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Mary Altaffer  

Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell (12) talks to head coach Brett Brown during the second half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 20, 2019, in New York. The 76ers won 112-108. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

N.J. leads the way one year after Supreme Court allows sports betting

No state has benefited more than New Jersey in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports wagering.

The landmark ruling May 14, 2018, found the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 unconstitutional and allowed states outside of Nevada to offer single-game sports betting.

The high court’s decision was the result of a multi-year legal battle after five sports leagues (NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) sued New Jersey to prevent the state from enacting a 2012 law authorizing sports betting at racetracks and Atlantic City casinos.

“Just one year ago, I was thrilled to see the Supreme Court finally side with New Jersey and strike down the arbitrary ban on sports betting imposed by Congress decades ago,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in an emailed statement. “Between job and revenue growth, capturing this formerly underground industry has breathed new life into our racetracks and casinos.”

Through March of this year, Atlantic City casinos and their online partners have generated more than $76 million in revenue from sports betting, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Statewide, gamblers have legally wagered more than $2.325 billion through the end of March.

“We knew that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision one year ago would be very meaningful to New Jersey, but in its first year, sports wagering has exceeded all expectations,” said Kevin Ortzman, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and regional president of Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s three Atlantic City properties. “It has provided a much-needed economic boost in the Garden State, Atlantic City and the casino industry and generated meaningful tax revenue.”

Eight of Atlantic City’s nine casinos have invested millions of dollars to construct sportsbooks on property, spurring both increased economic activity and excitement. Caesars Atlantic City is the only one without one, but the Boardwalk property shares a common space with Bally’s Wild Wild West Casino.

Casey Clark, vice president of strategic communication for the American Gaming Association, said New Jersey is a “remarkable success story.”

As the primary lobbying arm of the gaming industry, Clark said the AGA “actively supported” New Jersey’s fight to legalize sports betting.

“None of this would have happened without New Jersey taking a strong stance against the failing federal sports betting prohibition,” Clark said.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, sponsored a bill to legalize sports betting while serving as a member of the state Assembly nearly a decade ago.

On Monday, Van Drew said legalized sports betting eventually became an issue that garnered bipartisan support in New Jersey.

“(Sports betting) has proven to be so much of what we thought it could be,” he said. “For a while, I was out there alone and people told me it would never happen, never work and that it was just a political stunt. So, it makes me feel good, and it’s been to the betterment of the state of New Jersey, in general.”

New Jersey was the second state outside of Nevada — Delaware, which already offered multi-game (parlay) bets, was first — to offer sports betting after PASPA was overturned.

Legalized sports betting in New Jersey began June 14 when Monmouth Park Racetrack (Oceanport, Monmouth County) accepted the first wager, followed later that day by Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.

“New Jersey’s bold moves in fighting for the overturn of PASPA against seemingly long odds will earn the state a place in the history books,” said David G. Schwartz, associate vice provost at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and former director of the school’s Center for Gaming Research.

Eight states now offer legalized sports betting with four others not yet operational. Clark said over 80% of all states have taken steps to legalize since PASPA was overturned last year.

Gambling analyst Chris Grove of Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, says it is possible that New Jersey could become the top market. Gamblers in Nevada wagered more than $5 billion on sports last year.

“New Jersey’s population advantage, drive-in traffic from New York and superior mobile sports betting product are the primary forces driving New Jersey ahead of Nevada,” he said. “It’s not a guarantee, but it’s certainly plausible.”

Van Drew said that while the early returns from sports betting are encouraging, it was important to remain realistic about its potential. Sports betting revenue accounts for less than 5% of total gaming revenue in Atlantic City.

“A sports book by itself does not bring in that much money,” Van Drew said. “But, it’s the tangential things that goes with it. It’s an added dimension that’s part of an entire package.”

Commuters glad to be back on Atlantic City Rail Line

ATLANTIC CITY — The Atlantic City Rail Line pulled out of the resort’s terminal Monday just before 7 a.m. with commuters headed for Philadelphia and points along the way.

Those riders — relegated to taking the bus or driving in traffic for the past eight months — were relieved to be back on schedule with their preferred commute.

Colleen Valenzano, who works in Philadelphia, said the shutdown for federally mandated safety mechanisms was a “huge” inconvenience. She was excited to hear the line would be running again.

“I was elated,” said Valenzano, 62, of Brigantine. “But, you know, I had my doubts. ... I’m just hoping it continues.”

Commuters and other rail riders Monday, to and from Atlantic City, expressed relief that their eight-month long headache was over. They spoke of having to get up earlier, get home later and battle traffic and disruptive bus schedules as NJ Transit pushed back the reopening date from the original early-January timeline.

Some said the new schedule, released in April, altered their commute. But everyone expressed relief at the line’s return, including the agency’s head.

“Today, we’ll start rebuilding the ridership,” said Executive Director Kevin Corbett, who gathered with other NJ Transit officials at the terminal Monday to see commuters off.

Atlantic City Rail Line Schedule

Jacob Davis, 19, of Ocean City, was riding the line Monday with two friends to Philadelphia to meet up with another friend for a road trip to Montreal.

“It just makes things easier in terms of parking and mobility,” Davis said. “I have friends that live in Philly so (the shutdown) kind of made it hard to go see them.”

But for others, the new schedule, which added two new run times to Philadelphia before noon and axed late night times, has thrown a wrench into their routines.

“I used to ride with a group, and we all work in Philly,” Valenzano said. “We’d take the 6:40 train and it was great. And now they changed it to 6:56, and I’m taking it. The other ladies have decided to take the earlier train.”

George Smith, 61, of Newtonville, takes the line to his job at the John Brooks Recovery Center in Atlantic City on Mondays and Fridays.

“I used to take the 6:30 train. But now it’s 7:17,” Smith said. “So anybody who works at 7:30 is pretty much, you know, screwed. ... It puts me an hour behind schedule for Monday.”

NJ Transit faced intense criticism for its handling of the shutdown. Clear answers regarding the line’s reopening were hard to come by, and riders grew heated at a public meeting with officials. The agency, meanwhile, cited train and engineer shortages for the delay. Some on the train Monday repeated a concern that followed the agency through the shutdown — that the line would remain closed due to comparably thin ridership.

Annual ridership on the line dropped from 1.38 million in 2011 to less than 1 million in 2017, according to NJ Transit. It was down another 4.1% in 2018 before the service was suspended.

“There were a lot of people who were skeptical. They thought there was a conspiracy theory that we were gonna shut it down,” Corbett said. “We wouldn’t have put millions of dollars into all the rehab and the (positive train control) work. But I think a lot of them are really happy now that they see we are back.”

Commuters could grab a cup of coffee at the station’s snack stand courtesy of NJ Transit. “Welcome Back ACRL,” a sign inside read.

Brittany Owens, 30, of Atlantic City said driving to her job for Amtrak at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia over the winter took her an extra 30 to 40 minutes every day. She couldn’t wait to get on the train Monday.

“I was extremely excited,” Owens said. “I got here extra early just because I was that excited I didn’t have to drive anymore.”

And the line’s reopening lined up conveniently with Maria Huynh’s first day of work Monday for the Department of Health in Philadelphia.

“I hate driving, and it’s like an hour if I’m not counting traffic,” said Huynh, 26, of Atlantic City. “(With the train) I can just sit down and relax for a little bit. … I’m just glad that it worked out.”

Sea Isle City launches 24-hour live flood cam

SEA ISLE CITY — Water creeped into the center of the street at 40th and Central Avenue during Monday morning’s high tide as minor flooding hit the Jersey Shore.

But residents and second-home owners didn’t have to rely on each other for updates on the heavy rain.

Sea Isle City’s new live web camera broadcast the light inundation of the town’s most susceptible intersection, which acts as a barometer for flooding in the rest of the town. It’s meant to warn people when to move their vehicles from low-lying to more elevated areas during nuisance flooding.

“It was flooding (on 40th and Central) all the way across, which means there are probably other roads in Sea Isle that are flooded,” said city construction official Neil Byrne at the unveiling of the tool Monday.

The live stream is available on the website of the New Jersey Coastal Coalition, a group of more than 20 municipalities that formed after Hurricane Sandy.

Like other barrier islands, Sea Isle is grappling with the effects of sea level rise on regular, day-to-day life for its 2,500 year-round residents and tens of thousands of summertime visitors.

Closed roads and threatened cars are typical in towns that experience nuisance flooding, smaller rain events that happen multiple times per year.

The city recently enhanced its alert system with nearly 80 warning signs that blink when a road is underwater. If one of the yellow signs is flashing, motorists know to turn their car around.

Following the lead of Wildwood and Long Beach Island, Sea Isle City also passed a “No Wake” ordinance in April that prohibits motorists from driving through flooded streets and creating waves that can damage nearby homes and businesses.

“As we all know, life on a barrier island comes with certain challenges,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said at the news conference. “We want to be able to notify and let those who are visiting our community know that here’s where you can look.”

The camera cost $5,000 and was funded through a grant from OceanFirst Bank to the New Jersey Coastal Coalition.

In the next few years, coalition Executive President Tom Quirk said he wants similar flood cameras set up in most shore towns. He said he is in talks with 10 coastal communities in Atlantic and Cape May counties about joining the initiative.

“The Jersey Shore is a wonderful place to be 362 days of the year,” Quirk said. “But three or four days a year, we have to be aware we have challenges.”

The coalition said the Sea Isle flood camera is one of the first in New Jersey. Similar monitoring tools are set up in San Diego, California, and along the Great Pee Dee River in Florence, South Carolina.

A Brigantine man was set on fire in March. He still doesn't know why.

MAYS LANDING — In complete silence, Ray Mullen drove as fast as he could away from Cologne Avenue.

There, minutes before, a group of young men stood by and watched as Mullen was set on fire, going up in a ball of flames on their friend’s lawn.

“No one said stop. No one said a word,” Mullen said. “I thought they were gonna kill me.”

Almost two months since the night of March 15, Mullen, 27, remains just as bewildered as he was on his breakneck ride back to Brigantine.

He spent about a month in Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia for third-degree burns and will need to take six months to a year off from work to recover. He has permanent nerve damage, an inability to perspire and extensive skin grafts across his left arm and his entire blistered, red back. His mother, Debra, on leave from work, is his sole caretaker. He has a detailed recovery plan, steps to regain some semblance of normalcy. And the two men charged with attacking him that night — David Sult and Brandon Perez — are awaiting their day in court.

But as for why he was attacked, Mullen may always be in the dark. All he can do is retrace his steps.

Mullen has known Sult, 24, for about a year and a half, through their mutual enjoyment of dirt biking. He knew Perez, 23, through Sult. And he knew the other men at Sult’s house that night from hanging out there in the past.

After an exhausting day at work, Mullen was unusually tired and fell fast asleep on the couch not long after arriving. He woke up a few hours later on fire. Sult had doused him in lighter fluid and set him ablaze, he said.

Panicked, he rushed to the front yard, patting the flames out. The other men followed.

Perez set him on fire again, Mullen said, and he was enveloped by “huge, astronomical flames.” He fell to the concrete to roll the fire out.

Sult snatched Mullen’s keys from his hands. In intense pain, Mullen had to threaten to call the police to get his keys back. He drove over the lawn to get away from the gathering, he said, and back to Brigantine.

“My other son … he woke me up and said, ‘Ray! They lit him on fire!’” Debra Mullen said.

They rushed to the emergency room.

“I tried not to panic because he was actually in so much pain,” she said, “and he had his arms out the window, saying he feels like his arms are on fire.”

At AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, he was admitted immediately.

“And you could just see, he was just standing there screaming and crying in excruciating pain,” his mother said.

Soon after, he was rushed by ambulance to Jefferson Hospital where he remained for about a month.

Perez, of Hammonton, was arrested March 25, and Sult, of Mays Landing, was arrested April 1. Both are charged with second-degree aggravated assault, second-degree aggravated arson and second-degree conspiracy. The two are out on their own recognizance. Sult's pre-indictment conference is scheduled for May 15. Perez's pre-indictment conference is schedule for May 22.

cshaw-pressofac / Hamilton township Police Department / provided/  

David Sult, left, and Brandon Perez are charged with dousing Ray Mullen with lighter fluid and setting him on fire.

Calls to Hamilton police and the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office were not immediately returned.

Mullen’s father, Joseph, of Mount Laurel, finds it outrageous the two men were allowed out.

“This was an active young man just getting his life in order. He was one of the A class motorcycle racers on the East Coast. His life has been turned upside down,” Joseph Mullen said.

Mullen’s skin will be permanently disfigured. He was told to stretch every 20 minutes to combat his skin’s contractions. He lost about 30 pounds, and has consistently high blood pressure.

“All this is numb,” Mullen said, straining to show his injuries. “This is all like leather.”

He got a number of infections on his burned skin. His mother cleans his wounds and applies medication to them. She drives him to occupational therapy and physical therapy four times a week, where he has been working on regaining the ability to lift his arm above his shoulder. Mullen called his mother a saint.

Because both he and his mother will be out of work for some time, a GoFundMe has been set up to cover their loss of earnings, named “Everybody Loves Raymond.” So far, almost $12,000 of the $50,000 goal has been raised.

A couple of the other men there that night have called Mullen since to ask how he’s doing. One said his anxiety was so bad that he just had to hide behind a trailer while Mullen was set on fire.

“I’ve tried to cut all ties with everybody there,” Mullen said. “I haven’t talked to him since (that call.)”

Mullen said he’s never even had an argument with the men.

“That’s what bothers me the most,” Mullen said. “I’ve always been friendly with the guys and ... I don’t know why they did it. I don’t even know why.”