EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A northern New Jersey horse racing track has brought legal sports betting to New York City's doorstep.
The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford began taking sports bets on Saturday morning.
The track is located in the sports complex where the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets play, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from New York. It's the fourth sports betting outlet in New Jersey following the state's U.S. Supreme Court victory in a case that cleared the way for all 50 states to legalize sports betting should they choose to.
Dan Healy drove from Brooklyn and paid $20 in tolls to make a three-team parlay bet on baseball involving the Boston Red Sox, the Seattle Mariners and the Houston Astros in which all three bets must win to collect.
"It's amazing that they're finally doing it here rather than having to hop on a plane to Vegas to do this," he said.
Jeff Gural, who runs the Meadowlands track, said sports betting will lead to more fan engagement with the games they watch.
"This is the beginning of a process that's going to change sports in America," he said. "Realistically, who watches football on a Thursday night, Jacksonville versus Cleveland, that doesn't have a bet on it?"
Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, whose lawsuit eight years ago against the federal government kicked off the legal process that led to New Jersey's victory in May in the Supreme Court case, made the first bets at the Meadowlands on Saturday. He doubled down on $50 bets he previously made on France to win soccer's World Cup and the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl.
Three members of a family from Fairview went to the track to bet on their native Croatia to win the World Cup. Emmanuel Tarabokija put $1,000 on his team to win.
"Tomorrow, our whole block, we're expecting 500 to 1,000 people for a block party to watch the game," he said.
Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport, near the Jersey shore, and the Borgata and Ocean Resort casinos in Atlantic City already offered sport betting, taking in $16.4 million in sports bets in the first two weeks it was legal. But the Meadowlands is seen as more potentially lucrative given its proximity to the nation's largest city.
Industry executives say the real money will start flowing once sports bets are taken online. So far, no one has received approval from New Jersey regulators to offer sports betting over the internet, but numerous casinos are expected to try to do so before football season begins in September.
Atlantic City's Hard Rock casino is seeking approval to offer sports betting at its brick and mortar facility on the Boardwalk.
FanDuel Group, which began as a daily fantasy sports company, operates the sports book at the Meadowlands track. The company's CEO, Matt King, said the partnership aims to be the marquee sports betting operation in America.
"The way people interact with sports is changing," he said. "We are on the cusp of something transformational."
Once mobile betting is up and running, customers will be offered a vast array of in-game bets.
"You're going to be able to bet on a baseball game and bet on every pitch," Gural said. In football, "you can bet on whether the field goal kicker will make it or miss."
A baseball game in which one team jumps out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning will still be interesting with the option to bet on developments as it proceeds, Gural said.