Dave Rebuck has been the director of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement since 2011. Appointed by then-Governor Chris Christie to streamline the state’s cumbersome regulatory structure, Rebuck responded by working closely with industry executives to remove unnecessary regulations. He oversaw the introduction of legal online gaming in 2013, the closing of five Atlantic City casinos in 2014 and most recently the opening of two replacement casinos and the legalization of sports betting. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at his offices in Atlantic City in July.
GGB: It’s a credit to you that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has kept you on since he took office in January. What is your relationship with his administration?
Rebuck: Governor Murphy hit the ground running and is very much involved with casino gaming and sports betting in particular. Attorney General (Gurbir) Grewal, my immediate boss, has been a great asset for us in helping us to perform the duties required of us. It’s been quite a hectic six months since the governor took over, and so far we have a great relationship with him, his staff and the attorney general.
How hectic has it been in the last six months?
We knew Hard Rock was on target to open this summer, so if it had just been that, we would have had no problem completing that investigation. And with the resolution of the sports betting case before the Supreme Court, we knew something was going to happen. But the total victory meant we had to get up and running quickly. And finally in January, just hours before the deadline, Revel was bought by Bruce Deifik and his team, so we had to add that to your list.
June was especially busy with sports books openings at Monmouth racetrack and Borgata, and later at Ocean Resort. And with the two new casinos opening on June 28, the pressure was on.
How worried are you that the increasing supply of gaming in Atlantic City will force other casinos to close?
Before the Taj closed in 2015, we had an eight-casino market that was fairly stable. So with the opening of two new casinos we go to a nine-casino market, and the question is whether we can sustain that. And I don’t know. But I will say this: I really don’t care. I hope it does. But I will say this to anyone who comes into this market. If you cannot compete in this market, you have no business running a casino. We have a very low tax rate, second only to Nevada. We have the best regulations in the country when it comes to overseeing and working with the industry—these are not oppressive and onerous and costly like many other jurisdictions.
There are now more diverse gaming products available here than in any state in the country—sports betting, full-blown iGaming, any product you can think of in traditional gaming—it’s here. And in non-gaming amenities, we’re second only to Nevada. We’ll never catch Las Vegas, but we’re a strong second.
Sports betting in New Jersey got off to a good start with two racetracks and two casinos running sports books as we speak. Any idea why the other casinos haven’t jumped on board yet?
The casinos are being very deliberate and conservative in their rollout. They’re taking their time to build the perfect offering, and most of them have opportunities in other states, as well, and have to take a multi-state approach, as opposed to the racetracks, which will not.
We’ve had a number of heart-to-heart discussions with casino operators and told them I need them to be more aggressive. I think they’ve gotten my message and are picking up the pace now.
I think we’re on the right track. And I’m very optimistic now that New Jersey will be a leader in this area. By the time we hit the end of the fourth quarter of 2019, I want New Jersey to be in a position to be the leader in the country. That’s a tall order because Nevada is on top now, but I think we have a shot.
Do you think the market is that big?
Let’s consider where we are now. We’re only doing ticket business using business practices like it’s been done in Nevada since the 1970s. We have the potential for 14 licenses, with three skins each. So we’re not very robust. In fact, we’re rudimentary.
But we’re off to a stunning start. Once we get all the licenses up and running, mobile apps working at full speed, you’re going to see a huge increase in play once we get (further) into the 21st century.
What about the growth in iGaming? Are there too many sites now?
It continues. For months, we’ve been posting double-digit increases and it was the same in June. I don’t know how long this is going to continue—there has to be a ceiling somewhere—but for now we’re enjoying it. And remember, right now, it’s just New Jersey. So when other states come on, we’re going to continue to grow.
And no, there are not too many sites. And competition is good. If you can’t compete, you fall by the wayside. We encourage innovation and experimentation, so come to New Jersey and give it your best shot.