Rising majestically over the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge is a remarkable feat of engineering for some. For others, it is a snarling and trafficking headache.
For a few wary New York gamblers, the Mighty Span is the area’s most convenient casino and sportsbook.
You can spot them, especially on fall Sundays, sitting next to their bikes, scooters, and Vespas on the New Jersey Bridge side, 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 in the 1pm games,” said Colman Cooper, who cycled across the bridge from his home in Upper Manhattan to place his bets last Sunday. “If I win, I could come back for the 4 pm games. “
New York legalized online sports betting in April, but until the state negotiates a deal with an operator – which is expected to take months – punters can’t bet on sporting events on their phones. within state borders. They could get to a handful of physical sports books upstate, but the closest to Manhattan is a few 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 only 18 blocks from the bridge entrance, and like other savvy residents of Manhattan and the Bronx, he jumps on his bike – avoiding the toll of up to $ 16 for cars – and crosses the imaginary border between the two states. Once a person’s phone confirms they’re 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, ran across the bridge last week around 12:30 p.m., half an hour before several NFL games kicked off. He pulled out his phone, bet on the Green Bay Packers, then after a brief conversation with a reporter, ran the mile and a half back home to watch the game.
“It’s a good training,” he said on a beautiful fall day. “But what do I do when it snows?” “
The bridge, and a few other places in New Jersey, have served as makeshift sports books since the state introduced online sports betting in 2018. But it has spread during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, when the bridge was often more crowded with punters than it has been in recent times. That’s because the real casino and sportsbook in East Rutherford, NJ, which serves food and shows games on multiple TV screens, has been closed.
When the sport returned last year, many New York punters jumped on the PATH train to Hoboken to play online, while others turned to the bridge. Cooper said he sometimes sees 15 to 20 players over time at one point.
Most of his bets are low, he said. He likes $ 2 bets with big potential payouts. On a recent Saturday, he rode his bike, paid $ 16 for an eight-team college football game ($ 2 on each team, and seven of them needed to cover the points spread for him to win. ). He won every game and took in $ 245. But other times, a late fumble or a basics-laden march meant a loss.
He said he sometimes cycled across the bridge to a nearby McDonalds and played Blackjack on his phone rather than going to the Empire Casino in Yonkers, which he used to visit more often. .
“It’s kinda silly that I have to go up on a bridge to bet on football – I’m not allowed to do that there,” he said with a smile, pointing to Manhattan. “But it’s okay if I’m on a 20-minute bike ride. “
Silly is a description. But for Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., chairman of the New York State Senate Committee on Racing, Betting, and Gambling, “infuriating” is another apt word for it. Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens, said New York State was losing millions in revenue to New Jersey, which is why he supported the bill to legalize online sports betting that was enacted. in April. He wants players like Cooper to be able to bet from their sofas in Manhattan and New York to reap the rewards.
“It gives me restlessness,” Addabbo said. “It’s our money that goes to this bridge. The money that should go to the New York education system goes to New Jersey. It burns me. “
But he hopes that by the Super Bowl in February, New York will finally have its own online gaming system up and running. The New York State Gaming Commission is sifting through offers from various companies, including DraftKings and FanDuel, in search of the biggest slice of the state pie.
“Oh, that will be the biggest,” he said. “It’s New York. Come on, we have to have the bigger one.
New Jersey collects 13% of online sports betting, which amounted to $ 52 million in August alone, according to the state attorney general’s report. This was before the start of the NFL regular season.
Addabbo noted that the legislation that legalized online sports gambling in New York City includes built-in safeguards and controls to protect problem gamblers and will ensure funding – it expects at least $ 5 million – for the programs. gambling addiction.
John Holden, an assistant professor of law at Oklahoma State University who studies efforts to legalize gambling in states across the country, said those safeguards should include red flags that are raised based on a betting model. customer and could even lead to the cut-off of the bettor. .
But he said most states that currently allow gambling are doing only the minimum when it comes to protecting and treating gambling addiction.
“At some point we’re going to look back and see it was a huge mistake,” he said. “We want to do it in a regulated way, where we can control the operators and ask them to know their customers.”
According to Nick Thompson, a 36-year-old college professor from the Bronx who rides his electric scooter to make bets, the bridge itself can provide some protection.
“It’s kind of like a barrier,” he said. “Maybe he keeps me from reaching that phone all the time at home.”
He added that on the bridge he could usually distinguish players from tourists and others for a bike ride or scenic ride. But he said the players rarely converse with each other.
“You could nod your head or something,” he said, “but we’re sticking to 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 athletic operations at DraftKings, said Missourians crossed the Mississippi River to Illinois to make bets, Kentucky people went down to Tennessee, and North Carolinians sometimes traveled to Illinois. Virginia.
A DraftKings study estimated that 30% of New Hampshire punters last year had addresses in Massachusetts.
“I’m glad they’re leaving,” Avello said. “The alternative is to bet illegally with a bookmaker or offshore. And all the states see what’s going on. This is why many of them want to have it in their own states. “
Last Sunday, on the bridge side in New Jersey, Joel Ureña, an independent Pioneer League minor league baseball pitcher, drove his electric scooter from Washington Heights to bet for a friend, he said. He brought a lunch of chicken and beans and leaned against a rock, scanning his phone.
“I can go and buy a lottery ticket around the corner,” he said. “But if I want to bet on football, I have to come here. At least it’s a beautiful day for that.