NJ Lawmakers Pass Bill to Loosen Controls on Golden Nugget Sportsbook

  • Current law prohibits sports team owner from taking bets on team’s sport
  • Golden Nugget owner also owns Houston Rockets, so sportsbook can’t take NBA bets
  • Golden Nugget’s sportsbook has struggled without NBA wagering
  • Bill would allow casino to take wagers on NBA but not on Rockets games
aerial view of Golden Nugget Casino and Atlantic City
New Jersey lawmakers have passed a bill that would allow the Golden Nugget to take bets on the NBA. This is not currently allowed due to the casino owner also owning the Houston Rockets. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Golden Nugget sportsbook missing NBA offering

The New Jersey State Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would permit an owner of a professional sports team to take bets on that team’s sport. Currently, no casino whose owner holds at least 10 percent of a team may accept wagers on games involving that team’s league. There is just one casino in the Garden State that this affects: the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.

The casino cannot take any NBA bets right now, but Bill A5463 would lift this ban.

The Golden Nugget is owned by Tilman Fertitta, who acquired the NBA’s Houston Rockets in 2017. The casino cannot take any NBA bets right now, but Bill A5463 would lift this ban. The one remaining restriction would be that Rockets games would remain off the Golden Nugget’s odds board.

No NBA has had a negative impact

As expected, the basketball restriction has hurt the Golden Nugget. According to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, basketball has been the most bet-on sport since sports betting was legalized in the state last year.

just $539,503 in sports betting revenue, the second-lowest total of any NJ sportsbook

Total handle on basketball has been $854.58 million. For comparison, football, the next most popular sport, has seen $616.9 million in wagers. Year-to-date, the casino has made just $539,503 in sports betting revenue, the second-lowest total of any New Jersey sportsbook.

Basketball has also been the most profitable major sport for New Jersey sportsbooks, a double whammy for the Golden Nugget. Casino win rate is 4.6 percent in basketball bets, compared to 4.3 percent for football and 3.2 percent for baseball.

On top of all that, the Golden Nugget lost its online sportsbook operator because of the law in October 2018. Sugarhouse dropped the Golden Nugget in favor of Monmouth Park so that it could take NBA wagers. The casino rebounded with SBTech to launch its online sportsbook in February.

Bill moves to governor’s desk

The original bill that legalized sports betting in New Jersey barred the Golden Nugget from having a sportsbook altogether, but Fertitta lobbied successfully to make it less stringent.

Lawmakers must have realized their error, as Bill A5463 had no problems getting through the legislature. It passed the Assembly 76-0 in June and passed the Senate 26-1 on Monday. It is now up to Governor Phil Murphy to sign it.

A possible conflict of interest with a team owner’s sportsbook taking bets on that team’s sport is the reason for the current constraint. Assemblyman John Burzichelli, the primary sponsor of the bill, feels confident that everything will be under control.

“We addressed that by not allowing them to accept wagers on his team, when his team is playing,” he told NJ Advance Media, adding

It’s something that’s gonna have to be watched.”

Other casinos almost victims of law

Although other gambling companies have stakes in professional sports teams, their Atlantic City casinos did not get hit like the Golden Nugget did. MGM, owner of the Borgata, also owns the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA, but the team makes up less than one percent of MGM’s revenue. Thus, MGM was cleared to take bets on sports.

Caesars owns Harrah’s, Caesars Atlantic City, and Bally’s Atlantic City. Apollo Global Management owns part of Caesars, while Apollo’s co-founder and managing director, Joshua Harris, owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Fortunately, Apollo owns less than 10 percent of Caesars, so the company was not affected by the law.

Had Tilman Fertitta wanted the Golden Nugget to accept NBA bets, he would have had to sell the Rockets within a year. Considering he had just bought the team and is a lifelong Houston sports fan, that wasn’t going to happen.

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