CHARLES TOWN, W VA. — This is a brand new world.
If you live in Maryland, the District or Virginia, placing a perfectly legal bet on Saturday’s Maryland-Texas game was just a short drive away. Betting on the Washington Redskins season? Just a matter of getting in your car and motoring over to Charles Town, West Virginia.
Legalized sports betting began here Saturday — and it feels like the dawn of a new era.
West Virginia is one of the states that ran quickly through the door opened by the Supreme Court case in May in favor of legalized sports betting. The ruling meant, for the first time in the United States, there would be sports books in places other than Nevada.
Delaware, which was in position to move quickly with parlay betting already in place, was the first state to open books at its three racetracks in June.
New Jersey followed with its first sports book at Monmouth Park. Other Garden State locations quickly followed, including a FanDuel sports book at the Meadowlands. The state has also been aggressive in online sports betting, with four betting apps available, including two that began Saturday.
Now West Virginia is in the game, opening up its first sports book Saturday at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in a ceremony that included Redskins Super Bowl quarterback Joe Theismann.
“You would have to say the future of the industry is very bright,” said Theismann, who made the first ceremonial wager — picking the Redskins over the Arizona Cardinals in a pick ’em game in their opener this Sunday. “Last year there was $50 billion bet on games and only $5 billion of it was in Vegas. Illegally, people have been betting for a long time. Now there is the opportunity to capitalize and use the taxes for various things in the community.
“People have been doing it anyway,” he said. “Now it will be a much more controlled environment.”
Theismann followed the money, and he won’t be alone. There is an anticipated gold rush coming. The NFL – which was among the strongest opponents of legalized sports betting for decades — held a seminar last summer for its owners on the upcoming marriage of the league and gambling, which may include placing bets at stadiums during games.
Other leagues are working to determine their place in the sports betting world and how to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves.
And now the federal government — which banned sports betting in 1992, save for grandfathering in Nevada and three other states that had some limited form of football parlay betting — wants a say in how the business is operated. Last week Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for federal rules and regulations for an industry that right now is solely under the jurisdiction of each state.
States that decided to sit this one out — like Virginia, which isn’t even in the casino gambling business — or Maryland, which dragged its heels on casino gambling while bordering states like Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia cashed in, are watching money fly out of their coffers and into neighboring states. And what about the District?
Tim Muldoon from Waterford, Va., and Tom Lizardo, from Centreville, Va., spent the day Saturday at Charles Town’s little corner of the casino converted to a sports book, with TV screens showing college football games, betting reference sheets and windows open for business, with lines of bettors. It wasn’t exactly the Las Vegas Hilton Sports Book, but it was a big attraction for Muldoon, Lizardo and others who traveled to Charles Town Saturday.
“We’ve been here since about nine this morning, betting college football,” Muldoon said in the casino Saturday night. “I did pretty good. I got my Redskins Super Bowl bet in of course. I’ll be out here all the time. Normally I only come here about once every couple of months. With this, I’ll be coming a lot more.”
Lizardo paid tribute to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who began the fight in the state for legalized sports betting. “Thank you Chris Christie, because he made all this happen,” Lizardo said. “I was following the court case from the beginning.”
The two Virginians were joined at a table by two guys they just met that day — Brian and Mike Williams, who drove nearly six hours from North Carolina Saturday morning to place their wagers at Charles Town.
“We just met these guys today,” Brian Williams said. “We’ve even done side bets with them.
“We left North Carolina at 5:30 this morning just for this,” Brian Williams said. “And we’ll be back. We’re coming every weekend.”
As Mark Twain’s Mulberry Sellers said, “There’s gold in them thar hills.”
⦁ Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.
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