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Sports bettors wagered more in New Jersey than Nevada in May

New Jersey needed only one year to top Nevada in sports betting.

In May, New Jersey took more money in sports wagers than Nevada for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 2018 landmark ruling cleared the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting.

New Jersey took $318.9 million in wagers for the month compared with $317.4 million in Nevada. But at least one analyst said New Jersey shouldn’t get too comfortable with that top spot — it won’t be long before other states surpass it, and Las Vegas sportsbook operators said they aren’t planning on sending out a mayday anytime soon.

A number of factors contributed to New Jersey’s slim edge over Nevada, most notably population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Jersey has a population of 8.9 million, compared with Nevada’s 3 million people.

“And it’s important to note that people don’t come to Las Vegas in May, typically, to bet on sports the way they do in September (through March),” Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said.

It would be more meaningful, he said, if New Jersey passes Nevada during a month heavy on sports betting, like February or March.

Jay Kornegay, Westgate sportsbook vice president, agreed, saying one of the reasons Nevada slipped behind New Jersey include comparatively fewer NBA basketball playoff games this year.

New Jersey also likely benefited from thousands of New Yorkers who drive across the border to bet and then drive straight home, Murray said.

Raymond Lesniak, a former New Jersey state senator, said the Northeast is a “hotbed” of sports betting.

“We are going to leave Nevada in the dust and never look back,” he said.

But it may be New Jersey eventually left in the dust, said Chris Grove, managing director of sports and emerging verticals for research company Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

“In a year or two, there will be a headline about, probably Illinois taking the title from New Jersey,” Grove said. “And then a year after that, there probably will be a headline on another state taking the title from Illinois and we’ll just cycle through that basically until the California market comes into being, which will easily be the largest of all of them.”

California is the nation’s most populous state with 39.7 million people.

“The big question for Nevada is if California ever legalizes (sports betting). That’s the litmus test,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “Until that happens, I don’t think Nevada will be hurting whatsoever. That’s the only thing that could slow us down.”

Two California lawmakers recently introduced an amendment to legalize sports betting in the state and they hope to have the bill on the ballot by November 2020.

Even if that measure were to pass, Grove said Las Vegas will still be popular for bettors because of the other amenities it offers as the “cultural heart of sports betting in the U.S.”

Kornegay said Nevada will continue to be the nation’s go-to destination for sports betting, with gamblers flocking to Las Vegas for big events like the Super Bowl or the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Despite the spread of legal sports betting, Nevada has continued to increase its sports wagering handle over the past year. It set a record handle for May and topped $5 billion in sports betting for the first time in 2018. By contrast, New Jersey has topped $3 billion in its first year of legal sports wagering.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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