Officials are at work building a system that would allow online betting through the state's casinos, but for nearly a decade it's been legal in New Jersey to log onto a computer or pick up the telephone and place a bet on a horse.
The state's existing "account wagering" system for horse racing offers the ease and convenience that's increasingly in demand among bettors, especially the high rollers coveted by the gambling industry. People who want, say, to place a bet from their living room on a race at The Meadowlands Racetrack or even on next month's Kentucky Derby simply need to set up an account that is drawn upon with each bet and then replenished. Think E-ZPass, but with a chance of a payoff each time you cross the George Washington Bridge.
By the numbers
Nearly $100 million was placed by horse racing bettors last year in the state's account wagering system, which allows gamblers to place bets by phone or over the Internet. Here are the annual numbers for "handle," or amount bet, as well as the operating income generated, since the wagering was first offered in 2004:
Year Handle Income
Account wagering has become a significant part of the total horse race betting volume in New Jersey. Here are 2012 figures:
Money bet at state racetracks: $379.8M
Money bet at Off-Track Wagering sites: $152.5M
Account wagering (online and phone): $99.2M
Money bet at Atlantic City casinos on horse races: $63.2M
(Source: New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority)
The system has been a relatively small but growing part of legal gambling in New Jersey. First started as a means of preserving the horse racing industry, it caters to the growing number of bettors who don't want to travel to a racetrack, casino or even an off-track wagering parlor.
Almost $100 million was wagered online and by phone last year, about 15 percent of the total amount bet in the state on horse racing. That amount has increased steadily over the years.
But the system has suffered from a lack of public awareness. According to a poll commissioned in 2010 by a group lobbying for the expansion of online gambling, only 10 percent of New Jerseyans thought it was legal to gamble on horses online, and 35 percent believed it was illegal.
Indeed, many probably first became aware of account wagering in New Jersey this year when news emerged that the state Sports and Exposition Authority had allowed a prominent horseman from Teaneck, Ahmed Zayat, to owe them $286,000 for several months after making a series of large bets on thoroughbred races even though his online account did not have sufficient revenues to cover potential losses. State law prohibits gamblers from wagering more money than is in their account.
The existence of the debt — cited in a lawsuit by Freehold Raceway, a partner in the state's account-wagering system — is apparently the focus of an investigation by the state Racing Commission, according to state officials who confirmed that an investigation was under way but would not discuss anything about it. Sports Authority officials did say that Zayat has repaid the debt.
Users of the system tout its simplicity. State residents 18 years and older can log on to 4njbets.com from a home computer or mobile device. After providing a Social Security number and verification of residency, bettors can get started by placing a minimum of $25 into their account. There is no service fee and bets online can be placed for races at any of 150 tracks around the country.
Former Meadowlands Racetrack announcer and track handicapper Dave Brower told The Record hat he signed up for account wagering "from Day One."
"I've found it tremendously convenient and easy to use, and I think once most people pulled the trigger, they found the same thing," Brower said. "Then what made it more popular was the advent of racing channels such as TVG or HRTV, so that you could sit on your couch and watch the race live or on a slight tape delay."
Brower said that in many of the 20 or so states that offer account wagering, bettors can choose from a variety of systems. But New Jersey residents must use 4njbets.com. TVG, which recently took over day-to-day operation of the system, is offering a $100 bonus for new customers who bet at least $200 in their first 30 days on the site.
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.)