OCEANPORT, N.J., June 14 (Reuters) - With two $20 bets and a rambunctious crowd awaiting their turn, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy placed the state’s very first legal sports bets on Thursday, capping a years-long battle to end the ban on sports betting in the Garden State.
“This is a huge step forward for gaming, for the tracks, for the economy of this state,” Murphy said before placing his bets, with a crowd of media swarming him as he stepped to the counter at Monmouth Park Racetrack.
Murphy’s wagers - that Germany will win the World Cup and the New Jersey Devils will take home hockey’s Stanley Cup next year - may not seem monumental.
But the beginning of legal sports betting in New Jersey likely paves the way for much of the rest of the United States to eventually regulate and tax it.
While sports betting is legal in many other countries, a 1992 U.S. law barred it in the United States except for a limited number of states, such as Nevada, where casinos have long included sports betting.
New Jersey voters agreed in 2011 to change the state’s constitution to legalize sports betting, in part as an economic and revenue boost to the state’s ailing horse racetracks and gambling hub Atlantic City.
State lawmakers quickly passed bills to legalize it, but professional sports leagues pushed back in court, arguing that it was illegal under the old federal law and that sports could be more easily corrupted due to increased money at stake.
But in May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with New Jersey and overturned the 1992 law. Now West Virginia, Connecticut, Mississippi and New York are looking to bring sports wagering out of the shadows, with other states are likely to follow.
As Murphy placed the first official wagers, a crowd of hundreds, energized by finally being able to bet on their favorite teams, lined up eagerly at Monmouth Park.
They picked up forms listing the day’s games for various sports and placed bets with clerks at one of at least a dozen counters at the $2 million sports betting parlor built by William Hill PLC’s U.S. division.
In an adjacent bar, the mostly male crowd that could place bets and grab a beer watched and cheered at televisions streaming golf, horse racing, baseball and soccer.
Larry Cook, 47, was there to bet on baseball’s New York Yankees. He said he already likes to gamble in Atlantic City, and enjoys sports, so being able to wager on the sports he already watches is a perfect melding of two worlds.
Plus, he appreciates that some of the betting money will make its way to his state, an unusual refrain from heavily taxed New Jerseyans.
“If I’m gonna lose, at least it’s going to a good cause,” he said. He drove an hour to place his bet. But once sports betting launches at the Meadowlands Racetrack closer to home, he said he will go there instead.
Joseph Correnti, 30, also drove an hour from his home the night before to stay with a friend nearby. He was among the first to place bets.
Clutching cash and a betting form, he too bet $20 on the Yankees to win Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays and another $20 that the New York Mets will prevail over the Arizona Diamondbacks. And he bet $10 that Russia will win the World Cup opening match against Saudi Arabia - a winning wager after Russia prevailed 5-0.
“I’ve been waiting for sports betting in New Jersey for the longest,” he said. (Reporting By Hilary Russ; Editing by Daniel Bases and Bill Berkrot)