Dave Rebuck is the longest-serving director of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, with his term now exceeding 12 years. In this exclusive podcast, he talks about how the DGE has operated since the legalization of sports betting in 2018 and how it navigated the pandemic. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros via Zoom in July. VIEW VIDEO BELOW.
GGB: When the pandemic hit in March 2020, casinos were forced to close within 24 hours. How did New Jersey respond to this?
David Rebuck: Unfortunately, we had some experience with this before. Prior to my tenure, casinos had to close down for budget reasons, and then twice while I was here. In 2011, we had to evacuate the island for Hurricane Eileen, and we closed the casinos for one day. The second was a little more significant with Super Storm Sandy. Fortunately, Atlantic City and the casinos were not seriously impacted, but we shut down for five days because of the impact on the infrastructure in the state. So we’re very familiar with anticipating closing and following the procedures to safely and securely shut down the casinos.
When the casinos reopened in July 2020, there were major restrictions on how they could operate—no indoor dining, capacity limits, social distancing and other things. How did the DGE enforce that?
This is one of the most highly regulated industries in the state, and the industry knows it. When the governor gave them the opportunity to take a risk and reopen, they knew they had to take their responsibilities seriously and if they didn’t follow the rules strictly, that opportunity would quickly be taken away. I was very encouraged by their aggressive approach to enforcing the restrictions. We had state troopers and investigators in there every day and had very little cause to cite violations.
New Jersey was the state that led the challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), so it was obvious it would become the first state outside of Nevada to offer sports betting to its citizens when it was successful. How were you able to get up and running so quickly?
You have to remember that New Jersey passed sports betting by a referendum in 2011 and drew up regulations that would have permitted it in 2013, but the federal government slapped an injunction on us and that shut it down. But as the case wound through the courts, I thought we needed to take a deeper dive into the regulations because I was not comfortable with the original set of regs. So obviously, we relied very heavily on Nevada, but then realized we had to go overseas to see how they regulated modern sports betting. We had teams of people go to Europe and Australia to not only learn from regulators but from operators as well.
How important was it to get the online aspect of sports betting correct?
We quickly realized by visiting Europe that we’d miss a big opportunity if we used sports betting simply as an amenity to bring people into the casinos like they do in Nevada. It works fine for Nevada, but we realized that sports wagering was going in a different direction, and when we looked at the technology behind sports betting, what we had in the United States was vastly inferior to what they offered in Europe. So we changed our regs to reflect that.
How does New Jersey handle the “skins” factor of both iGaming and sports betting?
When we first heard this term in Europe, it was very confusing, but eventually realized it consists of partnerships with licensed entities. In New Jersey, we set a limit of five skins for iGaming. And only the casinos can offer skins for iGaming, not the racetracks. There still are plenty of skins available for iGaming. For sports betting, it’s different. Both casinos and racetracks can only offer three skins, and they are all maxed out.