fear of corrupt, underworld gamblers rigging a sporting event long since dismissed, the event is more noteworthy as a high-water mark for the PGA and its potential for golf betting – and as a groundbreaking moment for the new union of sports and gambling in America.
Like other major American sports leagues, the PGA resisted sports betting for decades, fearing it would compromise the integrity of the game. Public opinion largely reaffirmed that belief and there was little opposition to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which with a few exceptions codified a federal ban on sports gambling.
Shifting public views, and financial situations, at the start of the decade began to change that view.
With state coffers still hurt in the wake of the Great Recession, New Jersey looked for ways to revitalize its gambling market. The state challenged PASPA in a series of legal appeals, suffering several years of rejections and appeals before the Supreme Court gave the case a lifeline. The unexpected Supreme Court hearing in 2017 surprised many industry observers nationwide who doubted legal sports betting could be as widespread in their state as it was in Nevada. The PASPA reversal decision announcement a few months later elated state governments and gambling stakeholders who saw a new revenue potential.
Eventually the leagues realized publicly embraced the revenue boons that existed for them as well.
First the NBA, then MLB and the PGA, saw sports betting as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. The NBA even enacted a partnership with an iconic gambling brand in MGM – a pact unimaginable just a few years earlier.
The PGA began its own exploration. In a recent report from the Golf Channel, PGA officials said it would be harder to partner directly with a gambling company like the NBA, but there were plenty of other options. More so than the major team sports, which center around the outcome between two teams and the associated point differential between them, the PGA has thousands of betting options. Will Dustin Johnson make the cut? Will Jordan Spieth finish ahead of Rory McElroy? And, of course, will Tiger Woods win?
The sports, which by its nature is a series of high-consequence outcome interspersed between lengthy stretches of downtime, is also perfect for the growing live betting market. Using a mobile sports app, patrons at events like this tournament, which tees off Aug. 23 at Ridgewood Country Club could stand on a green and wager on whether or not the player in front of him will make a put. The PGA Tour made it clear it wouldn’t support live betting on negative outcomes, which in a worst-case scenario could incentivize a player to purposefully miss a cut, but understood these bets could bolster fan engagement in ways the sport had never seen before.
Gamblers will take extra notice of the 2018 Northern Trust as the pioneering major sporting event in a state with legalized gambling outside Nevada. It’s also an important next step for what could soon emerge as the nation’s preeminent gaming market.
The Garden State took its first bet a month after the Supreme Court announced its sports betting decision, quickly putting it at the forefront of legalized wagering developments in the United States. Along with an established gaming tradition through its Atlantic City casinos, New Jersey’s population as well as proximity to two of the nation’s largest population centers has quickly made it the epicenter of America’s newly-formed sports betting market.
This week’s Northern Trust now presents a spotlight on legalized gambling as well as a blueprint on how a state can both accept bets and host a major sporting event.
It’s already reaped the financial benefits of sports betting before the tournament. Three Atlantic City casinos and two state racetracks took bets last month, generating more than $40 million worth of wagers in July. A sixth casino took its first bet Aug. 1 and a seventh is slated to do so later this month.
This comes as two New Jersey neighbors struggle to get their sports gambling initiatives off the ground. In large part due to competition from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York both legalized sports betting even before the Supreme Court decision. Neither state has taken a bet three months after the PASPA repeal announcement. Questions over regulations and taxation have stymied any progress in either state, highlighting the difficulties states face implementing sports betting even in locals with widespread support.
There will be six states taking bets before the end of the year, not counting New York and Pennsylvania. Around a dozen more could pass bills in their respective legislation session in 2019, but they may too face a lengthy implementation process if they can even garner the political consensus to legalize a bill at all.
But their struggle has been New Jersey’s gain. Now heading into the 2018 football season, traditionally the largest betting market in the U.S. by a wide margin, New Jersey is poised to see its revenue figures shoot even higher.
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