New York gamblers cross New Jersey to place NFL bets online


The George Washington Bridge towers majestically over the Hudson River and is, for some, a remarkable feat of engineering. For others, it’s a growling, inverted headache.

For a few curious New York gamblers, the Mighty Spread is the most convenient sports betting and casino in the area.

You can see them, especially on Fall Sundays, sitting next to their bikes, scooters, and Vespas on the New Jersey side of the bridge, staring at their phones as they process the numbers on their screens.

The Packers minus 6½ points. The over / under in the Giants game. The Patriots win outright.

“Let’s see how I do at the 1pm games,” said Colman Cooper, who cycled across the bridge from his Upper Manhattan home last Sunday to place his bets. “If I win, I might go back for the 4 o’clock games.”

New York legalized online sports gambling in April, but until the state negotiates a deal with an operator – which will likely take months – bettors cannot bet on sports events on their phones within state lines. You could go to a handful of stationary sports betting upstate, but the closest to Manhattan is hours away.

The entrance to the George Washington Bridge, on the other hand, is close to thousands of people who live in Upper Manhattan and even the Bronx. Cooper’s house is just 18 blocks from the bridge entrance, and like other savvy Manhattan and Bronx residents, he hops on his bike – avoiding the toll of up to $ 16 on cars – and crosses the imaginary border between the two states . Once a person’s phone confirms they are officially at Fort Lee, they can legally bet on apps like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Jack Cherry, a graduate student who also lives in Washington Heights, jogged across the bridge at around 12:30 p.m. last week, half an hour before kick-off for several NFL games. He pulled out his cell phone, put on the Green Bay Packers, and after a brief chat with a reporter, jogged the mile back home to watch the game.

“It’s a good workout,” he said on a beautiful autumn day. “But what do I do when it snows?”

The bridge and a few other locations in New Jersey have served as makeshift sportsbooks since the introduction of online sports betting in 2018. But it was expanded during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when the bridge was often more crowded with bettors than it has been recently. That was because the real casino and sportsbook in East Rutherford, NJ, serving food and showing games on multiple TV screens, was closed.

When the sport returned last year, many New York bettors hopped on the PATH train to Hoboken to play online while others turned to the bridge. Cooper said he sometimes saw 15 to 20 players on the span at a time.

Most of his bets are modest, he said. He likes $ 2 bets with potential big payouts. He cycled over on a recent Saturday and paid $ 16 for an eight-team game of college football ($ 2 for each team plus seven of those needed to cover the point distribution so he could win ). He won every game and raised $ 245. But at other times, a late fumble or a walk laden with bases meant a loss.

He said he occasionally drove across the bridge to a nearby McDonalds and played blackjack on his cell phone instead of traveling to the Empire Casino in Yonkers, which he frequented.

“It’s kind of silly that I have to step on a bridge to bet on football – I’m not allowed to do it over there,” he said with a smile and gestured back toward Manhattan. “But it’s okay if I do a 20-minute bike ride.”

Stupid is a description. But for Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., chairman of the New York State Senate Committee on Racing, Betting, and Gambling, “exciting” is another apt word for it. Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens, said New York state is losing millions in revenue to New Jersey, which is why he backed the law to legalize online sports betting, which was signed in April. He wants players like Cooper to be able to bet from their Manhattan couches and New York to reap the benefits.

“It gives me excitement,” said Addabbo. “This is our money that flows over this bridge. Money that should go to the New York education system goes to New Jersey. It burns me. “

But he hopes New York will finally have its own online gaming system up and running by the Super Bowl in February. The New York State Gaming Commission sifts through offers from various companies, including DraftKings and FanDuel, in search of the biggest piece of the pie for the state.

“Oh, it’ll be the biggest,” he said. “This is New York. Come on, we have to have the biggest. “

New Jersey collects 13 percent of online sports betting, which was $ 52 million in August alone, according to the attorney general’s report. That was before the NFL regular season began.

Addabbo pointed out that legislation that legalizes online sports gambling in New York has built-in safeguards and controls to protect problem gamblers, and that funding – he expects at least $ 5 million – guarantees gambling addiction programs.

John Holden, an assistant professor of law at Oklahoma State University who studies efforts to legalize gambling in states across the country, said these safeguards should include red flags that could be raised and even lead to based on a customer’s betting pattern that the weather is cut off.

But he said most states that currently allow gambling are doing the bare minimum when it comes to protecting and treating gambling addiction.

“At some point we will look back and find that it was a big mistake,” he said. “We want to do this in a regulated way, where we can screen the operators and ask them to know their customers.”

According to Nick Thompson, a 36-year-old middle school teacher from the Bronx who drives over on his electric scooter to place bets, the bridge itself can offer some protection.

“It’s kind of a barrier,” he said. “Maybe that prevents me from picking up the phone all the time at home.”

He added that on the bridge he can usually distinguish the players from the tourists and others who are going on a bike ride or a scenic walk. But he said the players rarely talk to each other.

“You could nod or something,” he said, “but we’ll stick with our business.”

The New York-New Jersey line isn’t the only place where cross-border gambling takes place. Johnny Avello, director of racing and sports operations at DraftKings, said Missourians cross the Mississippi River to Illinois to place bets, people in Kentucky migrate to Tennessee, and the North Carolinians sometimes go to Virginia.

A DraftKings study estimated that 30 percent of bettors in New Hampshire had addresses in Massachusetts last year.

“I’m glad you came over,” said Avello. “The alternative is to bet illegally with a bookmaker or offshore. And all states see it happen. That’s why many of them want it in their own federal states. “

On the New Jersey side of the bridge, Joel Ureña, a lower division baseball pitcher in the Independent Pioneer League, rode his Washington Heights electric scooter to place a bet for a friend last Sunday, he said. He brought a chicken and bean lunch, leaned against a rock, and scanned his cell phone.

“I can buy a lottery ticket around the corner,” he said. “But if I want to bet on football I have to come all the way here. At least it’s a nice day for it. “

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