Saturday night in the FanDuel Sportsbook at The Meadowlands, enthusiasts gambled legally on every sort of sporting contest imaginable.
Most were enthused, but also anxious and boisterous, celebratory and heartbroken, flush and broke, right at home and tragically out of place.
The Meadowlands, in addition to hosting NFL games, is home to a horse track. That means that under the sports gambling laws New Jersey passed this year, it can host a sports betting parlor. And it provides a preview of what we’ll probably see in New York next year. Legislators from both parties and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agree that 2019 is when the Empire State will likely legalize sports gambling, too, unwilling to miss out on taxes and jobs from a popular, profitable vice.
Until New Jersey won its Supreme Court case this year, Nevada had been the only state where unfettered sports gambling was legal. And it’s only fitting that New Jersey, whose Atlantic City was the first city to play second fiddle to the casinos of Nevada, was next in line for betting lines.
The Meadowlands horse-betting facility also hosts sports wagering, and at 9:15 p.m. Saturday it was jammed. College football games appeared on a dozen TV screens, and betting was heavy on NFL games scheduled for the following day. The Conor McGregor-Khabib Nurmagomedov UFC battle that was just hours away had hordes of young men buzzing. And Game 2 of the Yankees-Red Sox playoff series was ongoing, with odds on that contest, as well as the live football games, changing with every play.
The Yankees led 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning and had become big favorites to win at minus 550 (meaning you’d have to bet $550 on the Yankees to win $100), but those odds were moving with every hit and out.
It’s tempting to say this is not your grandpa’s sports wagering, but there were grandpas there, and one of them may well have been yours.
The alcohol, while not cheap, was plentiful. The FanDuel setup could use more clerks and seating, but that’s not surprising considering a state full of the biggest sports fans in the world and no legal sports books is just 11 miles away.
And while gamblers have had access to bookies forever and sophisticated betting apps on their phones for years, these sports bar-sports books meet a different need. People love to watch the game with other gamblers, where the winnings can be immediately claimed.
Fun, fun, fun, right? Mostly, yeah. But like most gambling venues, terribly sad, too.
Saturday night, one shabbily dressed and exhausted young couple sat together desperately rooting for Auburn in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State. He kept looking from a handful of betting slips to the screen. She cradled an adorable and sleeping boy toddler in a colorful knit cap and overalls against her shoulder and exhorted the Tigers silently. Auburn, favored by 3.5 points, lost the game outright 13-9, and the couple lost their money.
Sports gambling will be legal in New York soon, and it’s likely that recreational marijuana will follow. And both ought to be legal. Adults should be free to do as we wish when exercising that freedom does not impinge on the liberties of another. But that baby boy ought to have been home in bed, too, warm and cradling his favorite stuffed animal, listening to daddy read him a story.
Freedom can come at a terrible cost, but folks can be fools just as easily without liberty as with it. And it’s the foolishness, not the freedom, that causes the trouble.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.