Freehold warming up the saddle for Barstool Sportsbook in New Jersey?

Freehold Raceway Ready To Make A Run At Sports Betting In New Jersey

America’s oldest racetrack will soon have a sportsbook.

Freehold Raceway, owned by Pennwood Racing, has petitioned the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) for a license to offer sports betting. The track received unanimous support from the Freehold Borough Council on March 2.

Presuming the DGE approves, the property will become the state’s 11th land-based venue with a sportsbook on-site. A license would also make it eligible to choose up to three partners for NJ online sports betting.

Once Freehold launches, the state could, theoretically, contain up to 33 online sports betting brands. It’s barely halfway home, however, with only three licensees having reached their cap on skins.

Sports betting and racetracks have natural synergy

Pennwood Racing is a joint venture by Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Racing.

The latter is the owner of Parx Casino in Pennsylvania, which also operates an online casino in New Jersey in partnership with Ocean. Thus, the Freehold plan isn’t primarily about market access.

Greenwood’s interest in the situation is probably mostly about the potential land-based revenues. Though the horse racing industry is on the decline in New Jersey as it is almost everywhere else, those tracks that branched out into sports betting have done well. In fact, they represent the top two retail sportsbooks in the state.

Meadowlands is by far the largest retail sports betting operator, responsible for nearly two-thirds of related revenue. It’s also the largest online, albeit by a smaller margin. Meadowlands carries out its online activities under two brands: FanDuel Sportsbook and PointsBet.

Monmouth Park isn’t nearly as big as Meadowlands, but its retail sportsbook is still more profitable than any of the eight in Atlantic City. Its online revenues are also the fourth-highest in the state.

Freehold Raceway, as an establishment, isn’t nearly as large as either of those. Nor does its sportsbook plans call for any sort of physical expansion. The track also lacks Meadowlands’ greatest advantage: proximity to New York City. Freehold and Monmouth Park are both about 90 minutes outside of the city.

Nonetheless, there’s enough overlap between racing fans and sports bettors that a sportsbook should provide a nice revenue boost for Freehold.

A mature, occasionally contentious partnership

The Pennwood joint venture extends beyond Freehold Raceway. Through it, Penn and Greenwood control five out of the six standalone off-track wagering parlors in the state. These operate under the Favorites brand.

Off-track betting (OTB) has been legal in New Jersey since 2001, two years after Pennwood acquired Freehold Raceway. Though Pennwood won’t be able to offer sports betting at these locations, it does offer the potential for cross-selling.

Unfortunately, the relationship between the two companies hasn’t always been completely cordial. A 2010 disagreement, for instance, led Penn to sue Greenwood over its failure to open a new OTB location in Camden County.

Greenwood independently owns and operates numerous gambling venues in Pennsylvania, which is directly adjacent to Camden. These include many OTBs as well as Parx Casino. Penn accused Greenwood of having deliberately sabotaged the Camden plans because the new Favorites location would have been too close to its own operations and caused a loss in cross-border business.

The Camden County location did ultimately open in the town of Clementon, though it took four years for the situation to resolve itself. Fortunately, Freehold Raceway is far enough from the Pennsylvania border that there should be no repeat of the situation — at least for retail operations.

Penn National holds all the cards

Penn is a much larger and more complicated company than Greenwood. It has multiple grade-A partnerships and is active (or in the process of becoming active) in every state that has passed online gambling or sports betting legislation.

Most of its major partners have already launched in New Jersey. That includes DraftKings Sportsbook and The Stars Group (Fox Bet), both partnered with Resorts, as well as PointsBet with Meadowlands.

Greenwood hasn’t officially announced that it will even open an online sportsbook using the Freehold Raceway license, but it seems unlikely that it wouldn’t. Online betting has accounted for roughly 75% of New Jersey sports gambling revenue to date.

Is Barstool Sportsbook coming to New Jersey?

With all Penn National’s usual partners already active in the state, Freehold’s potential mate remains an open question. The obvious answer, though, is Barstool Sports.

Barstool began in 2003 as a modest media outlet and has since expanded into a multifaceted entertainment business. Add gambling to the list now, too. Early this year, the company signed an exclusive deal with Penn for nationwide sports betting and gaming.

Penn purchased a 36% share in Barstool immediately and will expand its stake to 50% over three years, with the option to take full ownership at that point.

No Barstool Sportsbook has yet launched, either online or off, but a representative from the company’s interactive division told Legal Sports Report that it’s preparing to rebrand the retail sportsbook at the Hollywood Casino in West Virginia.

It now seems equally likely that we’ll see a Barstool Sportsbook NJ in partnership with Freehold Raceway. It’s even possible that the branding could extend to the retail sportsbook there.

That seems less certain, however, as it would involve something of a brand mismatch. The racetrack has a rich history and a classic aesthetic, while Barstool’s image is decidedly juvenile and raunchy.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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