Monmouth Park Leads the Way for NJ Sports Betting

June 24, 2018
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Gov. Phil Murphy holds up the first two legal sports bets in New Jersey history at Monmouth Park Racetrack on June 14. Murphy wagered on the New Jersey Devils and German national soccer team. Image courtesy Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.

By Jay Cook |

OCEANPORT – Gov. Phil Murphy placed the first legal sports bets in New Jersey history June 14, but 35-year-old Woodland Park resident Rob Chompsky owns a small footnote on the day as sports betting became legal statewide.

“It’s fun to have (sports betting) finally legalized and erase some of the stigma that goes around with this stuff,” said Chompsky, who used a vacation day and drove over an hour to Monmouth Park Racetrack. “And quite honestly, I want to try and catch the first winner.”

Chompsky would in fact accomplish that. He spoke with The Two River Times moments after placing his bet at 10:39 a.m. – $5 on a goal being scored in the first 32 minutes of the FIFA World Cup match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the tournament’s opening game. Monmouth Park Racetrack published Chompsky’s “first winning sports bet” on its various social media accounts later that day.

Chompsky was just one of nearly a thousand people who engulfed the grandstand at Monmouth Park Thursday morning to witness Murphy make history in Oceanport. The governor’s first bets? $20 on the New Jersey Devils to win the 2019 Stanley Cup and $20 on Germany to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Murphy was the German ambassador during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013.

Plenty of people took off from work on Thursday morning to place the first sports bets in New Jersey. Dozens of patrons enjoy games and drinks around noon at the William Hill Race & Sports Bar at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

“There’s an old adage that you bet with your head and not with your heart,” Murphy said moments before placing his wagers. “So for the past seven years our heads and hearts were in alignment as we fought to overturn an unlawful and unfair federal law.”

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Hazlet resident Wayne Szpara, 49, came to place bets on the New York Giants to win the NFC East, France to win the World Cup and the Seattle Mariners to take the World Series this fall.

“I’m very happy for the state of New Jersey,” Szpara said. “It’s bringing more income in and it’s giving people jobs. I’m all for that.”

Bob Gibney and Rich Steinhart, both Lincroft residents, each placed $10 on Russia to win over Saudi Arabia. Russia would go on to win 5-0. Both said they’re track regulars and were ecstatic after placing those wagers.

“It’s good to see because it’s really going to save the track,” said Gibney. “If they didn’t get this, this track would probably be gone in five years.”

While Monmouth Park’s future looked bleak over the past decade, it’s now safe to bet on its longevity, said Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park. He believes his racetrack to be a statewide leader in New Jersey’s now functional sports gambling industry.

Speaking to a herd of reporters alongside former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20), Drazin said he expects New Jersey’s to eventually boast a $10 billion handle (a total amount of bets taken) and Monmouth Park alone to handle $1 billion of that.

“It’s a euphoric, intellectual experience,” said Drazin of the opening day. “I feel proud of what we accomplished for New Jersey. I feel invigorated by the fact that I helped save Monmouth Park. All of the people that helped me deserve the credit.”

Lesniak said he’s “been battling against the NFL for more than eight years” and that betting experts don’t understand “what a hotbed of sports betting” New Jersey is.

“Thanks to this team effort, including Democrats and Republicans, New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks will get a big boost from sports betting fans,” he said. “It was a long fight with the odds of powerful interests against us.”

Mapping History in Red Bank

Monmouth Park was virtually ready to begin taking sports bets two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 unconstitutional May 14. That effectively gave all states the ability to pass their own legislation legalizing sports betting.

The racetrack spent nearly $3 million over the past few years to build its sports book with William Hill US on site. Inside the sports bar are six betting stations next to a bar and dozens of tables. Another 15 stations are situated through a doorway in Monmouth Park.

Bill Knauf, Monmouth Park’s vice president of business operations, said all betting locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday.

Food and drink will be served inside the William Hill Race & Sports Bar beginning at 9 a.m. each day.

Knauf also said William Hill US hired at least 50 new sports book employees and other staff. In conjunction with Monmouth Park, which has also increased its staffing, there are roughly 100 new positions in total.

“That shows you jobs that are being created here in New Jersey as a result of the effort to bring sports betting to New Jersey,” said Joe Asher, William Hill US CEO.

The sports betting operations at Monmouth Park are similar to sports books in Las Vegas. Bettors 21 and older can wager on NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL games. Soccer matches, like the FIFA World Cup, and other sports like NCAA games, boxing and mixed martial arts fights can be wagered on. Bets are a $2 minimum and future, prop, straight and parlay wagers are all offered.

Online sports betting is expected to open in the next 30 days, bringing another level of availability to potential bettors. That, in conjunction with Monmouth Park’s new operation, means big things for the state going forward.

“This is a huge step forward for gaming, for the tracks, for the economy of this state,” Murphy said.

This article first appeared in the June 21 – 28, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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