Sports betting ‘encouraging’ but don’t ignore horse racing, senator says
OCEANPORT — Attendance and wagering increases at Monmouth Park, combined with strong July numbers at Meadowlands Racetrack, have raised the perception that sports betting would be a positive for New Jersey, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that authorized any state to offer the pastime legally.
Still, there is so little information about its impact on actual horse racing, said state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth, that the notion sports betting would benefit the horse industry in the Garden State shouldn't be taken "to the bank."
"It's encouraging, but no one should assume that, 'OK, we have sports betting now, we can ignore this industry going forward,'" O'Scanlon said.
He said that whether or not an individual person likes horse racing, there is no denying its importance to New Jersey. And there may be no more important single day than the annual Haskell Invitational, coming up on Sunday.
Even though an injury will prevent Triple Crown winner Justify from running in the Haskell, as previous Triple Crown champ American Pharoah did in 2015, O'Scanlon nevertheless expects the race to post a big number, especially given the added presence of sports betting.
"Anything that helps the biggest date of racing in Monmouth Park's season is a good thing, so it would have been nice to have had Justify," O'Scanlon said. "I'm confident that the upward trend we see, the positive trend we see at Monmouth Park is going to continue, and that the Haskell day is still going to be a really big success."
The Asbury Park Press reported that as of Saturday, halfway through Monmouth Park's season, total handle on all wagers was up 10 percent over the same period in 2017, and attendance had risen 5 percent.
Meadowlands Racetrack also revealed on Monday that it took in almost $3.5 million in its first nine days of accepting sports bets, dating back to July 14 — a notoriously barren period that commenced with the finals of the FIFA World Cup, but had only Major League Baseball's All-Star festivities between that and the first round of golf's British Open on July 19.
O'Scanlon said his position was unmistakable that New Jersey's sports betting legislation should have been signed at the first possible opportunity, as a delay in doing so cost the state a chance to make money on the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals during the first week of June. But he still said the practice is "on the right track," making or exceeding forecasted figures.
"The good weather, people heading to or from the beach, I think we're going to see some fairly healthy numbers with sports betting," he said. "And then we get into football season and we ramp up from there. I'm OK with that."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.