Barring a last-minute delay in court, legalized sports betting is set to become a reality in New Jersey this weekend.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a law on Friday paving the way for legal sports wagering at the state's horse-racing tracks and casinos by repealing old state laws banning it. Monmouth Park, a racetrack in Oceanport, has said it will begin offering betting Sunday, in time for the next weekend of NFL games.
But how does it work? Here is a Q&A discussing the law and what lies ahead:
1. How is this legal? Isn't there a federal ban on sports betting?
There is. A 1992 federal law prohibits sports wagering in all but four states. But New Jersey has been trying to circumvent the ban for years.
In 2011, New Jerseyans voted to legalize sports betting and Christie signed it into law a year later. But collegiate and professional sports leagues sued, saying the move violated the federal ban and hurt the integrity of their sports.
A federal court ruled in the leagues' favor and an appellate court did the same last year. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear Christie's appeal.
But the Republican governor's administration seized upon language in the appellate judge's ruling saying that nothing prevents New Jersey from stripping state laws banning betting and allowing casinos and racetracks to set up sports wagering operations without state regulation. That's what the new law makes way for. The state Legislature fast-tracked the bill this month, and Christie signed it a day after passage.
Experts have likened it to the way Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana despite a federal ban.
2. How can you place a bet? Can you do it online or over the phone? Or does it have to be in person?
You have to place a bet in person. And right now, only Monmouth Park is set to offer it. That means some New Jerseyans would have to drive an hour or more to partake.
3. Are there any restrictions?
No one under 21 can place a bet. You also can't bet on games involving New Jersey collegiate teams or college events taking place in New Jersey. Thus, no betting on Rutgers, and no betting on Notre Dame if the Irish happen to play in the Garden State.
But any professional team — the Giants, Jets, Devils, Yankees, Mets, you name it — is open for businesses.
4. Is this definitely happening? Or will the courts get involved?
A court could still stop all this from happening. The sports leagues filed papers in federal court Monday saying the new law still violates the federal ban and are expected to ask a judge for a temporary injunction to stop betting from beginning this weekend.
5. When will venues other than Monmouth Park start offering betting?
Lloyd Levenson, an Atlantic City attorney who works for casinos, said casino operators will likely wait for the court case to be decided before wading into sports wagering. No casino has begun building the infrastructure to allow it yet. "I can't see casinos starting something and then having to stop," Levenson said.
But if the courts side with New Jersey, he said, casinos are certain to offer it. "I think the casinos would be nuts not to do it," Levenson said. "It’s an opportunity to introduce more people to the property."
6. Will the state reap any direct revenue from the operations?
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who pushed hard for sports betting, said it won't be a large amount, but he noted the idea behind the legislation is to kickstart the track and casino industries — especially in Atlantic City.
"The thrust behind my effort here is to keep these industries alive, save some jobs, and bring back some jobs that were lost," he said. "We don't have any direct revenue expectations. But saving and creating thousands of jobs has a great value."
7. Will Monmouth Park's betting system be fully operational Sunday?
No. Dennis Drazin, an adviser for the track, said it will be a soft opening. There will also likely be a cap on the betting in the beginning.
"We will probably be recording the bets by hand at first," Drazin said. "Two or three weeks from now, we'll be set up with computers. There's a little bit of a curve considering how quickly this moved."
And expect there to be long lines. Drazin is predicting at least 5,000 customers Sunday. Doors open at 10 a.m.
8. Will Monmouth Park set the odds for each game, as Las Vegas does?
Yes. Right now, Drazin said, the track is expecting to offer straight-up bets against the spread only on Sunday games.
9. Since the state won't be sanctioning the betting, who will regulate it?
Drazin said Monmouth Park will form a private regulatory body to write rules and regulations governing the wagering. He said the operators have also reached out to other tracks and casinos.
"Right now, all the others are standing back and waiting to see why happens with Monmouth before venturing into these quarters," he said. "But we will have house rules so people can understand how and when to bet. And we will have a method so the public can challenge a decision."