In a photo take Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, Lenny Sciascia, left, talks with his friend Mario DeAngelis as they cross the Bayonne Bridge in Bayonne, N.J., on their way to place online bets on their smartphones in New Jersey.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Wagerers crossing the Delaware (and Hudson) for sports bets

November 12, 2018 - 11:33 am
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By Wayne Parry, Associated Press

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — In the time it takes for a red light to turn green, Leonard Sciascia can get his sports bets made, turn around and head home.

The 39-year-old man from New York City's Staten Island runs his own business selling advice on which teams to bet on. But when he wants to take his own advice, he needs to leave home and cross the border into New Jersey — the only place near him where sports betting is legal.

He drives across the Bayonne Bridge, stops at the first traffic light, logs in to his mobile betting account with playsugarhouse.com, make his bets, turns around and drives back home. The whole process takes 25 minutes, door to door. He considers the $6.50 toll part of the price of doing business.

"I'm looking at (betting) lines all day," Sciascia said. "If I see something I like, I jump in my car and go."

Sports betting all is all over the New York area — on the airwaves, billboards, train station ads and publications. But in order to actually place a legal sports bet, gamblers have to be within New Jersey's borders. It's the only game in, or rather near, town right now for people in New York and Pennsylvania who want to bet for the Philadelphia Eagles, against the New York Giants, or a thousand other options.

So they travel into New Jersey.

Some drive across bridges, or through tunnels. Some take a PATH train under the Hudson River from New York City into Jersey City or Hoboken. And some even ride their bicycles just over halfway across the George Washington Bridge, hoping the geolocation technology on their smartphones will realize they're in New Jersey, however briefly it might be.

And it's all perfectly legal, as long as they are physically in New Jersey. They can bet in person at most Atlantic City casinos, as well as at racetracks in East Rutherford and Oceanport, New Jersey. Or they can bet anywhere in the state on their mobile devices.

FanDuel says 9 percent of its sports book customers live in New York and 4 percent live in Pennsylvania. DraftKings has a similar breakdown, and says about 20 percent of its active customers visit New Jersey from other states to place bets.

Maurice Shalam travels each Sunday morning from Brooklyn into Manhattan, where he catches a train into New Jersey.

"I'll get off the train and stand right in the station, a few steps from where I got off, take out my phone, do my bets right there, and go back home," he said. The 30-minute round trip across the river and back, along with the $5.50 fare, is just part of the price of playing, he said.

The 23-year-old uses the FanDuel and DraftKings mobile apps, depending on whose odds are better that day.

"I'm a big 'over' guy," he said, referring to a bet that the total number of points scored in by both teams in a football game will exceed a certain number. "I bet a lot on the Chiefs and the over this year, and I'm doing pretty well with that."

New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in May clearing the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting if they choose. So far, only five do: New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware, West Virginia and Mississippi, but others are considering it, and Pennsylvania is about to join soon.

Since New Jersey began taking sports bets in mid-June, over $336 million has been wagered on spots in New Jersey.

Laurence Berner lives in Philadelphia but works in a Trenton, New Jersey, rail yard for Amtrak. He places his bets during his morning rest break.

Pennsylvania will begin allowing sports bets in a few weeks, but for now, New Jersey is the only option for the 31-year-old Berner, who makes $5 bets on eight-team parlay cards that pay off hundreds of dollars — providing he picks all eight games correctly. Two weeks ago he won $895 on one such bet.

"It'll definitely be easier when it comes to Pennsylvania, but for now, I'm at work in New Jersey, so I can do it there," he said.

For fellow Pennsylvania resident Anthony Tonzelli, sports betting is his job. The 44-year-old professional gambler from Bensalem crosses the Ben Franklin or Burlington-Bristol bridges over the Delaware River into New Jersey five days a week to make sports bets — lots of them. He has made $380,000 worth of sports bets since August, and is down about $3,000 since then.

"This is just like going to a job for me," he said. "Driving over the bridge and paying a toll really doesn't matter when you're putting $300 on a game," said Tonzelli, who estimates he bets $5,000 a week on sports.

Sometimes he'll sit at a bar or restaurant and watch how his picks did; other times he'll continue east to Atlantic City and play poker there. And when sports betting starts in Pennsylvania, Tonzelli still envisions himself crossing into New Jersey whenever the odds on a particular game are better.

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