Let’s just call a spade a spade: Every state with legal online sports betting not named Nevada owes New Jersey an annual ‘Thank you’ note with a Quick Chek or Wawa gift card.
With more than two dozen jurisdictions in the US now regulating and taxing mobile sports wagering, the multi-billion-dollar industry has become an economic juggernaut.
Thanks to New Jersey.
As the first state outside Nevada to go mobile with its industry, NJ sports betting set the tone in terms of the market’s legal and regulatory framework.
And remember the ‘Thank you’ notes? Well, the bulk of them should be addressed to two Jersey boys in recognition of their Herculean efforts toward shaping the national landscape.
Bringing online sports betting to liferebu
Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak and NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck deserve a lion’s share of the credit for the current state of widespread, legal sports gambling.
Without Lesniak’s persistence to drag sports betting legalization through the judicial system or Rebuck’s commitment to regulatory expediency and excellence, NJ online sports betting would not be celebrating a milestone – a five-year anniversary for NJ online sportsbooks – in August.
Neither would any other state in the union for that matter.
Nevada can lay claim to birthing legal sports gambling in the US. And New York wears the crown as the country’s largest market. But New Jersey — the tiny, oft-overlooked Garden State — is the original digital pioneer.
Rebuck the ‘Godfather’ of state-regulated sports betting
In a rare media interview, Rebuck told PlayNJ that he and his staff were well-prepared for internet sports wagering in 2018. After all, NJ was the first state to offer legal online casinos in 2013, so Rebuck and the NJDGE had a headstart.
“We had a great foundation to build off of for online sports wagering,” Rebuck said.
“The real story here is that we had a five-year-jump to prepare. If the Division hadn’t delivered in the online model, then I don’t know what excuses we could have used.”
That level of accountability and awareness are among the many reasons gaming regulators, out-of-state lawmakers and operators all look to NJ as a model for how to do things the right way.
“You have (in NJ) the Godfather of sports betting — and that probably goes for just gaming in general — in Dave Rebuck,” Shawn Fluharty, West Virginia Delegate and President-elect of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, told PlayNJ.
“New Jersey is looked at as a leader. And it’s looked at as a leader because of people like David Rebuck who have been there from day one, and not only do they know what they’re doing, they are willing to pick up the phone and help others as well.”
Lesniak always knew industry would thrive
Lesniak, author of “Beating the Odds: The Epic Battle That Brought Legal Sports Betting Across America,” has never shied away from expressing how others should remember him and his home state in the annals of gambling history.
When the New York Times ridiculously compared former Gov. Chris Christie (who fought tooth and nail against legalization for years) to George Washington for NJ’s role in regulated sports gambling, Lesniak quipped to this reporter that his one-time political foe was more “like Paul Revere warning ‘Lesniak is coming. Lesniak is coming.’”
As the fifth anniversary of online sports gambling in NJ comes and goes, Lesniak said he never doubted the current success of the industry.
“As a sports fan myself who placed illegal sports bets from time to time, I knew it would be a huge success because the Northeast was a hotbed of sports fans,” Lesniak told PlayNJ.
“Those states who followed our lead learned (online sports gambling) was a good revenue raiser for their state treasuries, something that was not my primary interest but is certainly an added benefit.”
New Jersey just does it better
Rebuck said the biggest challenge for NJ regulators leading up to the launch of internet sports wagering was the lack of readiness from the most unlikely of places.
“The casino industry and the racetrack industry in New Jersey was not prepared for online sports wagering in 2018. They weren’t ready. They didn’t have partnerships and they couldn’t roll out online themselves (because) they don’t have the technical skills.”
Once DraftKings Sportsbook NJ and FanDuel Sportsbook NJ, two daily fantasy sports sites who developed sportsbooks, showed the industry the way, the dominos quickly fell. New Jersey had eight online sportsbooks by the end of 2018. One year later, there were 17 NJ online sports betting operators in the state that collectively accepted more than $3.84 billion in legal wagers.
Fast-forward to 2023, 24 states and Washington D.C. now offer regulated, taxed internet sports wagering. Today, NJ has 20 active online sportsbooks.
And it all started in Jersey inside the NJDGE offices on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Rebuck takes pains to avoid coming off as arrogant because he’s aware of NJ’s reputation as the “gold standard” of the online gaming regulatory world. But that doesn’t mean he’s not confident.
“I do believe and I’ll say this, I have the best staff in the world. I really believe that we can perform to the highest level of any other regulators in any other state, jurisdiction or any other country in the world. Bring it on, man. If you can do it better than we can, educate me — because I’m going to steal it from you in a heartbeat.”