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3rd New Jersey racetrack plans to offer sports betting

December 14, 2018

FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — They didn’t win, or place, in the race to offer sports betting.

But Freehold Raceway hopes to show that it can succeed as the third horse racing track to cross the finish line in New Jersey’s red-hot sports betting market.

The track just off Route 9 in western Monmouth County has a sports betting license from the state Racing Commission and is looking for a vendor to run a sports book.

Freehold does not have a target date to begin sports betting, but a 2019 launch date seems likely. It still needs approval from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

“It’s a good market, and Freehold’s location and demographics bode well for us,” said Chris McErlean, a vice president with Penn National Gaming, which co-owns the track in a joint venture with Greenwood Racing. “We are anxious to get in the game.”

The Meadowlands (East Rutherford) and Monmouth Park (Oceanport) racetracks already offer sports betting. Two other former racetrack sites, in Cherry Hill and near Atlantic City, also are eligible to offer sports betting, but neither does yet.

Since it began in mid-June, New Jersey has taken in $928 million worth of sports bets, and if current trends hold into next year, sports betting could be a $2 billion-a-year industry in New Jersey. The actual amount kept by the sports books is far less, however, averaging between 5 and 8 percent of the amounts wagered.

Freehold will have lots of ground to make up quickly to get to the front of the pack. Monmouth Park took the state’s first sports bet on June 14 and the Meadowlands followed a month later. But McErlean is not concerned.

“We’ve been trying to take a measured approach,” he said. “There was a big rush at the beginning with a lot of locations to get up and running. It’s going to be a long-term thing.”

In addition to selecting a sports book operator, some renovation work at the track would be necessary, both for a temporary facility as well as a more permanent one.

A functional sports book at Freehold could also cut into the success of Monmouth, which operates in the same county less than 17 miles away. Both would compete for many of the same customers including vacationers to the New Jersey shore.

Freehold Raceway is located just across the highway from one of the state’s busiest shopping malls, one that is named after the racetrack.

From its opening in June through the end of November, Monmouth has earned $10.1 million in sports betting revenue, about half what the Meadowlands has earned.

Dennis Drazin, Chairman and CEO of Darby Development, LLC, which operates Monmouth Park, said he is 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. He did not say how much.

“We are concerned about making Monmouth the best sports betting destination in the state,” he said. “We always expected Freehold to open a sports book at some point. I can only wish them well, as I do all the operators in the state.”

Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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