The History of Gambling In New Jersey

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New Jersey
The History of Gambling In New Jersey

New Jersey was almost always the “star-state” of the United States when it comes to gambling. From colonial times to the 20th century, Atlantic City and its surroundings were always the best places to gamble: New Jersey citizens never really cared about federal laws and traditions. As a matter of fact, after the Supreme Court sports betting decision, New Jersey is now the state with the most liberal gambling laws. So, when and how did all this start?

The Boardwalk Empire

To begin this story, we have to talk about Atlantic City’s past. This is a city on Absecon Island, so it has a natural barrier and can isolate itself from the rest of the state. In the 1850s, a doctor named Jonathan Pitney decided that the island would be the perfect summer resort for rich tourists. An engineer named Richard Osborne drew the first city plan on the island and placed a gigantic hotel on the coastline. This hotel was called “United States” and could accommodate 2,000 guests at the same time. The famous boardwalk of Atlantic City was originally designed to prevent the sand on the beach from entering this hotel’s lobby.

Between the 1920s and 1930s, Atlantic City became literally a “sin city” when alcohol prohibition began in America. Rich tourists could gamble and drink without a worry at the hotels here. Officials in the city did not care about alcohol consumption and gambling, despite both of them were banned at the federal level: Rich tourists did not want to be disturbed and paid well for this privilege. Horse betting was the most popular sports betting in that period and there were dozens of bookmakers in the city. Interestingly, tourists also liked to place bets on political developments in Europe.

If you watched the “Boardwalk Empire” on HBO, you have an idea of what this period looks like: All kinds of gambling and betting activities in the city were tied to someone named Enoch Johnson, and if you had enough money, this guy could have made all your dreams come true. Gambling and sports betting were the simplest of them: Enoch Johnson could do anything for you, as long as you can afford it.

Post-Johnson Era

In 1941, Johnson has been arrested for many federal crimes and went to prison. There was no longer a man in Atlantic City who fulfilled your dreams, and World War II had begun. New Jersey and Atlantic City quickly began to lose popularity. By the 1970s, the province had financial problems and a large part of the hotels were destroyed. During this period, gambling and sports betting continued uninterruptedly, but they went completely underground and became illegal. Almost every neighborhood had a different gang leader and when you wanted to place a bet, you had to find one of them.

In 1970, New Jersey decided to organize a lottery to generate financial income and put it to a referendum. The people accepted this proposal with a surprising majority: The New Jersey Lottery emerged like this, which still continues today. Then, another idea came to the minds of the city authorities: Would the public also support legalized gambling, as they seemed to be fine with the lottery? At that time, Nevada was the only state where gambling was legal in America, and the state was making an incredible income. Another referendum was held to legalize gambling in New Jersey. But the result was unfortunately negative: 60% of the people said no.

City officials did not give up because they believed this was the solution. They held another referendum, and this time they proposed the legalization of gambling within the Atlantic City borders. Atlantic City had natural barriers to isolate itself as we mentioned above and was the center of gambling in the 19th century. The people of New Jersey agreed to this and in 1976, gambling became legal within the boundaries of Atlantic City. In 1978, “Resorts Atlantic City” was the first legal land-based casino to be opened here. It was followed by Caesar’s and Bally’s. These three casinos are still operating in Atlantic City.

How About Sports Betting?

Before we talk about sports betting, let’s give an interesting piece of information: Atlantic City also helped Donald Trump to acquire his fortune. Yeah, we’re talking about that Donald Trump, the president of America. Trump began buying land in Atlantic City from the end of the 80s, and in 1991, he became the owner of three casinos. At that time, there were a total of 12 casinos in the city, so this was a pretty high figure. Trump worked exactly like a showman to bring boxing matches and Wrestlemania events to Atlantic City, both to generate income and promote his casinos. In this way, he made himself a lot of profits, but he also made New Jersey a real rival to Nevada. He had some financial problems with the banks and left the island at the end of the ’90s. If he continued his activities, Trump could still remain the boss of a casino chain in Atlantic City, not a candidate for president of the United States.

Back to the topic: Sports betting was always available in New Jersey, but in 2012, a referendum was held to make it legal. The people of New Jersey have now understood how profitable the legal gambling is, so the large majority said yes pretty quickly. However, the NBA, NFL, and other major leagues claimed and won a lawsuit claiming that this decision was contrary to the Constitution. New Jersey brought the case to Supreme Court. You know the rest of the story: Supreme Court decided in favor of New Jersey, and this sports gambling Supreme Court decision changed legal sports betting forever in America. With the Supreme Court PASPA ruling, every state is free to legalize sports betting now.

That’s not all: Online sports betting and gambling were legal since 2011 in New Jersey. (Fantasy sports betting was always legal in the state.) Well, at least legal in Atlantic City. If the servers of the online casino and sports betting site are within the boundaries of Atlantic City, this service can be offered in a legal manner. Due to the severity of license terms, the number of sites that own this license is quite a few, but at least the option is offered. In short, New Jersey is currently one of the rare American states where gambling and online sports betting are completely legal, and it continues to be an example for other states in this regard.