New Jersey set to begin taking legal sports bets

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — In 1978, the Democratic governor of New Jersey threw the first dice at an Atlantic City casino to kick off an era of legal gambling in the state. Forty years later, another Democratic governor will place the state's first legal bet on a sporting event.

Gov. Phil Murphy plans to place a pair of bets Thursday morning at Monmouth Park, a horse racing track near the Jersey shore in Oceanport. (He won't reveal in advance who he plans to risk his money on.)

And like Gov. Brendan Byrne, who shared the first toss of the dice with entertainer Steve Lawrence in the 1978 opening of Resorts casino, Murphy will usher in a new form of gambling intended to take it out of the shadows and the domain of organized crime, and into the light of regulation, consumer protection and government taxation.

British bookmaker William Hill partnered with Monmouth Park to offer sports betting years before it was even possible, in anticipation of the day when a federal prohibition on such wagering in all but four states would be reversed.

"I'm super-excited," said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US. "A lot of people have worked a long time to make this happen."

Asher said he contacted Dennis Drazin, who runs Monmouth, in 2012 about getting in early on a U.S. sports betting market that did not yet exist. They signed a contract to do it in 2013, and have been preparing ever since.

The track will take the first bets in the state, starting at 10:30 a.m. EDT. Thirty minutes later and about 70 miles (112 kilometers) to the south, the Borgata will become Atlantic City's first casino to begin taking such bets. Other casinos and tracks eventually plan to offer sports betting, but none has announced plans to do so in the next few days.

What exactly are the rules of the game for betting? 

  • All professional and college sports are eligible
  • College events taking place in New Jersey or involving NJ State schools are excluded
  • High school sports are also excluded
  • Betters must be 21 and older

New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case last month, overturning a federal law that restricted legal sports betting to just four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon; only Nevada had offered bets on single games. Delaware started taking single-game sports bets last week.

Experts predict in-game betting, in which customers use smartphones to wager on developments over the course of a game, will quickly become a major component of sports betting in the U.S.

But online sports betting will not start for at least 30 days in New Jersey; until then, it is limited to casinos and horse tracks.