How New Jersey Grew into A Gambling Hub

Despite what non-US residents may think, the United States has traditionally never been a super-friendly gambling region. Yes, in the Wild West, specific parts of the country allowed faro games for money, but most of the nation had an anti-gambling stance fueled by religious beliefs that opposed such pastimes. Even lotteries were only widely available in the US in the 20th century. However, once the 1900s rolled around, Nevada set to stand out and boost its economy by legalizing gambling, which it did in 1931 via a law that Phil Tobin introduced and which permitted wide-open gambling in the Battle Born State.

Yet, it took another four decades before another US territory decided to follow in Nevada’s footsteps and try to compete with the home of Area 51 and Zion National Park for the title of US gambling hub. That state was New Jersey, whose voters allowed casino gambling statewide in 1976, five years after NJ lotteries got permitted.

New Jersey has nine commercial casinos responsible for an economic impact of nearly $12 billion, supporting more than fifty thousand jobs and putting $1.88 billion annually into state coffers through taxation. According to the most recent data, Garden State is now competing head-to-head with Pennsylvania to take hold of the number two spot in the US ranking that displays the top gaming revenue producers in the country. That said, Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s figures are three times less than Nevada’s yearly revenues. So, they have a long way to go before vying for the number one position.

Below, we understand how New Jersey adopted gambling and its casino, poker, lottery, and sports betting scenes developed over the years.

Early Era New Jersey Gambling

Going by the information found in history books, the first examples of recording gambling activities in the US date back to the Jamestown, Virginia, settlers of 1665, who held a fund-raising lottery. It was from there and through new colonizers that came over from Europe that gambling spread to other areas of North America.

Lotteries were also the initial publicly-accepted gambling genre in New Jersey till they got banned in 1844. Like in other states, they were utilized as a money-generating tool to gather funds for communal benefits, like aiding in constructing Rutgers University, built in 1766 as the Queen’s College. Also, horse racing was a popular pastime in the birthplace of the Saltwater taffy, with most such contests getting organized informally until the 1850s, when they began occurring at fairs, where people bet on winners. In 1870, the Monmouth Park Racetrack opened its doors, but the state prohibited parimutuel gambling twenty-four years later. That move signified a prohibition of sorts regarding all wagering activities in the state that lasted until 1939, when racetrack betting was legalized again.

Casino Gaming Regulation

In 1974, New Jersey tried unsuccessfully to amend its constitution via referendums that would have allowed commercial casino gaming in specific municipalities. At that time, only Nevada had allowed this, and this attempt failed, defeated by 60% of the vote. Two years later, New Jersians again got asked to vote on this issue, presented to them as a novel tool for urban redevelopment, and they said yes, narrowly so, approving this idea with 56% of the vote. The next year, the New Jersey Casino Control Act was signed by Governor Brendan Byrne, announcing the start of casino development in New York’s sibling.

In 2023, brick-and-mortar gaming venues in New Jersey posted revenues of $2.79 billion, representing a 2.2% jump from the $2.79 billion they netted in 2022. In November 2023, $232 million was generated at New Jersey’s nine commercial casinos. The following month, a DGE report cited eight properties posted figures in the black and one (Borgata) in the red. The Hard Rock was the building that saw the most traffic, showing a 19.9% revenue growth in December 2023 compared to the same month the previous year, for a take of $44.8 million.

The Rise of Online Gambling

In 2011, the Department of Justice of the United States revised its old interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act, stating that this law only applied to sports wagering. That made it possible for NJ online casinos to get birthed, thanks to 2013 legislation that permitted residents over twenty-one to gamble on games of chance and poker from Jersey. The original set of NJ casino sites went live in November 2013. Around this time, the NJ online poker market also opened, which is a much smaller sector than interactive gaming in the state, only producing around $20 million per year. Comparatively, online casinos in New Jersey have generated over $7.4 billion in revenues since their launch.

On the online betting side of things, Drake’s newsworthy hobby, NJ Internet sportsbooks, which appeared in the digital sphere in June 2018, quickly after the fall of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (May 2018), have pulled in around $3 billion in revenues in total. On average, in the past few months of 2023 and the first of 2024, New Jersey’s online bookies report revenues in the $90 million to $100 million range. Overall (retail and online), the Garden State is in third place in the betting revenue category, behind Illinois and New York.

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