Oceanport (United States) (AFP) – A cheer goes up around the bar as Russia scores its first goal at this small seaside town in New Jersey: the state has just legalized sports betting, and now has its sights set on catching up with Las Vegas.
Hundreds of punters have descended on the Monmouth Park race course, one of the first institutions to have been awarded a license, to place their bets ranging in value from tens to hundreds of dollars.
“It saves me a trip to Vegas!” says Adam Zwicker, who has come to put down $100 on the soccer World Cup, which he predicts will be won by Germany or Brazil.
New Jersey has long sought to position Atlantic City as the Vegas of the East Coast — but, thanks to its large population, predicts it can surpass the desert city for the sports betting market.
Joe Asher, CEO of the US subsidiary of British betting giant William Hill, believes the Garden State could see $10 billion in sports bets revenues, double what Vegas makes as the vibrant black market switches over.
In mid-May, the US Supreme Court lifted a 25-year-old ban on sports betting, paving the way for legal gambling in several states beyond Nevada.
Delaware was the first to issue licenses on June 5, with New Jersey following on Thursday.
– ‘Like Broadway’ –
“This is a huge step forward for gaming, for the tracks, for the economy of the state,” said New Jersey’s Democratic governor Phil Murphy, who visited Monmouth Park and placed the first two bets, including one on Germany winning the World Cup.
Jack Czajkowski, president of the Kenwood Racing team, which has horses that race on the Monmouth Park track, said the legalization of sports betting was a breath of fresh air.
Races are now held only on the weekend, as opposed to six days a week, as was the case 15 years ago. So for now, the breeder is placing a bet on Poland beating Senegal on Tuesday in Moscow.
Germany, Spain, France: the early bets were focused on World Cup favorites.
But what may have been the biggest bet of the day wasn’t on soccer but baseball.
Stu Feiner, a Long Island native and betting enthusiast, put $5000 on the Chicago White Sox, who were set to face the Cleveland Indians at home.
“It gets everybody out of the closet. You don’t have to be in a grey area,” he said of the experience.
“You can have fun responsibly, like going to a movie, to a Broadway show. It’s great if you can afford it.”
Thursday was a day to celebrate, and few spoke about the risks of gambling.
For the time being, bets can only be placed over the counter at licensed shops. But within a month, licensees will launch online services, limited to within New Jersey.
Some 60 percent of Nevada’s sports bets are placed online.
For now, bookmakers are licking their lips.
“The people are turning like this for a Russia vs Saudi Arabia, you just imagine what it’s going to be like when the football season starts,” enthused Asher. “It’s going to be unbelievable.”