Ending a more than eight-year odyssey to bring sports betting to New Jersey, Gov. Philip D. Murphy signed a bill Monday that legalizes wagering, making it likely that gambling could start later this week — just in time for the start of the World Cup.
For a law designed to restore some of the glitz and glamour to Atlantic City’s casinos, the governor’s bill signing was the opposite: a signature behind closed doors and a statement emailed to the news media.
“Today, we’re finally making the dream of legalized sports betting a reality for New Jersey,” said Murphy. “It means that our casinos in Atlantic City and our racetracks throughout our state can attract new business and new fans, boosting their own long-term financial prospects. This is the right move for New Jersey and it will strengthen our economy.”
The last remaining hurdle standing between would-be bettors and, say, a 6-1 wager on Spain to win the World Cup, is the licensing process, which is being expedited to help get betting operations up and running as soon as possible.
It’s the New Jersey Racing Commission that handles the licensing for the racetracks. It has scheduled a meeting Wednesday, presumably to accept applications and distribute licenses to operators, enabling Monmouth Park to begin accepting bets as early as Thursday. The state’s other two racetracks are still a few weeks away from being fully operational because they need to build venues and train employees.
Dennis A. Drazin, the operator of Monmouth Park who helped lead the charge to make sports betting legal in the Garden State, heralded the governor’s action as “a great day for New Jersey.”
“I look forward to the governor joining us at Monmouth Park Racetrack on Thursday morning to usher in a new era for New Jersey by placing the first bet,” Drazin said.
The casinos are governed by the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which follows a process similar to the racing commission of posting regulations, accepting applications and then distributing licenses.
The Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa is the only casino that is prepared to immediately begin taking bets, transforming some betting windows at its horse-racing facility into a temporary sports-gambling site until a permanent venue is completed, though the casino would not specify when it would begin taking bets. Atlantic City’s six other casinos continue to prepare for sports betting. Some need to build space; others need a sports-book partner to set up an operation.
Those hoping to place bets online or through a mobile device will still have to wait to gamble: The legislation includes a clause stating that online sports betting cannot start within 30 days of the bill signing. The establishment of sports betting in New Jersey has been years in the making as the state pursued a legal battle that culminated in last month’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a law that effectively banned such gambling in most states.
The state Legislature passed the bill Thursday, but no casino or racetrack could begin taking bets until the governor signed it, leading gamblers, sports betting operators and some lawmakers to clamor for Murphy to move quickly.
A last-minute amendment to the legislation, removing a line that initially threatened punitive action against any operator that accepted wagers on sporting events before it was signed, was not enough to open the gates to betting before action from Murphy.
Drazin had been hoping to start taking bets last Friday, in time for Game 4 of the NBA Finals and the Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.
But the governor held off signing the bill until Monday afternoon, saying that his office needed to review the legislation for potential legal issues.
Murphy, a die-hard soccer fan who used to sit on the board of the U.S. Soccer Foundation and owns a majority stake in Sky Blue FC, a professional women’s soccer team, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker Thursday at the East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.