Monmouth Park Sports Book providing new business model for local institution

Scott Jacobs

The future of the Monmouth Park Racetrack appeared bleak a few years ago.

Horse racing, the Oceanport track’s chief revenue stream, just wasn’t as popular anymore, especially among younger people.

But the park had one trump card in its back pocket—the Monmouth Park Sports Book by William Hill, which was ready to open once the Supreme Court opened the door for states to legalize sports gambling.

On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court made that decision, overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prevented states from legalizing sports gambling.

Then on June 14, 2018, after New Jersey authorized sports betting, the Monmouth Park Sports Book opened with a ceremony featuring New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

The governor made the very first legal sports bets at Monmouth Park, and in New Jersey, by betting on the New Jersey Devils to win the NHL’s 2019 Stanley Cup and on Germany to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Neither happened, but sports betting was open for business in New Jersey, and Monmouth Park was ready to take full advantage. It got the free publicity that day and for about a month after that, too. National sports podcasts were mentioning the Jersey Shore horse track by name.

A year later, the book is thriving, and so is Monmouth Park. At the sports book’s one-year anniversary in an event held on June 14, 2019, park operator Dennis Drazin spoke about Monmouth’s new business model.

Use the sports book to attract younger sports people, then get them to notice horse racing by virtue of proximity. Use horse racing to draw older, loyal horse fans, then get them to notice the book by virtue of proximity.

It has worked so far.

“Sports betting in New Jersey has made a big difference for Monmouth Park,” Drazin said at the event. “Monmouth Park was on the brink of closure.”

Drazin and other park executives decided to start building the sports book in 2012, long before the Supreme Court decision. Along with then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, they helped bring the legal case to the highest court in the land, and they were confident they would win.

“I believed in the issue. From my viewpoint sports betting wasn’t something that the federal government should be telling the states you can’t do,” Drazin said. “It was an issue of states rights over federal control.”

“I believed so strongly that if we could ever get to the Supreme Court, and have the justices hear our cause, we would prevail,” he added.

They did prevail, and they were immediately ready to reap the benefits of that victory. In 2018 alone, the Monmouth Park Sports Book received slightly more than $140 million in wagers. And the book did not even open until about halfway through last year.

“That money is significant,” Drazin said.

Former New Jerseystate Senator Raymond Lesniak was heavily involved in the legal fight for sports gambling. He attended the one-year anniversary on June 14 and spoke after Drazin.

He discussed coming to the park with his father for the horse races when he was a boy. Lesniak believed in the legal argument for sports betting, but his emotional attachment to Monmouth Park was what really motivated him.

Now a new generation of kids will get to do the same thing with their fathers, Lesniak said.

“It was a very enjoyable family experience,” Lesniak added.