CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — One horse racing track said it hopes to begin taking sports bets on Sunday, less than a week after the state government announced that such enterprises would no longer be illegal in New Jersey.
And even if the track cannot be ready to accept bets on Sunday, it intends to start doing so within 30 days, Monmouth Park Racetrack legal adviser Dennis Drazin told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
He said the Oceanport track has been working over the last year to prepare a room for its sports book and is working with a sports-betting firm, William Hill.
Drazin said the demand is high.
"I got calls from people who wanted to come to the track last night to bet," he said.
He added that if the book is open Sunday — the main day for heavily bet NFL football games — it would probably be a "very basic operation."
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday in Camden, Gov. Chris Christie said the state government would have no role in either regulating or taxing sports books. He also said he would not encourage or discourage casinos or racetracks to get into the business.
Sports betting has long been seen in the gambling industry a potential boon to New Jersey, where the casinos in Atlantic City have been struggling mightily amid growing competition in nearby states. Three have closed this year, including two in the last few weeks. A fourth, Trump Plaza, is scheduled to close next week. And that casino's parent company, which owns an additional casino in the city, filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday.
The potential economic impact in New Jersey is unclear. In Nevada, the only state where gamblers can place legal bets on individual games, nearly $3.5 billion was wagered on sports in 2012, according to the American Gaming Association, a Washington-based trade group. The association estimates more than 95 percent of that was returned to patrons in winnings. Estimates of illegal sports betting nationwide run into the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Some are unconvinced sports betting can make a significant dent in Atlantic City's casino downturn. Fitch Ratings, which last week downgraded New Jersey's credit rating for the second time this year, doesn't consider it a panacea for the seaside resort.
"The legalization of sports betting in New Jersey will not be a lifeline for Atlantic City casinos that are already struggling, although it's potentially more impactful for racetracks," Alex Bumazhny, the credit agency's director of gaming, lodging and leisure, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "In all, we think it's unlikely that sports betting will be the jackpot that rejuvenates Atlantic City."
In 2011, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly endorsed legal sports betting through a nonbinding referendum, but the books never opened because of a 1992 federal law that restricted betting to a few states.
On Monday, Christie nevertheless announced a directive that sports betting was no longer illegal in the state, so long as it's not sponsored by the state government. His administration also filed a request with a judge to say that the action is legal. U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton, the same judge who sided with the NCAA and the four major pro sports leagues in upholding the federal ban on sports betting last year, is expected to rule early next month.
It appears that some other casinos and racetracks will wait for the judge's permission before launching sports betting.
Drazin said he expects professional and college sports officials to challenge Monmouth Park's opening.
Anthony Dreyer, a New York-based attorney who has represented the leagues in their lawsuit against Christie, referred questions to the leagues' spokespeople, who either declined comment or didn't return phone messages.
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Associated Press writer David Porter in Newark contributed to this story.