As Day One unfolded, hundreds of patrons, sports bettors and curious onlookers packed into Monmouth Park Racetrack to place their bets; a sizable chunk inside the sports bar and many more in the adjacent grandstand.
Legal sports betting in New Jersey had only been in full swing less than an hour and already things weren’t looking so good for Pierre Djyrno.
An Asbury Park resident, he and two work friends were at Monmouth Park Racetrack on Thursday for what they jokingly referred to as a “business meeting.”
Djyrno bet $200 on Saudi Arabia to beat Russia in the first game of soccer’s World Cup. But Saudi Arabia was losing early.
As the trio huddled under the row of overhead television sets in the William Hill Sports Bar, cheering and booing as the match unfolded, Djyrno admitted he was happy to be part of the action.
“This is great, this is awesome,” he said.
He had been following the politics of sports betting during the past month – the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision; unanimous passage of legislation through the state Legislature; and Gov. Phil Murphy’s signing of the bill.
Dennis Drazin, CEO of Darby Development LLC, the company that operates the racetrack, said he was more than happy that sports betting had arrived, regulated and taxed by the state.
So was Murphy, who following a minutes-long press conference Thursday morning, placed the first legal sports bet in New Jersey: $20 on the New Jersey Devils to win the 2019 Stanley Cup and $20 on Germany to win the World Cup.
In the seconds following Murphy’s bet, hundreds of people streamed into lines to place their own bets.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, was at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City to place the state’s first legal sports bet at a casino, according to a press advisory. He originally had been scheduled to appear alongside Murphy at Monmouth Park.
Drazin estimated that through sports betting, the state could bring in $10 billion of revenue, with $1 billion of that potentially going to the track.
It means a renaissance for Monmouth Park, which Drazin said has been struggling.
“I always believed I’d do whatever I can to stay open,” he said. “That meant horses that may not have been competitive, maybe racing that’s not world-class. It’s tough to compete.”
But the introduction of sports betting will be a windfall and long-lasting source of revenue for the racetrack, Drazin said.
“So now we’re not only going to be able to survive on a world-class level, we’re going to increase our racing days, our purses will be higher, our breeding industry will be much stronger,” he said.
The Division of Gaming Enforcement will oversee casino sports betting.
The law sets up tax rates between 8 percent and 15 percent on sports betting revenue, including 8 percent for money earned at casinos and racetracks and 13 percent for online.
Murphy has estimated the state could earn upwards of $13 million within the first year of legalized sports betting.
Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak was giddy Thursday as he sported a New York Giants hat and a World Cup jersey in his visit to Monmouth Park.
“This was a major priority of mine, to do something about the more than 10,000 jobs lost in Atlantic City and a racing industry that was about to close and lose thousands of more jobs,” Lesniak said. “This is a game-changer for our casinos and our racetracks.”
While serving in the Senate, Lesniak had been pushing forward a myriad legislative proposals, ballot measures and lawsuits for nearly a decade to get sports betting legalized.
In 2011, he actually got a measure onto the ballot to legalize sports betting and it passed, only to be struck down in court.
Lesniak was one of the initial voices of the suit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court knocking down the 1992 federal law which banned sports betting in all but a handful of states.
‘Long time coming’
Sports betting at Monmouth Park is broken into two parts, the grandstand and the William Hill Sports Bar.
The two are night and day.
The grandstand sported the feel of an airport: large rows of flat-screen televisions, each with numbers and statistics on different sports teams and leagues, hung overhead above the front desk, where a dozen tellers were ready to process sports wagers.
At one end of the room sat rows and rows of betting sheets, which sported each of the teams’ odds and performances.
There was Hazlet resident Alex Pniewski, holding a stack of betting sheets as he perused the numbers on the boards. He said he took the day off from his job in Jersey City to spend the day at Monmouth Park.
“I feel great, it’s about time, it’s been a long time coming,” Pniewski said. “It’s almost as big as Prohibition.”
Pniewski said he plans come down occasionally as a hobby and bet $30 tops. It’s something he and his family would often do in Las Vegas.
“Beats the airfare,” Pniewski said.
Going through the glass doors of the sports bar, immediately on the left sits another check-in counter to place bets, with additional TV screens towering above.
Every corner of the wall had a TV mounted on it, playing one sport or the other. Groups of spectators watched the screens religiously, some cheering and others booing.
Red Bank resident Doug Hatten, a jockeys’ agent, sat at a table with a group of friends as they poured over the records, betting odds and numbers.
Hatten said he would be betting on golf’s U.S. Open Championship and the World Cup.
At the other end of the room, Bergen County resident Tony Desessa sat with two friends at a chest-high table, gazes switching between the TVs and sheets of paper.
They had hoped to bet on the World Cup, but with the line being so long, they had to settle for baseball and women’s basketball.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Desessa said. “I feel good.”