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Meadowlands Racetrack gets sports betting this weekend

Ron Flatter  
VSiN.com

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NFL fans at MetLife Stadium will be only 1,200 yards from a new sportsbook opening Saturday at the Meadowlands Racetrack. (Ron Flatter photo)

Las Vegas

Just how racing will be affected by the spread of legal sports gambling across the country will be felt in a big way starting this weekend, when it arrives in the country’s biggest population center.

The FanDuel Sportsbook – yes, the same FanDuel that offers daily fantasy sports – opens for business Saturday at 11 a.m. EDT at the Meadowlands Racetrack. That puts legal, on-site, don’t-have-to-whisper-pssst sports betting just eight miles from New York City. If bettors are lucky and the lines into the Lincoln Tunnel or public transit are normal, that can be less than two or three hours from front door to betting window.

OK, snark aside, not only will New Jersey’s newest sportsbook share the betting turf with live and simulcast horse racing, it will share the same complex as the Giants and Jets. So like it or not, Roger Goodell, live betting on the NFL will be closer than a tailgater’s stroll from the 50-yard line at MetLife Stadium.

A news release posted by the Meadowlands on Thursday confirmed what was first reported by PlayNJ two days earlier. That the FanDuel Sportsbook – maybe a fourth of a furlong wide and the length of a personal-foul penalty – will be open at least 15 hours a day, seven days a week, all year at the Meadowlands.

“Opening our doors on the eve of the (World Cup final) is just the start,” Meadowlands CEO Jeff Gural said.

But Gural did not dive into the benefits/pitfalls that his racetrack will see from having a gambling partner/rival in the same building.

“There are people who maybe are a little more naïve to the whole concept,” said Dennis Drazin, who runs Monmouth Park and saw the William Hill sportsbook open at his track a month ago Saturday. “They asked if sports betting is going to cannibalize horse racing. I certainly don’t think it is, particularly if you’re able to cross-market and draw from a connection between horse racing and sports betting.”

The early and, yes, microscopic sample size appears to back what Drazin predicted. The live racing handle soared 17 percent at Monmouth Park on the first Sunday that bettors’ attention was split between horse windows and the new sportsbook. Attendance jumped 21 percent from the same weekend last year.

New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement said that a total of $8,176,212 was bet in the 17 days that the Monmouth sportsbook was open last month with a hold of $967,403. That means the book won nearly 12 percent, more than double what the house typically makes in Nevada. An undisclosed percentage of that goes to the New Jersey horsemen who own the racetrack; much of that will eventually be used to fatten the race purses.

While bettors will be able to wager on horses and sports simultaneously at the Meadowlands, they will not get to take in live racing and football on any given Sunday – or any other day. There are no pro or college games scheduled at MetLife Stadium the same day as live Meadowlands racing, which is limited to Fridays and Saturdays off and on through November with Thursdays added in December.

But the sportsbook will be open every NFL Sunday at 9 a.m., so races from around the country will be available for action right alongside all the games that Scott Hanson and Andrew Siciliano choreograph on the Red Zone – not to mention what is going on across Road D.

In the process of being taken over by Ireland-based Paddy Power and operated by the same company that brings you TVG, FanDuel is making its first but probably not its last foray into conventional sports betting.

“The opening of our first sportsbook at the Meadowlands is reflective of our commitment to providing sports fans a best-in-class experience,” Fan Duel executive Matt King said. “We’re excited to partner with Jeff Gural and the team at Meadowlands.”

FanDuel has already partnered with teams in the NFL. The Jets themselves signed a marketing deal with FanDuel in 2015; it has since expired. The Legal Sports Report website, which tracks daily fantasy’s partnerships with professional sports, lists four teams – Cleveland, Green Bay, Jacksonville and Washington – as having the most recent active contracts with FanDuel. The Giants were among seven teams still listed with an alignment to the rival company Draft Kings.

The league makes a distinction – however flimsy it is – between sports gambling and fantasy.

“When it comes to daily fantasy I think there’s a different issue here,” Goodell said at his annual commissioner’s news conference 2½ years ago before Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco. “You have mash-ups of players. There are different issues that are raised that are not raised with sports gambling or traditional sports gambling.”

Gural told ESPN that he hopes to have shuttle buses available to take bettors between the sportsbook and the stadium on game days. But since the Giants and Jets have a say in that, the NFL may tell gamblers to pound sand – or at least 1,200 yards of asphalt. Gural was also optimistic about a FanDuel betting app being available before the season begins, but no one has gone public with how that may be fleshed out.

And no one really knows for sure whether racing in New Jersey will continue to rake in the big gambling bucks after the new-sportsbook smell wears off at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park. But there is no shortage of optimism.

“I think in the next 10 years sports betting is going to be like it is in Europe,” Drazin said. “They have handled it there for a long time. It has produced revenues. It will help both the racetrack and casino industry here in New Jersey. At the end of the day I think it’s a real good thing.”

Racing notes and opinions

Triple Crown winner Justify was last seen as an 11-5 futures favorite at the Wynn Las Vegas to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But whether he has been seen for the last time on a racetrack is a bigger question. Off and on swelling in his left front ankle has taken him out of training indefinitely. “Justify had some filling a week ago,” trainer Bob Baffert said in a WinStar Farm statement posted Tuesday. “I trained him last week and the filling came back. We want to get him checked out.” This has fueled speculation that WinStar and Baffert will not risk Justify’s stud future, which was reported but not confirmed to be tied to a $75 million deal with Coolmore. So this month’s Haskell is out, next month’s Travers looks doubtful, and who knows about the Breeders’ Cup? “As far as any future plans for him,” WinStar CEO Elliott Walden said, “they will be decided after we get him checked out.”

The best older horses in the Baffert barn – West Coast and Collected – as well as recovering 3-year-old McKinzie are all expected to be on the track this summer at Del Mar, where the 79th annual racing season begins Wednesday at 2 p.m. PDT. The $100,000-added Oceanside Stakes fore 3-year-old milers will be the featured opening-day race on the surfside turf. Although attendance hit a 45-year low last year, betting hit a five-year high. Del Mar is adding an early 50-cent Pick 4, a late 50-cent Pick 5 and a $2 minimum win-place-show parlay for between two and six races a day. There will be 36 racing days spread over seven weeks through Labor Day.

Random, unsubstantiated, speculative, gossip-stoking thought: If Justify gets well soon enough, could he wind up facing older horses Aug. 18 in the $1 million Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar?

With the Breeders’ Cup Classic being the “ultimate target,” Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow is expected to get an August race in France and then the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park as stepping stones. Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor said that the 4-year-old colt is expected to end a 4½-month break and race Aug. 12 in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois on the turf at Deauville before being shipped to race on the dirt Sept. 29 in New York. If all goes well, Thunder Snow will be back in the very same gate over the very same 1¼-mile course where he made like a bucking bronco at the start of last year’s Kentucky Derby.

Grade 1 winners Elate (2-1) and Unbridled Mo (5-2), both comfortable racing in mid-pack, are the top morning-line choices for the $750,000 Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, a 1¼-mile race this weekend for nine fillies and mares on the main track at Delaware Park. Farrell (9-2), pronounced with an emphasis on the first syllable, has the only graded-stakes win among the three horses expected to set the early pace. Trained by Bill Mott and ridden by José Ortiz, Elate has not raced since she finished fourth as the favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Ridden by John Velázquez, Todd Pletcher’s Unbridled Mo was a distant third behind Abel Tasman last month in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes day. Elate looks like the goods for this race, but the ticket here will include Mopotism (9-2), Doug O’Neill’s 4-year-old, mid-pack filly sired by Uncle Mo. With Mario Gutiérrez riding, she has hit the board her last five times racing on the dirt, and she should improve getting the extra furlong. She lost to Elate in last year’s Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga her only time racing this far, but she did not have Gutiérrez that day, and she has been getting better with age. An Elate-Mopotism exacta box looks like the play.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition features a roundtable of racing media-relations managers Mike Willman of Santa Anita Park, Jim Gluckson of the Breeders’ Cup, Najja Thompson of the New York Racing Association and Jim Mulvihill of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

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