Sports Wagering: A Vector of Death in New Jersey

Could the Covid-19 infection have been crossing from New York to New Jersey with border-crossing sports bettors? Is it still occurring? Gaming industry executive Richard Schuetz (l.) looks at the problem.

Sports Wagering: A Vector of Death in New Jersey

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”John Muir

There’s nothing like a great headline attaching everybody’s new favorite thing, sports betting, with a vector of death. This is right out of the National Enquirer’s copywriting guide. Unfortunately, it’s probably true, and the evidence was provided by a credible research facility.

In an article published on February 21 in Legal Sports Report, author Matthew Waters, using an analysis provided by Eilers & Krejcik with commentary by Chris Grove, suggested that substantial betting was taking place in New Jersey by residents of New York. This study estimated that slightly more than 18 percent of the sports wagering handle in New Jersey came from people crossing the border from New York, understanding that one can only bet in New Jersey if they’re within the boundaries of the state.

New Jersey sports wagering handle for 2019 was $4.58 billion, and the Eilers & Krejcik analysis suggests $837 million of it was from New Yorkers. That number equates to 18.3 percent of betting handle.

For January and February of this year, New Jersey sports betting handle was $1.035 billion, implying that New York border-crossers were responsible for slightly less than $190 million in wagers. For this 60-day period, New Yorkers bet $189.4 million in New Jersey, or $3,156,750 per day. If the average amount bet per person was $100 per trip, this would work out to 31,567.5 trips per day in January and February. If the average amount bet was $50, this would represent more than 62,000 trips per day.

What makes this discussion somewhat tragic is that during January and February, while these trips were arguably taking place, the state of New York—and in particular New York City—were in the process of becoming the hottest of the global hot spots for coronavirus infections and deaths. Hindsight also allows us to understand that the state of New Jersey was clearly impacted by its close proximity to New York, as New Jersey has been the second state most affected by the disease. The heat map of Covid-19 seems to indicate it follows a route along the transportation links between the New York City and the state of New Jersey.

The retail sportsbook closest to New York City is the Meadowlands, in East Rutherford, Bergen County, New Jersey. Bergen County, at the time of this writing, had the highest rate of infection and deaths from Covid-19 in New Jersey. The most logical destination for someone from New York City who wanted to wager from a mobile application would be Hoboken, in Hudson County. Bergen and Hudson counties had the two highest per-capita infection and death rates in New Jersey.

Obviously, there are a great many different reasons for people to move between New York City and New Jersey on a daily basis. It should be reasonably clear, however, that making this trip to bet did contribute to the devastating impact the disease has had in New Jersey. Can you imagine a governor in any state being comfortable with thousands and thousands of people visiting every day from New York to hang out for a bit?

That sports wagering in New Jersey has most certainly contributed to the viral infection and deaths of people in New Jersey is clearly an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Certainly, none of the people who celebrated sports wagering in the state dreamed it would carry with it such an unfortunate side effect. I suspect if one wants to find a villain, they could blame New York for not legalizing mobile sports wagering, or blame the Wire Act for making a line drawn on a map so terribly important.

It would seem this traffic may be continuing. While the retail books are closed and many sports events are cancelled, people from New York could continue to travel to New Jersey to play slots, table games and poker on internet applications, as well as to take advantage of the limited menu of sports wagering opportunities. I would guess the authorities in New Jersey are aware if this is taking place, and if it is, they feel people traveling to New Jersey from New York don’t present a health hazard, or the hazard is worth the tax revenues and business activity that this gambling activity generates.

Regulators in New Jersey (and any other state with legal internet gambling) may want to research any border effects on interstate travel that may exist during this age of coronavirus. One would think the Know Your Customer (KYC) controls that regulators have access to would provide very good insight as to the source of wagers in the systems of the different states. If border crossing is taking place for the purpose of mobile gaming in an adjoining state, this relationship could be shared with the health departments within the state to see it’s acceptable. While this could mean some short-term adjustments with mobile betting, it’s better than allowing a disease vector that could result in continuing restrictions on all economic activity long into the future, and the ending of people’s lives.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.