The state of New Jersey has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to rule on the constitutionality of limiting sports betting to the four states - Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Nevada - that had sports betting laws on the books when the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was passed.
Some observers believe New Jersey is throwing a Hail Mary pass, hoping that the Supreme Court will accept the case and declare the ban on sports betting unconstitutional. Readers of The Press will recall that New Jersey voters supported legalization by a 2-1 margin in a November 2011 referendum. But implementation has been held up by a lawsuit brought by various professional sports groups.
A survey commissioned by Richard Stockton College's Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism and recently fielded by the Stockton Polling Institute shed some interesting light on sports gambling in New Jersey.
In the survey, 805 New Jersey adults were randomly called and asked about their sports betting-related behaviors during the past 12 months. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. Calls were made to both cellphones and land lines. The results showed that 27.3 percent of adults had gambled in an office- or group-betting pool and 11.9 percent had bet on a sporting event, with the largest percentage (87.7 percent) betting on pro football. Undoubtedly, the results were affected by the survey's timing since it was fielded in late January while Super Bowl fever was very high.
Nevertheless, football is clearly the sport of choice for sports gamblers, with college sports being a distant second at 44.6 percent, followed by pro basketball at 42.6 percent. One of the most important results of the study was finding that 21.5 percent of those who said they gamble (approximately 50 percent of New Jersey adults) indicated that they would be "more likely" to bet on sporting events if it were legal in New Jersey. This represents almost 700,000 New Jersey adults. This was particularly true for those whose household incomes are between $100,000 and $150,000 per year (30.4 percent versus 21.5 percent overall). Not surprisingly, males outnumbered females by a factor of 3-to-1 in indicating that they would be more likely to place a bet on sporting events if it were legal. Legalization of sports betting would make no difference to 70.4 percent of respondents, and 7.6 percent said they would be less likely to bet on sports if it were legal. Go figure.
While sports betting revenue represented less than 2 percent of the more than $11 billion total gaming revenue earned by Nevada casinos in 2013, sports bettors are a highly desirable market niche due to the lucrative nature of their spending habits on casino gambling, dining and entertainment. Very few people would be surprised to learn that the two biggest sports betting events, as reported by Nevada sports book operators, are the Super Bowl and March Madness. On a relative basis, legal sports betting in New Jersey is likely to produce a much larger spike in visitation than in Nevada, since it peaks during the slowest period of the year for Atlantic City and New Jersey's tourism industry, the winter months.
The poll also looked at the football fan base of New Jersey, which in southern New Jersey is dominated by rabid "Iggles" fans. It's quite a different picture if you consider the state of New Jersey as a whole where, according to the recent Levenson Institute poll, only 18.1 percent of the state's football fans consider the Eagles their team; Giants fans, who are concentrated in the state's more densely populated northern counties, make up 33.6 percent of the state's football fans. On a percentage basis, Ocean County has the largest concentration of Giants fans of any southern New Jersey County, possibly due its many over-55 communities, with many retirees who "escaped" their more crowed communities in northern New Jersey.
Clearly, New Jersey is "all in," claiming a position at the head of the table among the world's leading destinations for visitors who enjoy all forms of wagering and the entertainment associated with it. The state's casino industry and its racing industry are eagerly waiting for the Supreme Court to turn over its cards.
Israel Posner is executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.