At first glance, it was a typical sports bar, with a nice-sized crowd for a summer Wednesday afternoon and customers that reflected a diversity of ages, ethnicity and attire. (Gender, not so much.)
Televisions were in abundance, as were beer and chicken wings.
It did not take long for what was different about this sports bar to become evident, though.
On some TV screens, Croatia and England were playing a soccer game of worldwide import. On others, the Royals and Twins were playing a midseason baseball game of little consequence, even in the Midwest.
And yet every significant development in both games caused some corners of the room to react as if it were Super Bowl Sunday.
That sort of odd behavior is familiar to anyone who has visited a Las Vegas sports book, where action on games means normal interest levels and rooting alliances often are turned sideways. Now it has come to the metropolitan area.
This was the William Hill Sports Book at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey, which opened on June 14 after the state permitted betting on sports events following the United States Supreme Court clearing a legal path in May.
Initially, as New York works through its own legislative process to legalize sports betting, it was the nearest place Long Islanders can go to legally bet.
On Saturday, New Jersey will take another step toward New York’s doorstep when betting is set to begin at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, a more convenient but less scenic option, especially in summer.
Is it worth the trip to Monmouth, which even though it is shorter than the one to Vegas still requires bridge and tunnel tolls, or a train, boat or small aircraft?
The usual warning applies here about betting with one’s head, not over it. Problem gamblers surely can run into problems, and like it or not, such customers play a big role in the economics of sports betting.
For the rest of us, the sports book is a user-friendly way to make games a little more interesting – and social – with minimum bets of $2 and clerks who are being extra patient with customers new to legal betting.
On Wednesday that meant explaining nuances associated with betting on the first half of the World Cup semifinal, and others associated with over/under bets on NFL teams’ win totals.
For those with less need for air conditioning or wings, there also are wagering windows in the lobby area of the track where horse racing bets normally are accepted. (Monmouth offers races only on weekends.)
But the real test will come on autumn weekends, when college football and especially the NFL should attract large crowds and large amounts of money.
For avid gamblers who are comfortable with longstanding illegal arrangements with trusted bookmakers, the schlep to the Jersey Shore, or even to the Meadowlands, might prove too much of a hassle to be worth the trouble.
For casual gamblers seeking low-to-moderate risks, preferably in the company of a group of friends, it is a lark that provides a different viewing experience, and is good practice for when legal sports books come to Long Island, as they inevitably will.
Once again, though: Be prepared to lose and live with it, or do not head down this path at all.
Hypothetically . . . Are you the kind of person who can bet on the Royals, get excited when they go up 3-0 in the first inning, then see them lose, 8-5, and who also can bet on Croatia to be ahead at halftime, then see them trail 1-0, only to see them win in extra time, and walk away $40 poorer but still have considered it a positive experience?
Then by all means, go for it. I will be back someday. But next time I will stay away from the Royals.