The early success of sports betting at the state’s two licensed racetracks has not yet renewed efforts to expand casino gaming outside Atlantic City, but proponents of the once-defeated idea are paying close attention.
Since the start of sports betting in mid-June, the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks have generated 44 percent of the total revenue in New Jersey, according to September data reports from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Among the eight physical locations to place a wager in New Jersey — six Atlantic City casinos and the two tracks — the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park accounted for 61 percent of brick-and-mortar sports betting revenue through last month.
The Meadowlands’ reported $4.4 million in September sports betting revenue was just shy of the combined $4.9 million generated at the six casinos.
The results can be looked at two ways, industry experts said. One is that the revenue generated at the racetracks could have gone to the casinos and provided additional benefits to Atlantic City.
The opposing point is that Atlantic City casinos and their sports betting partners have still done well in spite of the success at the two racetracks.
“More than half the money is coming in from North Jersey, just two locations,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “That, to me, says you have a lot more people that have proximity to that area, so if they have slot machines and table games, probably a lot of people would play there instead of down (in Atlantic City).”
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, was among the leaders in the state Legislature who pushed to expand casino gaming to North Jersey when it was on the ballot two years ago. Caputo, who chairs the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, has sponsored a resolution that expresses the Legislature’s support for expansion, but it has not moved since being introduced in January.
Caputo’s office said it is “too early to consider reviving North Jersey gaming expansion” at the moment, but the success of sports betting, both in Atlantic City and at the racetracks, has not gone unnoticed.
Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet, a Newark-based group that fought gaming expansion leading up to the 2016 ballot referendum, said that while it’s “always a concern” that North Jersey expansion proponents are looking for an argument to bolster their case, it was important to point out that “there’s a big difference” between a resort-style casino and a sports betting lounge.
“Clearly the state has benefited, Atlantic City has benefited, from this, but I wouldn’t read too far into it,” he said.
Jeff Gural, operator of the Meadowlands and one of the most vocal proponents of expanding casino gaming in New Jersey before it was defeated by voters in 2016, said that even with the early dominance of sports betting at his facility, the timing is wrong to try again.
Gural said he believes public sentiment will change once three scheduled casinos in New York open and that cash-strapped New Jersey legislators will eventually be enticed by the $500 million in annual taxes he estimates a casino at the Meadowlands could generate.
“My strategy is, I would not want to see this go on the ballot again unless I was certain it would win,” Gural said. “Because, I think, if it loses again it would never come back.”
On Thursday, Tropicana Atlantic City opened a temporary sports book on property, becoming the seventh casino in the resort to offer on-site wagering. Tropicana’s new parent company, El Dorado Resorts, partnered with sports book operator William Hill US, who already runs the books at Monmouth and Ocean Resort Casino.