March Madness: The Calm Before The Storm At Atlantic City Sportsbooks
Less than 24 hours before the 12:15 pm ET tip-off of the 2019 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, the Atlantic Ocean sits calmly, but a storm is brewing on the other side of the Atlantic City boardwalk.
It’s not just any NCAA Tournament for Atlantic City casinos and guests. It’s the first NCAA Tournament in the city since the Supreme Court overturned the ban on sports wagering outside Nevada, the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act, commonly referred to as PASPA, about 10 months earlier in May 2018.
The high court’s ruling struck the federal ban on full-fledge sports betting, allowing states to legalize sports betting on their own. New Jersey, the state that led the charge against tall odds and creatively brought a key states’ rights case before the Supreme Court, saw its first legal sportsbook open up one month later, up the coast at Monmouth Park. By the end of the year, 10 brick-and-mortar and 11 online sportsbooks took a combined $1.25 billion in wagers.
For those trying to get their hands on March Madness action, the Garden State now has 13 sports betting apps to choose from. Bettors looking for a lounge, camaraderie, scores of big screens, drink specials, perhaps cash bets and paper tickets, have seven locations where to place their wagers, including a temporary sportsbook space at Borgata that’s slated for a major overhaul by Summer.
While sportsbooks on the boardwalk were relatively empty Wednesday afternoon, they are expecting a wild weekend.
“It’s been pretty dead up until the conference tournaments last week. I’ve definitely seen more people at the ticket windows today, and the next few days will be pretty crazy,” a DraftKings Sportsbook bartender said.
Representatives from DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts Casino and William Hill at Ocean’s Resort both said their sportsbook seating was booked through the weekend. Patrons looking to soak in the frenetic opening round of games there will have to find open seating at the sportsbooks’ bars, or perhaps standing room.
To put into perspective how popular March Madness betting is, Tuesday’s play-in game between 16 seeds Prairie View A&M and Fairleigh Dickinson had as big of a betting handle as the most popular NBA game of the night at Caesar’s Palace, per ESPN’s David Purdum.
Several early arrivals were trying to figure out which first round upsets they could count on to build their bankrolls with, as a group of friends argued at Bally’s Sportsbook over who was a better pick between Belmont and Liberty. If New Jersey sportsbooks have their way, the popular weekend will help make up for a (financially) disappointing first Super Bowl.
As Sports Handle previously reported, New Jersey sportsbooks took a $4.5 million loss and a negative hold of roughly 13 percent on $34.9 million wagered after New England won its sixth Super Bowl in February.
Some of that loss was due to customer sign-up promotions, which could end up being money well spent if all goes as planned between now and the Final Four.
The seagulls on the boardwalk may not feel the storm coming in, but New Jersey sportsbooks surely will. The Madness and the mad rush to sportsbook lounge seating is officially on.