Can sports betting save NJ racing?

Dennis Drazin, a key advisor to the management group that runs Monmouth Park, says the Jersey track will start taking sports bets on October 24. Drazin tends to be the eternal optimist, so maybe the 24th won't happen. But that doesn't mean sports betting at New Jersey racetracks and casinos won't be a reality, and probably sometime soon.

The constant lawsuits, appeals, countersuits, legislative maneuvering, posturing, a governor's veto and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court have been enough to make your hair hurt. And for anyone that doesn't have a law degree and an inside knowledge of New Jersey politics, it's still virtually impossible to understand to how we got here, here being a decision earlier this week by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie that essentially paved the way for sports betting in the state. But somehow we did, and Dennis Drazin is a very happy man.

Drazin, along with his right-hand man, Monmouth Park President Bob Kulina, has worked tirelessly to keep one of the sport's most special racetracks afloat. It hasn't been easy. Monmouth is surrounded by states that allow casino gaming at the racetracks, which has given the competitors a huge advantage in inflated purses. With Christie and other key New Jersey politicians thus far refusing to allow casinos in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City, Monmouth has been fighting for survival. According to Drazin, the track loses about $4.5 million a year.

While it's still not crystal clear that sports betting in New Jersey is legal, it's not necessarily illegal.

Drazin grew tired of waiting for Atlantic City to collapse, which is happening right before our eyes, and looked for anything he could find to bring in the type of revenue Monmouth so desperately needs to become profitable and to have the sort of purses that will allow it to compete with the tracks in New York and Pennsylvania.

More so than anyone else he has fought for legalized sports betting at New Jersey racetracks and casinos, making the logical argument that the federal government has no right to bar it in 46 states but allow it in four others (Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, Montana). While it's still not crystal clear that sports betting in New Jersey is legal, it's not necessarily illegal. Christie said that any racetrack or casino in the state that accepts sports bets will not be prosecuted. Don't ask. Don't tell.

Drazin wanted to start accepting sports bets right away but all sides involved agreed to a 45-day moratorium to let the dust settle. That was fine with Drazin who said he needed the time to get Monmouth ready for the new venture.

"We really weren't set up to launch properly," he said. "We already spent $1 million on our William Hill sports book. We have the room ready to go but technically we need phone lines, Internet lines and we need to hire 111 people to help operate the book. You don't want to launch something as important as sports betting without doing it right."

Drazin, who is an attorney, understands that it's unlikely that the anti-sports betting side will go away that easily. He says he doesn't expect any problems from the federal government but anticipates that the sports leagues will continue to battle. But he also doesn't think they'll have the ability, at least in the short-term, to shut the Monmouth sports book down once it is up and running.

The other tracks in the state and the casinos are taking a more cautious approach. They're letting Monmouth be the test case and will jump on board when and if it is certain that the last legal roadblock is out of the way.

Drazin is happy to lead the way. He has always been bold and innovative and is committed to securing a future for Monmouth Park. If sports betting is what it takes sports betting is what it will be.

His partner is William Hill, one of the largest bookmaking firms in the world. They have estimated that Monmouth will take in as much as $1 billion a year in sports bets with the "win" equaling out to about $75 million annually. Once the pie is cut up Drazin anticipates that $20 million will go toward purses.

What I would like to do is have a repeat of the 'Elite Meet' like we had in 2010 when purses averaged $1 million a day," Drazin said.

Casinos and racetracks outside of New Jersey will also be watching closely. If Monmouth makes this work and ends the prohibition on legal sports betting in this country then it might just be only a matter of time before you can go to one place to legally bet the ninth race exacta and the over/under on the Steelers game.

For now, though, it's all about Monmouth Park. One of the sport's great racetracks, it needs help and it looks like help is on the way.