Senate bill slows Monmouth Park's plan to open sports betting in time for Memorial Day

A New Jersey racetrack was told Wednesday to hold its horses on sports betting, but the delay isn't expected to last long.

Monmouth Park had been targeting Memorial Day to begin offering full-blown, Las Vegas-style sports betting through its bookmaking partner William Hill. Ticket writers were being flown in from Nevada. The technology was in place. Track officials thought they were going to be ready to go two weeks after the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting.

However, language in a sports betting bill introduced Monday forced Monmouth Park to slow down.

As first reported by NJ.com, Senate Bill 2602 stipulates that the racing commission will not issue a license to any entity or person "that operated a sports pool [in New Jersey] within one year prior to the enactment of this act."

The bill, sponsored by New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, is expected to move quickly and be headed to Gov. Phil Murphy's desk after a senate vote on June 7.

The language in the bill means that if a business begins offering sports betting before these regulations are put in place they would not be given a license to operate. If Monmouth Park were to open for business on Memorial Day, as it had planned, it would have been banned from receiving a license in the future.

"We will certainly abide by the Senate president's directions," Monmouth Park official Dennis Drazin said Wednesday.

While Monmouth Park plans to hold off until the regulations are in place before opening for business, preparations are well underway. There will be 26 betting windows to start, six inside the William Hill sports bar that has been converted to a sportsbook. In addition to the employees coming in from Nevada, William Hill is also hiring locally.

"Operationally, the sportsbook is built out, with just a little bit of additional equipment to be brought in," William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher said. "We need to hire and train front-line employees and get our arms wrapped around any regulations that are going to be put in place."

Whenever the sportsbook at Monmouth Park opens for business, a full menu of betting options is expected to be offered. Point spreads and odds, for the most part, will be the same as William Hill sportsbooks in Nevada, for example. To start, bets will have to be placed in person. Mobile wagering eventually will be available.

"Obviously, having invested six years and $8 million in taxpayer funds, there's a desire to reap a little bit of the benefit of that effort quickly," Asher said. "So we're going to try to make that happen. We're going to act responsibly about it, as well."

New Jersey racetracks Freehold Raceway and The Meadowlands also have said they're taking steps to offer sports betting, and Atlantic City casinos are following suit. Churchill Downs announced Wednesday that it is partnering with technology company SBTech and will run the sports betting operations at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City.

It's not just New Jersey. Delaware Gov. John Carney said in a statement that his state's gaming operators could be offering full-scale sports betting "before the end of June." The Mississippi gaming industry also has indicated it will be ready to begin offering sports betting this summer.

Monmouth Park is still the favorite to be first. On Aug. 2, 2015, a record crowd of 60,983 packed the track to see Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah smoke the field in the William Hill Haskell Invitational. Now, the venerable track is preparing to welcome its next big event -- legal sports betting.

"I'm thinking we'll have somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people the day we launch [sports betting]," Drazin said. "We're going to be ready."