Freehold looks to make up ground in NJ sports betting race

WAYNE PARRY
·3 min read

FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — Slow out of the gate as New Jersey sprinted ahead in the nascent U.S. sports betting market, Freehold Raceway is hoping to catch up to the pack as the latest entity in the state to offer it.

The oldest harness racing track in the U.S. is the third track in the state to take legal sports bets, joining eight of the nine Atlantic City casinos.

But it faces several hurdles, including the sizeable lead its competitors have. New Jersey casinos and tracks have been offering sports betting since June 2018, a month after the state won a U.S. Supreme Court case clearing the way for all 50 states to offer sports betting.

“It's growing every day, and it's in a great area,” said Matt Cullen, senior vice president of interactive gaming and sports for Pennsylvania's Parx casino, which runs the sports book at Freehold. “We're really excited about it.”

For now, Freehold is open seven days a week for in-person sports betting. But it, like other sport betting licensees, has up to three internet identities, or “skins” that are in the process of being approved by New Jersey gambling regulators. Cullen said he hopes to have the online operation up and running within a month.

That is particularly crucial in New Jersey, where more than 80% of sports betting is done online or over mobile devices. The online bets are restricted to people physically present in New Jersey.

Freehold will compete for customers with another horse track in the same county, Monmouth Park, which is just 17 miles away in Oceanport, nearer to the shore. It is just across busy Route 9 from Freehold Raceway Mall, which could give it a boost during the holiday shopping season, although how large those crowds will be during the coronavirus outbreak is unknown.

Cullen predicted Freehold will get sports betting customers from the western part of the county and surrounding areas who used to have to travel nearly to the coast to make sports bets at Monmouth Park.

“As far as people in the east and the folks who live by the beaches, that's yet to be seen,” Cullen said. “Time will tell.”

Monmouth Park officials did not reply to a request for comment. But in a Dec. 2018 interview, Dennis Drazin, Chairman and CEO of Darby Development, LLC, which operates Monmouth Park, said he was not afraid of the competition, noting that his analysts expected Monmouth to lose a certain amount of business to Freehold once that track offered sports betting.

Tom Fries, Freehold's sports book manager, said business is slowly but steadily increasing, which he said is encouraging given that the facility has done little advertising.

“We're going to need to raise awareness in the area, to let people know Freehold is open for sports betting, especially since we were late to the party,” Cullen said.

In addition to Monmouth Park, the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford offers sports betting, and has dominated the state's sports betting market in terms of revenue. The Meadowlands made nearly $119 million in the first nine months of this year after paying out winning bets and meeting other expenses. The next closest competitor was Resorts Digital, with half that amount.

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