10/17/2014 3:41PM

Monmouth to offer sports betting Oct. 26


Disregarding a federal challenge lodged by major professional sports leagues, Monmouth Park in New Jersey will begin offering betting on sports Oct. 26, the track said Friday.

Dennis Drazin, the head of a horsemen’s group that leases Monmouth from the state, said the track decided to set the Oct. 26 opening date because of Gov. Chris Christie’s signature of a bill Friday designed to clear the way for the practice. This week, the state’s Assembly and Senate passed legislation that would repeal the state’s prohibitions on sports wagering, a strategy that supporters of the practice contend would counter the lawsuit by the sports leagues.

Monmouth Park has already built a sports-wagering facility at the track that will be managed by a partner, the British bookmaking company William Hill. The track has previously announced that it planned to offer sports wagering but had backed away from those plans due to legal uncertainties that continue to swirl around the practice. 

The legal situation surrounding sports betting in New Jersey is highly convoluted. In 2011, voters passed a constitutional referendum supporting sports wagering. However, the major professional sports leagues and the NCAA were successful in blocking the practice from starting in the state by filing a suit claiming that the practice violated federal law. Two courts agreed, and this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal, meaning it accepted the ruling.

Then, Christie issued a directive telling state law-enforcement agencies not to prosecute racetracks or casinos that offered sports betting, under an interpretation of the initial court ruling that many legal experts called unusual. Once again, the professional sports leagues and NCAA filed a challenge, with opening arguments scheduled for Oct. 31.

While the Christie administration supports sports betting at racetracks and casinos, no casino in the state has announced plans to offer sports betting. Most casino operators are publicly traded companies with properties in multiple states and countries, and most are concerned that operating in potential defiance of a federal law could cost the company licenses in other jurisdictions.