Courtesy of Jon Gold
- The FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands is just a short drive from New York City.
- On Sunday, its second day of operation, it hosted bettors for the World Cup Final between France and Croatia.
- The viewing experience at the book got positive reviews, but long lines and high vigs drew criticism from patrons on Day 2.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Croatia betting slips littered the floor, but only for a moment, as the staff at the new FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands Racetrack was quick to make a good first impression on its second day.
Only a little over an hour earlier, bettors who took the underdog Croatians leapt to their feet as Ivan Perisic tied the World Cup final at 1 on a left-footed strike. A man in a jean jacket and shorts two sizes too small pumped his fist like he was Luka Modric.
One day after opening, the book hosted one big viewing party for the historic match, a spirited but select crew whooping it up when France finished off a 4-2 victory, hoisting the trophy for the second time in the country’s history.
Allegiances weren’t determined by nationality here at the Meadowlands, just a short drive, ferry or bus away from New York City. They were dictated by dollar signs, with France a heavy favorite to win the title. When Les Bleus jumped to an early lead, a slew of bettors rejoiced — at least those who got their wagers in on time, as long lines necessitated an early arrival.
“I think it’s better than Monmouth, but I was hoping for more Vegas-style,” said local bettor Fred Ashraf, referring to Monmouth Park, which opened an hour south on June 14, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled the federal prohibition on sports betting to be unconstitutional.
Ashraf got in line to bet at 10:30 a.m. and barely beat the 11 a.m. kickoff. “It’s their second day, but the whole process of standing in line and placing a bet — brutal. If you didn’t get here and place a bet a half-hour before the soccer game, you couldn’t. The pros are they have huge TVs, a big bar, couches. The food wasn’t bad.”
As a sports viewing venue, the book passed the test, an impressive feat considering FanDuel hastily renovated the space in two weeks to get it up and running as quickly as possible.
FanDuel’s recent acquisition by PaddyPower Betfair, the Dublin-based sports betting behemoth, paved the way for quick expansion following New Jersey’s sports gambling legalization in June. The book opened on Saturday to great fanfare, offering betting specials on the New York Yankees but drawing criticism for high vigs and the long lines.
“It was a really cool moment when we opened the doors at 11 a.m. yesterday morning and floods of people came in,” said Keith Wall, FanDuel’s head of retail for the United States. “The excitement here yesterday was great. We had an enhanced-odds special on the Yankees, and the place erupted when the Yankees won. Today we enhanced the odds on France, and again, customers were very happy when France scored.”
By the time France’s Paul Pogba scored in the 59th minute to give his team a 3-1 lead, the celebration was muted. The over had already cashed, and a France victory seemed all but certain. When Kylian Mbappe — the 19-year-old talk of the tournament — scored in the 65th minute to give France a commanding three-goal lead, few popped champagne.
Only a late goal by Mario Mandzukic got the Croatia bettors murmuring, but an active offense could bring them no closer.
For some, it was the excitement of the event that brought people into the book. For others, it was the action.
“It’s great, but I could watch sports at home,” Ashraf said.
His friend Jon disagrees.
“I like being here for it, being able to bet it,” he said. “That’s fun.”
Both regular bettors, neither said they were particularly excited about the state’s legalization of sports gambling, as they regularly bet in Las Vegas or online and didn’t feel a specific desire to vote locally.
The action was strong Sunday, but Wall has his eye on the NFL season in September, when the facility renovations are expected to be completed. NorthJersey.com reported that more than $16 million was bet in just the last two weeks of June, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, and the state projects roughly $300 million in wagers per year.
“I’ve followed the sports gambling in New Jersey closely, but, I mean … I’ve been betting,” Jon said. “Betting with … friends. I’m experienced from that aspect.”
But, he adds, “This is just across from my work. I’ll probably come in for lunch every day.”
For Ashraf, who checked out Monmouth Racetrack two weeks ago, it was important to him to “feel it out,” he said.
That’s enough for Wall, who anticipates heavy crowds come football season.
“We’re only in a temporary facility, and we’ll have the full book finished in a matter of weeks,” he said. “This will be the destination.”