ATLANTIC CITY — There was a cute little slogan from the marketing people at Bally’s and Harrah’s when their sportsbooks opened last summer. Now that sports betting was legal in New Jersey, it was time to “Break up with your bookie.”
Hope you still have his number. That advice was a little premature.
Penn State’s 65-64 win over visiting Rutgers on Wednesday was a peculiar game for two reasons. One, for the first time in 29 years, both teams could make the NCAA Tournament. Interest in Rutgers is as high as it has been since 1991 — the last time the Scarlet Knights went dancing.
Two, it was a game that could be bet legally in Pennsylvania but not in New Jersey.
A clause in the New Jersey state law prohibiting action on state schools has been a nuisance since sports betting became legalized in May 2018. But with the rise of Rutgers basketball, and Seton Hall cracking the top 10 for the first time in 20 years, there could be a whole lot of unwelcomed Madness at Jersey sportsbooks this March.
Whaddaya mean I can’t bet on Rutgers?
“It’s worse when Seton Hall plays Villanova because of the Villanova following around here,” said an Atlantic City sportsbook teller who said fans constantly are frustrated by the prohibition. “God forbid they [Seton Hall or Rutgers] get to the Final Four.”
It’ll get worse when the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball tournaments start March 10 at Boardwalk Hall.
“It’s not about the money,” Hard Rock president Joe Lupo said. “We’ll get a few plays here and there. It’s the recreational bettor” who will get shut out. There will be dozens of games simultaneous to the MAAC Tournament, so the disappointment will be mitigated.
Pennsylvania had considered a similar provision to its sports-betting law until lawmakers were swayed that prohibiting action on Penn State football, for instance, was a bad idea.
New Jersey voters approved a sports-betting referendum in 2011 when the idea of such activity outside of Nevada was as unlikely as Rutgers hoops being ranked in the Top 25. It included a provision to prohibit wagering on college teams located within the state as well as college games held within the state.
The thinking was to make it more palatable to representatives and the general public who weren’t as versed in the nuances of sports betting. Gotta protect the kids, they’d say. Rutgers’ football teams were regular bowl participants during this time.
While a noble ideal, industry experts say it has had the opposite effect.
“It’s completely illogical,” said Lupo, who was the sportsbook director at the Stardust in Vegas during the 1990s. “This policy pushes all wagering underground. It breeds more opportunity for offshore and illegal wagering.
“We can take action on a game an hour away at the Wells Fargo Center, but not two hours away at the Prudential Center in Newark. It makes no sense.”
Granted, there won’t be a whole lot of action on a Rutgers-Penn State basketball game on a Wednesday in February when there are a hundred other games to play. But if Seton Hall (or Rutgers) reaches the Elite Eight or Final Four, the interest will be sky-high, which lends itself to another problem.
“The referendum probably would have passed without [the prohibition] in there, and it definitely seems silly now that you can bet on them in neighboring states,” sports-betting analyst Jack Andrews said. “However, in 2011, N.J. really thought they were going to get to legalize [sports betting] without competition.”
As another A.C. teller said, “We’re basically telling people to take a 45-minute drive to Pennsylvania,” to place legalized bets. Or they could just make up with their bookies.
Lupo and others point to the 1994 Arizona State point-shaving scandal that was uncovered when Las Vegas bookmakers alerted authorities that something was amiss after they tracked betting irregularities involving the Sun Devils that season.
Nevada itself had prohibited wagering on its in-state schools until Sen. John McCain unwittingly triggered a change.
McCain, the late senator from Arizona and an opponent of gambling, basically asked Nevada how it could justify the integrity of legalized betting on college sports while prohibiting action on UNLV and Nevada-Reno. Nevada agreed and changed its law to allow betting on its local teams. That’s how they roll out there.
New Jersey’s problem is that its prohibition can be found in Article IV, Section VII, paragraph 2, subsection F of the state constitution.
Sports betting is legal “except that wagering shall not be permitted on a college sport or athletic event that takes place in New Jersey or on a sport or athletic event in which any New Jersey college team participates regardless of where the event takes place.”
Getting this ban lifted must take place at the ballot box. It’s not a matter of simply rewriting some regulations in Trenton.
“I don’t know who would be against it,” New Jersey Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli said. “I guess Monmouth, Rutgers, Seton Hall could [object]. They’re important voices, but they’d have to present a good argument why. As sports betting becomes more mature, we may want to take a look at that. It’s not a complicated idea."
But getting the law changed will be.
There are eight Division I men’s basketball programs in New Jersey. Seton Hall will make the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers is on the bubble. The others — St. Peter’s, Princeton, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, NJIT, and Rider — must win their conferences.
A couple of bettors brought up to us a loophole as it relates to college basketball futures’ bets in New Jersey. Specifically, who wins the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s say a bettor has $50 on Duke to win the national championship at 8-1 odds either on a mobile app or at a brick-and-mortar location. If Duke loses to Seton Hall (or Rutgers or Princeton) in an early round, the result is considered a loss for the bettor by most sportsbooks visited by The Inquirer.
The sportsbook is benefiting from the New Jersey school’s victory.
Most of the oddsmakers for New Jersey’s 'books are European and haven’t considered this nuance. This will be just the second NCAA Tournament for legalized betting in the Garden State, so the advice here is to check before you bet.
The Hard Rock had the most fair policy that we encountered. If we have Duke, and the Blue Devils fall to Seton Hall or Rutgers or whomever, the bet becomes a push and the amount of the original wager is returned. Ditto for conference tournaments should Rutgers beat, say, Ohio State in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
“The reasoning is that the customer would not have the ability to hedge their wager" by taking Duke’s (or Ohio State’s) opponent, the policy states. That’s reasonable.