Harness Racing Update, published by racing extraordinaire Bill Finley and confirming recent speculation, reports that Television Games (TVG), operated by U.K. gambling concern Betfair, will officially take over online wagering in New Jersey as of March 1, pending regulatory approvals.
New Jersey horseplayers, by law, have been subjected to 4NJBets.com as their online wagering platform but will presumably migrate to TVG next month.
I am not a daily bettor but had dabbled with 4NJBets over a year ago just to kick the tires, and found the system antiquated in terms of signup (took nearly 2 weeks and involved mailing photocopies of several documents) and the lack of customer rewards and certain other services offered by other platforms such as TVG, TwinSpires.com and DRFBets.com that offer additional appeal.
In addition, there was no access to NHC Tour events -- my selfish interest and the reason I endorse Friday's announcement.
Granted, TVG does not seem to offer nearly as much NHC contest access as TwinSpires.com or DRFBets.com, but perhaps that will change.
Detractors to a 4NJBets takeover will point to monthly ($19.95) or per-use fees ($0.25 per wager, up to a $19.95 monthly cap) charged by TVG as a drawback to 4NJBets, which from what I recall does not charge these sorts of fees, but for me the trade-off is negligible, since I'm only an occasional bettor.
When I do make the random bet (i.e. Triple Crown races, Breeders Cup) outside of contests, at $3+ per gallon of gas I'm spending that much anyway to drive to Monmouth Park, so to me it's a wash. Nothing is every free.
From a bigger-picture perspective, however, to me today's announcement goes far beyond horse racing.
Recall that Governor Christie in January 2011 signed a law clearing the way for so-called Exchange Wagering, a concept pioneered by Betfair. TVG recently aired a show about this concept, which lacks appeal to me but seems closer to fruition with TVG's reported takeover of 4NJBets and that California (TVG's base) is moving in the same direction. The synergies seem to make sense.
I probably do not need to go into much detail about this angle for anyone who lives in New Jersey and has read numerous headlines about plans to legalize sports betting in the state, but Betfair's entry to online horse wagering (via 4NJBets) signals, in my opinion, that the state has already found its partner to roll out a sports-betting platform once the dust settles in its legal battle with pro sports leagues and the federal government. U.K. wagering companies dominate the sports betting market and Betfair's entry to the New Jersey market puts the handwriting on the wall as to a potential future operator.
NJSEA's Exit - Perceived Political Benefits
First the turnover of 4NJBets management to Monmouth Park operator Darby Development, and now the introduction of TVG-Betfair as the operator of NJ's online horse wagering platform, satisfies another mandate of Governor Christie to extricate Trenton from the racing industry, as I see it.
Based on the discoveries I blogged in the wee hours of Thursday morning, NJSEA will strictly maintain oversight of the operations of Monmouth Park and 4NJBets, but Darby Development LLC (and now TVG) will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the state's thoroughbred racing program and online wagering platform, respectively.
Feel free to sarcastically comment below about NJSEA as a patronage pit, but on the surface the removal of Monmouth Park and 4NJBets employees, for instance, from NJSEA's rolls (albeit simply handed off to Darby and/or TVG-Betfair) is something that politicians can brag about to satisfy their constituents.
The question will become whether NJSEA or Darby or whomever worked out an agreement with Betfair that does not gouge longstanding 4NJBets customers and prospective TVG users in New Jersey.
Perhaps a lot to absorb, but selfishly speaking, I like the prospect of becoming a TVG customer, if for nothing else to participate in the random NHC-focused handicapping contest. TwinSpires would be way better in that regard, but at first glance TVG looks like a big upgrade for contest-focused horseplayers in the Garden State.