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VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press  

Longport’s Joey Tepper, comes out of the water first to win the swim portion of the Margate Beach Patrol World War ll Memorial Lifeguard Races, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)


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Could New Jersey over take Nevada as sports betting king?


The start of professional football season is less than two weeks away, but some experts are already predicting a huge upset in the battle for gridiron sports betting supremacy.

After a year of getting retail and online options up and running, some industry watchers believe New Jersey could surpass Nevada in the total amount of wagers placed on NFL games this coming season.

Alex Kostin, founder of AmericanGambler.com, said the overall success of sports betting in New Jersey in such a relatively short period of time — sportsbooks and online platforms took in more than $3 billion in wagers during the first 12 months — leads him to believe the Garden State will pass the reigning sports betting king.

“We predict, based on industry experts’ forecasts, that New Jersey, for the first time ever, will surpass Nevada’s betting handle during this NFL season,” Kostin said.

In May, New Jersey’s $318.9 million in monthly sports betting handle — the amount of money sportsbooks take on bets, not the revenue generated from winning — eclipsed Nevada’s $317.3 million for the first time.


Will Atlantic City surpass Las Vegas when it comes to sports betting?

Legalized sports betting has only been available in New Jersey since June 2018.

The population of New Jersey compared to Nevada — 9 million vs. 2.5 million, respectively — combined with its proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, provides an advantage for the Garden State, Kostin said.

And while Pennsylvanians will have the option of staying in their home state to bet on football this season, New Yorkers who want to make a wager will still have to come to New Jersey and visit a retail sportsbook or use an online or mobile platform.

Kostin estimated New York sports bettors could account for as much as 20% of New Jersey’s sports betting handle.

Chris Grove, managing director at industry research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, said it is “inevitable” that New Jersey will eventually supplant Nevada in sports betting handle because of its population but cautioned against reading too much into it.

“It’s more a piece of trivia than a meaningful milestone, and certainly should not be treated as a yardstick for measuring the health of New Jersey’s sports betting market,” Grove said.

Not all industry experts are sold on the idea that New Jersey will overthrow Nevada without a fight.

In 2018, nearly $1.8 billion was wagered on football, both professional and college, in Nevada sportsbooks. In the still-maturing New Jersey market, slightly more than $501 million was bet on football last year.

Dustin Gouker, lead sports betting analyst for PlayNJ.com, said it is certainly possible for New Jersey to pass Nevada but noted that the “NFL is a different beast in Las Vegas.”

“People go (to Vegas) just for weekends, and they bet a lot on NFL and college football,” he said. “It’s a little bit different dynamic just because it’s so big that it might be a little difficult for New Jersey to get past it.”

Tom Barton, principal of the Sports Garten Network and host of the nationally syndicated “WannaBet?! with Tom Barton” show, said the expansion of sports betting throughout the country is going to make it difficult for New Jersey to pass Nevada.

He said Vegas will likely take in much more money on futures bets — wagers on outcomes such as who will win the Super Bowl or how many wins a particular team will have at the end of the season — than New Jersey.

“I think (New Jersey) has a chance to maybe do it for maybe a month or two,” Barton said, “but it’s going to be tough to sustain it. And even if it’s close on a month-to-month basis, the futures plays (in Nevada) are going to trump (Jersey).”

Gouker and Kostin both said New Jersey is still a growing sports betting market, as opposed to the fully developed Nevada market, which means growth is expected, but unpredictable.

Another key advantage New Jersey has over Nevada is its online and mobile sports betting offering. Although Nevada offers mobile sports betting as an option, a customer has to visit a retail sportsbook to sign up. New Jersey has no such requirement.

Mobile and online sports betting accounts for nearly 80% of all wagers in New Jersey.

GALLERY: March Madness Sports Betting

State
REPORT ON N.J. ROADS
Report: New Jersey spends most on roads, doesn't get results

New Jersey spends more per mile on its highway system than any other state in the country but isn’t getting its money’s worth, according to a report released Thursday by a nonpartisan public policy group.

The Reason Foundation study ranked New Jersey worst in the country in congestion and near the bottom in pavement conditions.

The think tank began releasing its report in 1984. It was the second year in a row the state occupied the bottom spot.

On a more positive note, New Jersey’s overall road fatality rate was fourth-lowest in the nation, and the condition of its rural interstate pavement was best in the nation.

A state Department of Transportation spokesman said in an email the department is reviewing the report.

“We didn’t need another study to tell us we spend too much money for roads that are in bad shape, just ask anyone who drives to Wawa for morning coffee and ends up wearing it after hitting a pothole,” said state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic.

The state has to do better, Brown said, calling it “unacceptable that we are the highest-taxed state in the nation and yet we can’t fix our own roads, proving once again Trenton can’t get out of its own way.”

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said the road congestion makes working on roads and keeping them in good shape especially difficult.

“You put that with the fact that for eight to 10 years we didn’t fully fund the Transportation Trust Fund,” Mazzeo said. The fund is used for major road and other transportation projects.

There is more funding available since the gas tax went up in 2016 from 14.5 cents per gallon to 37.5 cents, and more recently to 41.4 cents. The tax feeds the trust fund.

“Hopefully we can move up quickly” from the bottom of the national rankings, Mazzeo said.

He said Gov. Phil Murphy has talked about using public-private partnerships to improve road conditions, as have been used in other states.

In 2016, Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders reached a deal for transportation funding that raised New Jersey’s gas tax for the first time since 1988.

It ended a statewide construction freeze, but it will take time for the backlog of projects to get done.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the state misused the Transportation Trust Fund for years.

“New Jersey has no money. Not only are we the highest-taxed state in the country, but the state bond rating has fallen 11 times in the past 10 years,” Levinson said.

Extra money from a higher gas tax “doesn’t even come close to what is needed for roads to be repaired in this state,” Levinson said. “It’s a help, but it doesn’t cover everything.”

The foundation ranked New York 45th overall and Pennsylvania 35th. North Dakota ranked first.

The report used statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration from state data reported in 2016 and 2017.

New Jersey’s state-controlled highway system is the 47th largest in the country.

“New Jersey is expected to have somewhat higher costs than many other states, but the state has one of the smallest highway systems in the country, so taxpayers could realistically expect New Jersey to improve its ranking by improving its pavement condition and decreasing traffic congestion,” lead author Baruch Feigenbaum said in a statement.

The report also analyzed bridge conditions and rated New Jersey 29th with 8.85% of its bridges reported as structurally deficient. The bottom five states — Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Iowa and Rhode Island — each reported more than 18% of their bridges as deficient.

The report defined structurally deficient bridges as those with deteriorated conditions that need maintenance in the near future to ensure continued safety.

The foundation measured the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-owned roads in 13 categories, including pavement condition on urban and rural interstates, deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, administrative costs and spending per mile on state roads.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Local
Hawks succeeding in keeping sea gulls at bay in Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — What do you do when sea gulls regularly steal your guests’ fries and funnel cakes with impunity?

You bring in bigger, badder birds.

Ocean City did just that earlier this month, and so far, it seems the gulls have gotten the message.

A hawk named Sage uses lamp posts on the Boardwalk like a sailor uses a crow’s nest — waiting, watching. That’s about all she needs to do: When Sage is nearby, loitering gulls disperse for safer airspace.

“The sea gulls are starting to understand what’s going on here, that they’re not supposed to be on the Boardwalk,” said PJ Simonis, a falconer working with Lodi-based East Coast Falcons. “And it looks like they’re moving out to the water and starting to get crabs and clams.”

In early August, the city announced a partnership with East Coast Falcons for $2,100 a day until Labor Day to ward off gulls. If it worked, they said, they would begin discussions to have them back next year. Already, the city — and Boardwalk workers — have seen results.

“Our newest city team members — falcons, hawks and an owl — appear to be doing their job in holding the gulls at bay. We will continue to monitor the program in the next two weeks,” said Mayor Jay Gillian. “If it continues to be successful, we will bring it back for next summer. Any investment that can protect the quality of life for our residents and guests is worthwhile.”

Previously, gulls tended to congregate near ice cream shops, said Brice Huffines, 31, a cook at Pisa Pizza on the Boardwalk at Eighth Street.

“Before they were here, (the gulls would) actually dive bomb you,” Huffines said. If they saw food, “it doesn’t matter who you are, they would take it out of your hands.”

Not anymore, said Huffines. Not since Simonis started walking the boards, bird in hand, which he does from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

A 4-year-old falcon starts the day, and four Harris’ hawks, all hatched this year, work when the sun is highest in the sky. As desert birds, they thrive in heat, said Erik Swanson, owner of East Coast Falcons. An owl, a 9-year-old named Ozzy, takes the night shift. On Wednesday, any gulls near the Boardwalk flew high up, instead of hovering near concessions.

Swanson believes Ocean City is the first shore town on the East Coast to implement a gull abatement program using raptors.

Simonis walks the boards wearing a falconry glove and a khaki bucket hat as the raptors fly overhead, following as he whistles and calls for them.

“There has to be a constant presence in order for them to stay away,” Simonis said. “If we don’t keep flying raptors, then sea gulls come back.”

As the raptors scare off birds, they draw in vacationers. Interested passersby angle for pictures and pepper Simonis with questions.

“It’s a huge draw, to the point where sometimes it’s difficult to do my job,” he said.

The company said they have kept the gulls at bay without bloodshed.

Naysayers want the city to leave the birds alone, claiming the raptors are killing the gulls, Swanson said.

“No, we’re not. We haven’t killed one. The birds haven’t caught one,” Swanson said. “We’re intentionally flying the birds to do that. ... They’re still there, they’re just not on the Boardwalk.”

Some gulls try their luck and “harass” the raptors, said Simonis, but the hawks pay them no mind. They have a job to do.

From her vantage point as a cashier at the Promenade Food Court, Sydney Gillette, 16, said she has seen people, including children, subject to aerial attacks.

They use fewer to-go boxes now to shield their food.

“We don’t have to make a lot of (food) to go anymore,” Gillette said. “People can just take the fries and walk without having to worry about it.”

In a roundabout way, the program may even be good for the gulls’ health. One resident told Swanson he’s seen gulls fishing in the ocean.

“We just need to change the food source on the birds,” he said, “from the easy food source to their natural food source.”


Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

Sports bettors lined up in March at the Draftkings Sportsbook at Resorts Casino Hotel during the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. Gaming analysts expect even more action this NFL season.