OCEANPORT, N.J. — New Jersey's governor bet that the New Jersey Devils will win the Stanley Cup, while basketball legend Julius Erving bet that Philadelphia's football team will repeat as champions, placing the wagers Thursday, the day betting on professional sports became legal in the state.
The action took place at Monmouth Park, a racetrack in Oceanport near the Jersey shore, and at the Borgata, Atlantic City's first casino to jump into the sports betting market since New Jersey won a Supreme Court case a month ago clearing the way for all 50 states to offer it should they choose.
At the track, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy placed $20 bets on Germany to win the World Cup soccer tournament, and his state's Devils to win hockey's Stanley Cup next season.
Thirty minutes later and 70 miles to the south, Erving, better known to Philadelphia 76ers fans as "Dr. J.," put $5 on the Philadelphia Eagles to repeat as NFL champions. He made his bet at the Borgata at the same time New Jersey's Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney put $200 on his beloved Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl at 10-1 odds.
New Jersey fought for eight years against a federal law that had limited sports betting to four states — Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
"We knew in our heads we were right, and we knew in our hearts we would win," Murphy said. "We've got a lot of good times ahead."
Al Pniewski, of Hazlet, New Jersey, took the day off from his warehouse job at a food service company to bet $100 on the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the next Super Bowl, at 12-1 odds.
"My wife thinks I'm nuts for doing this," he said. "This has been a long time coming. On college football Saturdays, me and my brother-in-law are gonna be here every weekend."
Greg Visone, of Millburn, New Jersey, bet on Russia to prevail in its opening World Cup match against Saudi Arabia.
Both Pniewski and Visone had previously placed bets with neighborhood bookies, as well as offshore internet sites. Both had gotten burned at least once dealing with the shady side of sports betting.
Pniewski lost his money with a website when he tried to cash out, and Visone got lured in by fake odds of 40-1 on a soccer game that turned out to be 4-1 after he had wired his money to make the bet.
Those sorts of experiences are among the things legal sports betting aims to prevent. New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement issued its sports betting regulations on Wednesday, and the activity is subject to numerous consumer protections.
The line of would-be sports gamblers at the Borgata stretched out the door, down a staircase and into the parking lot before betting began at 11 a.m.
"I couldn't be happier," said Borgata President Marcus Glover.
Murphy made two more bets at the Borgata: $20 on the New York Mets to win Thursday night and $20 on New Jersey NASCAR driver Martin Truex to win the Daytona 500.
Jim Wood, a 63-year-old business owner from Margate, New Jersey, went to the casino's sports book in a suit and tie to bet $20 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make it to the Super Bowl.
"I'm a huge Bucs fan," he said. "I went to the very first Buccaneers game in 1976. It's a great opportunity to have sports betting in New Jersey."
Mike Sochasai of Toms River, New Jersey, was planning a four-team baseball parlay bet that seemed to depend on the New York Mets losing.
"When I would go to Vegas, this is always what we wanted to do here, but couldn't," he said.
Dennis Drazin, who runs Monmouth Park, said the track has spent $5 million in the run-up to sports betting on physical renovations and legal fees, adding he was "euphoric" to see the first bets actually placed.
Online sports betting will not start for at least 30 days in New Jersey. Until then, it is limited to casinos and horse tracks.