Few, if any, casino and racetrack owners were confident in the legalization of sports betting four years ago.
Dennis Drazin was. The Monmouth Park racetrack owner was certain a yearslong court battle would end in New Jersey’s favor. Last week, NJ sports betting went live — and Monmouth Park reaped the rewards.
Certainly, legal NJ sports betting taking away from wagers laid on horse races is a fear. But after the first weekend, it appears those anxieties were eased.
Monmouth Park sun-soaked in NJ sports betting
In an interview with ROI-NJ this week, Drazin, a vocal proponent of Monmouth’s desperate need for sports betting, said that it was important for “Monmouth Park (to) be a leader” in New Jersey’s first steps into the industry.
The racetrack got that opportunity last Thursday, as Gov. Phil Murphy, whose signature on legislation three days earlier legalized sports wagering, placed $20 on Germany to win the World Cup and another $20 on the New Jersey Devils to win next year’s Stanley Cup.
Surely Monmouth would have rather been open in time for Game 4 of the NBA Finals and the Belmont Stakes the previous week. Already considered the second-best weekend at Monmouth, however, Father’s Day weekend was one for the track’s annals.
Ideal weather welcomed thousands of bettors and spectators to the 72-year-old venue. On Sunday alone, a crowd of 23,768 came through the turnstiles to check out the horse races as well as the facility’s new Monmouth Park Sports Book by William Hill.
Still, one question remained for any racetrack that also houses a sportsbook.
Will sports betting take away from the races?
It’s a reasonable question. In theory, the more people who spend time at a sportsbook may only be paying attention to the games rather than the races behind them.
At Monmouth, though, those concerns were quashed.
Over two days, the racetrack welcomed nearly 35,000 people who laid down $1.6 million on races. Sunday’s crowd wagered $1.2 million on the in-house simulcast, representing an 8 percent increase from the previous year. Another $973,402 or so was laid on the live races, a 17 percent spike year over year. On-track handle for the two days was up 18 percent, and attendance was 21 percent better than last year.
Sports betting figures were not released by Monmouth, but Drazin said the “numbers have been very strong.”
“I think this shows you sports betting is not going to cannibalize our product,” he said. “In fact, it makes it even stronger when we have more people there doing both.”
Sports betting won’t take away, but add to horse races
That’s the sentiment expressed by Drazin after the first weekend of legalized sports betting in New Jersey.
Regulated single-game wagering, he noted, “brought a lot more people in and they were the kind of people who were wager on racing, too.”
For Monmouth Park, those spikes in attendance and revenue are much-needed. After all, since being leased from New Jersey in 2012, the racetrack had been seeking alternative revenue streams just to stay in business.
After a hardy weekend, Drazin was obviously brimming with anticipation for the months ahead.
“Frankly, it’s not even football season,” he told the Asbury Park Press. “There’s not even that much going on. There’s World Cup, there’s baseball and there are futures, but this is probably a fraction of what we will see in football season.’’
Speaking with ROI-NJ, Drazin pointed out that sports betting will not take away potential revenue from the track’s races. Really, he said, the industry pads horse racing even more.
“We can increase our days, we can offer better purses, we can help the breeding industry come back,” Drazin said. “… We preserve 176,000 acres of open space, we are a $4 billion industry, and racing is important to New Jersey, as is open space, and this is going to give us security that we don’t have to worry about tomorrow.”