The Meadowlands racetrack: And they are off and running but…

The horses at the Meadowlands racetrack continue “off at running,” but I arrived there Saturday at 10:30am, too early for the evening horse races. Entrance and parking were free. Inside Simulcast betting, which allows placing wagers at some 30 or 40 race tracks across the nation, was already doing business. The main event in the building was the grand opening at 11:00 am of sports betting operated by FanDuel in a small darkish retail space with large screens, some 10 betting windows, a bar, sofas, and accommodating comfortably 300 or so people. (Preview foto above is the entrance.)   

The event was only barely off and running at 11:00, with dignitaries, including Sen. Richard Codey, speechifying and other “suits,” but less than 100 people wagering. When I left at noon some fifty people were in line to enter. Track owner Jeff Gural will get a small cut of FanDuel’s earnings, but what he really wanted there was a casino which is far more lucrative. Following a Ballot Question, a casino in northern NJ is not in the cards.

SPORTS BETTING

You have a wide range of sports including football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, soccer, boxing, auto racing and more. You can place a simple “straight bet” such as on an event with a point spread contest between two teams or wager on more complicated options such as a bet that links two or more wagers. The Jets and Giants play within the same complex, and it is expected that the “big money” will start to flow with the opening of the NFL season. At that point FanDuel plans to increase the space. 

New Jersey won its wager in getting the Supreme Court to overturn the ban on sports betting. However this reliance on “sin taxes” (8.5% at casinos and race tracks and 13.5% for online bets) to fund the state doesn’t solve core problems of long-term sustainable growth and brings with it potential harms. If you think of legal gambling as a tax on despair and boredom, which often attracts saps who can least afford it and who lose money they need, do we really want to encourage an activity which can end in serious addiction, mental illness, family separation and financial woes? Nonetheless, for many others it’s a harmeless, enjoyable activity.

How long will it be until Pennsylvania and New York  enter the fray? Probably not too long. It’s already available in Delaware. 

Are there really many people who want to gamble on sports at a racetrack who don’t know already how to do so (illegally, off the books and more easily) on the off-shore Internet venues?  Such on-line legal gambling in NJ is just starting. Nonetheless  bookies won’t disappear as they offer more personalized service and extend credit which you don’t get at the regulated new venues. Bookies, however, may cheat you whereas such is unlikely in a sports betting facIlity.

In the last two weeks in June sports betting generated just under $300,000 in tax revenue for the state. New Jersey opened up sports betting at Monmouth Park and the Borgata on June 14. The Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City opened its sportsbook June 28.

For Bergen County it was important as the Meadowlands race track, long a well-known institution here, has been in the red financially. An amendment to state law allows any sports betting lounge to be taxed an additional 1.25 percent to be paid to municipalities and counties that host those facilities. For an entertaining article read the Northjersey.com piece with a headline: “As FanDuel Sportsbook opens at Meadowlands only sure thing is losing bets.”

My personal enthusiasm is with horses. Saturday evening at the track there was harness racing with a $1 million winning purse. (Foto left of a large poster of harness racing.) The power, speed, grace, and nobility of these animals is always fun to watch and awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, sports betting will do little to help NJ struggling horse farms. It’s an expensive operation, there is less grazing space now, and some owners are selling their land to developers. Sports betting may not be even be enough to save the racetrack.

My guide through the intricacies of this world was Sal Nicotra of Lodi. He was there only for simulcast betting so he went to a machine, learned he had won $17 from the previous day betting, and placed some new future bets on the Yonkers (NY) track. Together we went to FanDuel and enjoyed a catered free buffet meal, but don’t count on it being available in the future. As he observed the Meadowlands venue population is primarily older males, although the people at FanDuel seemed younger.

Maybe sports betting will attract more youth and women, maybe the racetrack will survive, and maybe sports betting venues will succeed, but the better odds are that the State will gain some revenue and the bettors will lose some money.    

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