ATLANTIC CITY — Sports betting is now legal in New Jersey and, pending approval in Trenton of the legislative framework to regulate and tax the new industry, will soon be available at casinos and racetracks.
But what will sports books look like in New Jersey?
Monmouth Park Racetrack and its sports book partner, William Hill U.S., have already provided a glimpse of what they will do. The 147-year-old racetrack opened a sports bar in 2013 that will serve as a temporary sports book until the two companies’ reported $5 million, Las Vegas-style facility is complete.
Gaming experts agree Atlantic City casinos will likely incorporate elements of what works in Nevada.
Frank Leone, CEO of Ocean Resort Casino, said the property will offer sports betting online and in-house when it opens June 28, pending regulatory and license approval.
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“We believe we’re well positioned having been working in anticipation of this outcome,” Leone said. “And we fully intend to offer a best-in-class sports betting experience in a high-energy, highly engaging environment.”
Leone said Ocean Resort is planning a 7,500-square-foot sports book “dead center” on the casino floor. He also said the casino hotel has partnered with the “global sports book leader” but would not confirm what company that is.
“We’re going to keep a component of that traditional sports book, but we’re going to offer a new twist,” he said about a customer’s ability to walk “10 feet” from a table game or slot machine and place a sports wager.
Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, said Atlantic City casinos should not shy away from emulating a Las Vegas sports book because there is “a lot worthy of imitation.” Pollock said continuing to market Atlantic City as an “entertainment resort destination” that now has sports betting is the smart move.
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“Atlantic City is better positioned than any other gaming market to capture the benefit of what Las Vegas has done simply because Las Vegas looks at sports betting as a tool to drive other forms of revenue and drive visitation,” he said. “You can’t take (what Vegas does) wholesale, but you can take the best of it.”
Robert Ambrose, a gaming consultant and adjunct professor of casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said legalized sports betting creates “another niche market added to the already diverse hospitality and gaming products in Atlantic City.”
“The addition of sports betting will be another market driver encouraging longer visits to the city and increasing more customer secondary spending,” he said.
Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University, said creating an experience is the key.
“Perhaps to an even greater extent than Las Vegas, Atlantic City sports books are likely to incorporate food and beverage operations in the design of their physical sports books in an effort to create a fully social and immersive experience for their guests,” Pandit said. “These interactive spaces have the potential to become hubs of activity and energy within existing operations boosting the performance of the casino or racetrack as a whole.”
Pandit said Atlantic City’s sports books are likely to take inspiration from Nevada in terms of the basic logistics of operating a physical and online sports betting operation but noted that the “regulatory and tax environment will be unique to New Jersey.”
The state Senate and Assembly versions of legislation to regulate and tax sports betting contain similar tax rates: 8 percent on site and 12.5 percent online. Compared with Pennsylvania’s proposed 36 percent and Nevada’s 6.6 percent, gaming experts said that tax rate will make Atlantic City, and New Jersey overall, an attractive alternative for a sports bettor.
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David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Atlantic City needs to approach this new opportunity with an eye beyond the immediate impact.
“(Atlantic City casinos) are going to have to add more than just sports betting,” he said.
New Jersey will likely have a short-lived East Cost monopoly on sports gaming. Schwartz said once neighboring states set up their own sports books, the increased competition will pull from the pool of available sports bettors if Atlantic City and New Jersey don’t take advantage of the opportunity currently presented.
“My advice: If you have a monopoly, use that time to create memories for guests that they will remember forever,” he said. “That makes those people more likely to return once there are additional options available.”