by Jim Hague

It only makes sense that a business based entirely on gambling would be willing to take a big gamble.

Joe Asher, William Hill U.S. CEO, speaks at Monmouth's opening press conference.   By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Joe Asher, William Hill U.S. CEO, speaks at Monmouth’s opening press conference. By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

William Hill, the self-proclaimed biggest bookmaker in the world, is banking on sports wagering becoming legal in the state of New Jersey.

So much so that William Hill has already sunk millions into a sports bar at Monmouth Park, a location the company hopes will eventually become a sports book parlor — if sports wagering becomes legalized in the Garden State.

William Hill has also become the main corporate sponsor for Monmouth Park’s premier race, the Haskell Invitational, which will run July 27.

Joe Asher, the chief executive officer of William Hill U.S., is more than optimistic that sports betting will eventually be legal in the state — a wager on a legal case that some experts consider a longshot.

While the state legislature passed and Governor Chris Christie signed legislation legalizing sports betting in the state, that law runs afoul of the federal US Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which limits sports betting to Nevada and three other “grandfathered” states, including Delaware.  The federal law is supported by the NCAA and the country’s major professional sports leagues.

Courts have thus far upheld the federal law, thus striking down New Jersey’s contrary statute.  The state has asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case.

None of which seems to bother Asher.

“Everyone knows that one day sports betting will be here in New Jersey,” Asher said. “When it comes, we’ll be here already. It’s as simple as that.”

William Hill got its start opening betting parlors in London 80 years ago. In 2012, it came across the pond to open three sports books in Nevada, with Asher leading the way.

“Sports betting is widespread in the United States, and it is widespread in New Jersey,” Asher said. “Outside of Nevada and limited in Delaware, it’s unregulated and untaxed. New Jersey has been in the forefront of getting legalized gambling. Governor Christie has made it part of his policy.”

So Asher, a native of Delaware, realized New Jersey’s potential and got involved with Monmouth Park. The company converted a former bar on the track’s first floor into a state-of-the-art sports bar with the potential of eventually becoming a sports book.

“It really has the look of a Vegas-style sports book,” Asher said. “Right now, it’s a great place for people to watch races or watch games and make bets. We’re really excited about it. No question it will happen here and everyone here should appreciate that.”

Once Asher realized that Monmouth Park was a possibility, he reached out to Dennis Drazin, adviser to Darby Development LLC and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, to see if William Hill could be a player at Monmouth.

The new William Hill Sports Bar at Monmouth.  Photo  by Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

The new William Hill Sports Bar at Monmouth. Photo by Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

“I had been here several times before,” Asher said. “I realized the great potential Monmouth Park has. This place would be packed for NFL games. The Super Bowl? It would be over the top. No doubt there’s an appetite for it. I understand this region of the country. People love sports and they love to bet on sports. I think legalized sports betting will be successful, and it will be even more successful here.”

But Asher knows that right now, it’s all a pipe dream.  There’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court will side with the state.  If it does not, there’s not necessarily any likelihood that Congress would change the law.  Given all that, there’s also no timetable as to when it might become a reality.

Thus, the gamble, something William Hill knows all too well.

“I’ve never given it a time frame,” Asher said. “We just know that one day, it will happen and we’ll be here already. We can hope that it will be sooner than later, but it will happen.”

For now, Monmouth Park has a brand new, multi-million dollar sports bar to attract bettors. But who knows what that sports bar could become in the future?