A few hundred Jets fans made their way to the Meadowlands Racetrack’s FanDuel Sportsbook on Monday night to celebrate the dawn of two new eras: the NFL debut of quarterback Sam Darnold, and the first chance to watch a Jets game in a place where you can walk over to a teller and legally place a bet on it.
When the game started, Darnold turned the first play from scrimmage of his career into a Detroit interception for a touchdown.
Things couldn’t get any worse after that.
And they didn’t. They got much, much better — especially for Jets bettors or anyone who took the over, as the local team scored a dominant 48-17 victory.
On my second straight day of visiting the site, I observed that there were perhaps a dozen bettors in line a half-hour before the game and two dozen as kickoff time neared, but it was manageable. Same with the bar area; eventually the seats were filled, but in the early going at least, there weren’t people backed up four or five deep.
Fans entering both the main and auxiliary sportsbooks were offered a flier called “How to Access FanDuel on Game Days.” This is a welcome addition after widespread confusion on this issue before the Giants hosted Jacksonville on Sunday. The line in bold type is key: “you cannot drive to Victory unless you have a parking pass.”
Other nuances in the flier:
- Fans are clued in that it is Lot G where they get the shuttle from MetLife Stadium to the sportsbook.
- If you don’t feel like fighting 4 p.m. traffic after an early game, you can catch the later games at the sportsbook, then get shuttled back to your car after 6 p.m.
- Those taking trains from Secaucus Junction can get a shuttle that takes them back to the Meadowlands train station, and if you stay past the last train out of the Meadowlands (around 6 p.m.), you can get on a shuttle that takes you back to Secaucus Junction — a nice touch.
- Finally, “a limited number of parking passes are available; please see a customer service representative.”
When worlds collide
The simulcast horse-racing bettors who visit the track seven days a week, 12 hours a day — and have for many years — got to meet their “new neighbors,” the sports bettors. One regular said he would prefer the latter group be segregated on the second floor.
The horse racing regulars — and you’d be amazed at how many date back to the track’s opening in 1976 — for the most part did not say that they would be likely to reallocate their racing funds to chase sports bets. Rather, they see the sportsbook as an extra perk in case they want to mix it up sometimes.
(One long-timer told me how, back in the day, he once lost $200,000 in the stock market in 10 seconds, and added tales of gambling losses, alcohol, getting carjacked and nearly killed, and being broke and depressed. He seemed okay now, but here he was in a simulcasting parlor. “I bet $2 a race,” he said. “It’s entertainment.”)
Three season ticketholders — Eddie Condello of Westwood and Carmine Napolitano and Wilfredo Gil, both of Jersey City — visited the FanDuel Sportsbook on Monday.
“I always hoped [legal sports betting] would happen — but I never thought it would happen,” Gil said.
Condello pointed out that for the past few years, plenty of fans in the stands at Jets game have kept one eye on the game and one eye on their phone to follow their fantasy football team. “They already do that, so this will be business as usual, just with sports bets, too.”
The trio — in their 30s and early 40s — say they will stick to their pre-game tailgating rituals in the stadium parking lots rather than hit the sportsbook. For many their age and younger, the ease of online sports betting on their phones makes more sense than waiting in line on a game day. But for the Jets’ opener, they figured this sportsbook — with dozens of TVs to rival any sports bar in the area — was an appropriate meeting place.
Other odds and ends
- I ran into Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural and asked him how sports betting was going overall. “It’s going good,” he said. “We still have to help people understand how Sunday works here. It got busier after the Giants game on Sunday, so we think that’s where there is the most potential. Saturday [college football] is our big day — no hassles.”
- Former Jets Wayne Chrebet, Bruce Harper, and Fred Baxter were on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures. One fan, Kevin Mack of Brooklyn, had a vintage Chrebet vintage action figure to be signed. “You’re not going to like how I bet, Wayne — I took the Lions minus 7 points,” he told him. Mack added later, “A rookie quarterback starting on the road?” Ah, ye of little faith.
- I spoke to Chrebet, who grew up only a couple of miles from Giants Stadium, about what he would have thought of legal sports betting in his heyday (he was a wide receiver for the Jets from 1995-2005). “It wouldn’t have mattered to me either way — I’m not a big gambler,” Chrebet replied. “It is what it is. Things are changing. You have a [NHL] hockey team in Vegas. People will be watching two football teams on a Thursday night who both are out of the playoffs. I think [legal betting] is good for the fans, and good for the sport.”
- The main tables and bar seats didn’t fill up until nearly game time. Up a few steps is an area with a $25 minimum per person for food and drink. It took a while for that area to fill, and even after the start of the game there was no line.
- One of the eight screens in the auxiliary sportsbook (on the opposite side of the facility from the main book) was showing an SNY Classic from 2016 of a Mets-Padres game in San Diego. I only wish I could have placed a “prop bet” on then-42-year-old Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon hitting an unlikely home run.
- Keep in mind that there is an Argentina vs. Colombia soccer match on Tuesday night and Ed Sheeran concerts at the stadium on September 21-22, so NFL gameday rules seemingly will apply — which might impact would-be sportsbook patrons who don’t arrive by 3 p.m. I’m getting mixed feedback on that, so I’ll try to keep you posted on Twitter @BergenBrennan.