As New Jersey continues to battle the U.S. courts and numerous pro sports leagues about the legalities of sports betting in the Garden State, a major sports book – the Las Vegas-based subsidiary of William Hill, the UK’s biggest bookmaker – has come up with a clever way to garner market share and pave the way for real-money wagering. William Hill U.S. is now offering free-play sports betting, modeling itself, apparently, after many social media sites that have done the same technique for grabbing customers online.
Sponsorship Event Paves the Way
The move follows a very successful sponsorship event at Monmouth Park, an Oceanport, New Jersey-based thoroughbred horse racing track. After taking over the 46th running of the track’s premier event – now named the William Hill Haskell Invitational, and bearing a $1 million purse – on July 28th of this year, the British sports betting firm is feeling bullish about New Jersey as a potentially lucrative base for U.S. earnings.
“We were really happy with being the race’s title sponsor,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S. “Our sponsorship is part of a bigger deal.”
Indeed, William Hill plans to be waiting in the wings and ready to roll the second the courts, New Jersey and the various sports leagues – including the NFL, NHL and NCAA – can resolve their differences and make sports betting a legal entity there. The heated battle continues to play out in court, with pro leagues like the NFL protesting that legalization would lead to corruption and possible game fixing. It’s a viewpoint that many from the pro-sports betting contingent find laughable, however, and with casino revenues in Atlantic City down 8 percent in 2012, sports betting is being deemed crucial by many to turning intake numbers around; those casino revenues have been declining for six straight years now.
In addition, gaming analysts claim, legalizing sports betting in the Garden State could give it a much-needed competitive edge over its gambling neighbors in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.
“I think it can have an impact,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “At least they have a couple of years where they are the only ones in the area with sports betting.”
Court to Hear Arguments
As the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals waits to hear oral arguments this week in Philadelphia on the matter (each side will have 30 minutes to make their case to a three-judge panel), much hangs in the balance.
“If (New Jersey) succeeds, sports betting could be a much bigger part of the legal betting picture in the U.S.,” Schwartz said.
Meanwhile, back at William Hill U.S., they intend to be ready when and if New Jersey gets the sports betting high sign. “We are going to get people used to playing football at Monmouth Park, and build our database,” William Hill CEO Asher said.
In their free-play sports book, while no money per se will be placed on any events – in this case, picking NFL games against the spread – customers who choose winning teams or players can earn cash or prizes. The minimum prize, according to the company, will be $50,000.
Asher said if sports betting is legalized in New Jersey, the company plans to make a sizable investment in a Las Vegas-style race and sports book at Monmouth Park.