Monmouth Park Announces 45-Day Moratorium on Sports Gambling, Prepares to Train Staff
Monmouth Park in Oceanport has agreed to a 45-day moratorium on sports betting, says its own, Dennis Drazin. The decision delays a likely legal showdown with the NFL and other top American sports leagues until late in October. When Governor Chris Christie announced on Monday that the Division of Gaming Enforcement would not prosecute New Jersey casinos and racetracks which accepted sports bets on Monday, Drazin had said his gaming venue might accept bets as early as this weekend.
After consulting with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, Drazin decided to sent a letter to each sports league to inform them of his decision to delay sports gambling for a time. On Monday, the day Christie announced his administration’s policies on sports betting, acting Attorney General John Hoffman filed a motion with the court of U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp. That motion asked for a clarification on Shipp’s February 2013 injunction against sports betting, in light of an aspect of last fall’s ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Michael Shipp Will Give Opinion on October 6
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Shipp’s earlier ruling against the state legislature’s original plan, but it alo added that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) did not prevent a state from amending or eliminating its sports betting prohibitions. To rule on that motion, a hearing has been scheduled for October 6 in Judge Shipp’s court. That hearing should go a long way to determining the state of New Jersey’s policies towards sports betting.
If Judge Shipp interpretation of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals case is the same as the three-member panel’s interpretation, it will open the door for Monmouth Park and other New Jersey gaming venues to accept sports bets.
NFL and US Sports Leagues Will Likely Sue
Under those circumstances, it is expected that the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA will sue the gaming venues of New Jersey. That’s what happened when Governor Chris Christie challenged the PASPA law in 2012. That lawsuit led to a two-year legal battle which involved U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court.
When the Supreme Court declined to hear New Jersey’s case in June 2014, that seemed to settle the matter. When the New Jersey state legislature passed a new sports gambling bill in August 2014 and Chris Christie vetoed the bill, that once again appeared to end the matter. But then the Christie administration said they believed there was a legal loophole which would allow New Jersey to legalize sports betting. Thus begins what appears to be a new round of legal battles.
Taking a Cautious Approach
Dennis Drazin says the 45-day delay is the right approach to opening a sportsbook at his racetrack. Drazin told North Jersey News, “This approach is viable for us because we want to be supportive. It’s my intent to start sports betting on the 46th day, unless a judge tells me I can’t.”
The owner of Monmouth Park mentioned that there were other compelling reasons to delay implementation. Monmouth Park has a partnership with William Hill, the UK-based gaming company which operates one of the biggest sportsbooks in the world.
Monmouth Park to Train 110 New Employees
Drazin says that the executives at William Hill told him he would need to hire 110 employees to handle sports betting. Besides hiring these people, he would need time to train them. Thus, the 45-day moratorium allows time for Judge Shipp to rule on the case, while also giving Drazin time to train a staff.
Such an approach brings with it risks. If the judge’s ruling goes against New Jersey, then Drazin might have hired 110 people and trained them for naught. That would be a major financial obligation for a racetrack which is already turning to sports betting to boost slumping revenues.
It is worth the risk, though. Sports betting in New Jersey would give the local gaming venues a claim to fame which doesn’t exist in New York or Pennsylvania. The main reason that Atlantic City gaming revenues have slumped from $5.4 billion in 2006 to $2.86 billion in 2013 (and likely much lower in 2014) is the fact that gamblers from New York state, Pennsylvania, and North Jersey often go to rival casinos in other states. A significant number of those gamblers might return, if they have the option to legally bet on sports.
Opening the Doors to Sports Betting
The problem from the perspective of the NFL and its fellow sports leagues is the precedent such a move sets. Under the PASPA law, only four U.S. states allow sports gambling: Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. If New Jersey proves that a state can legalize gambling simply by changing state laws or even “not enforcing” its existing laws, then states like Pennsylvania and New York might do the same thing.
In time, sports gambling might spread to dozens of U.S. states, the way lottery gambling did. The sports leagues believe such a trend would undermine the integrity of their leagues. The NFL is afraid that the unfettered gambling could lead to the kind of match-fixing or line-fixing scandals that have plagued international sports, such as European football (soccer) and cricket.
Roger Goddess Says Betting Threatens NFL’s Integrity
In August 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “Because of the threat to the goodwill and integrity of NFL football, and to the fundamental bond of loyalty and devotion between fans and teams, the NFL has repeatedly and consistently been a leading opponent of legalized sports gambling.”
Yet sports executives admit behind closed doors that gambling is good for the major sporting leagues. Moneyline bets and prop bets drive interest in the game, which increases TV ratings. Better TV ratings lead to bigger contracts with the networks, which increases the wealth of the league. Therefore, regulated and well-policed sports betting should be to the benefit of the NFL, NBA, and their peer leagues. Yet whenever New Jersey tries to approve such gaming, the sports league sue them.
Reasons Sports Leagues Dislike Gambling
It’s a contradiction, but one countered by references to Major League Baseball’s spotty past with game-fixing scandals, from Shoeless Joe Jackson all the way up to Pete Rose. Conspiracy theorists have another intepretation: the NFL and the other leagues want to stop widespread sports gambling until they can figure out a way to tap that huge resource of potential revenue.
It may be impossible to confirm such a theory, but all indications are the sports leagues eventually will embrace sports betting in a way they don’t at present. Just two weeks ago, new NBA Commission Adam Silver said sports gambling was inevitable and the NBA should embrace the concept. And while Roger Goodell has been staunch against sports gambling, it is looking increasingly like the NFL commissioner may not be able to survive fallout from the Ray Rice scandal, which simply will not go away. If so, then the next NFL commissioner might be less concerned with the impropriety of sports betting, and simply looking to retrieve the fandom lost through the botched handling of a domestic abuse case.
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