Months In The Making: March Madness In Atlantic City Keeps Sportsbooks Busy

Posted By Bill Gelman on March 22, 2019 - Last Updated on March 27, 2019

How big of a deal is the opening day of March Madness betting in Atlantic City?

The word is that phone calls to reserve seats for first-round games started coming in several months before Super Bowl 2019.

Want to reserve a seat at the Borgata or DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts? Good luck.

For the first time, March Madness in Atlantic City is in the spotlight. What used to be a Las Vegas thing is now adding plenty of buzz and crowds to the East Coast gambling town.

Joe Cavilla, vice president of casino operations at Resorts, liked the scene he saw from just outside of Resorts sportsbook.

“We anticipate that March Madness, particularly this week, will be four days of activities similar to the Super Bowl. We have a lot of reservations and a lot of folks showing interest in the property.”

The breakfast club at DraftKings Sportsbook

Unlike the Super Bowl, fans didn’t have to wait until dinnertime for kickoff.

Actually, at DraftKings Sportsbook, bettors were ready to get a piece of the NCAA betting action long before lunchtime. By the end of the day, the place was packed with fans and expected to remain busy all weekend.

Hal Tendler, DraftKings Sportsbook manager, was watching from outside the 5,000-square-foot space in the early afternoon, but business was rolling several hours earlier.

“Actually, I am surprised how busy it is. I didn’t think it would be this busy. This is as busy as the Super Bowl.”

Tendler noted customers were waiting outside the sportsbook at 9:30 a.m. and were using the self-service kiosks just outside the sportsbook.

Weekday retail betting windows do not open until 10 a.m.

As far as the VIP and stadium seats go, they’re reserved for the weekend and they are sold out. There is bar seating and standing-room-only space that is open to the public.

Conference Center sportsbook at Borgata

Tom Gable, director of the Race & Sports Book at the Borgata, knew months ago that March Madness was not going to be just another sports betting event in NJ.

Customers started calling to reserve seats back in December.

All of the seats inside of the temporary Borgata Race & Sports Book are reserved through the first four days. The permanent sportsbook is under construction and not expected to open until summer.

So, where is everyone watching the games?

The Borgata opened an additional betting and viewing space in the upstairs Central Conference Center. The setup includes four betting windows, multiple 10-foot screens, stadium-style food, bars and plenty of additional seats. These are not reserved.

It’s all part of Brackets at Borgata, which is going on through April 8. And this is not one of those spur-of-the-moment ideas, Gable explained.

“[The early interest] enabled us here at the property to make plans and put together some alternative viewing areas and some alternative betting areas to accommodate what we figured was going to be a very busy first week.”

With gambling operations temporarily moving upstairs, the MGM-owned property needed approval from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

And, with money in play, additional surveillance equipment has been installed.

Besides the betting windows throughout the property, customers can wager using the playMGM Sportsbook app.

The New Jersey rule is no biggie — really

For the first day of the NCAA Tournament, at least, one of those NJ sports betting rules came into play. There were 16 games on the schedule, but two were off the board.

  • No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson  
  • No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

Betting on New Jersey colleges is off limits, no exceptions, as per state law.

While some fans may have inquired about the games, executives, such as Gable, did not see it being that big a deal.

“There were some people who asked and were unaware of the law in New Jersey. But there is so much action today that it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.”

Besides, neither game was really close. Gonzaga defeated Fairleigh Dickinson easily, 87-49. Wofford took care of Seton Hall, 84-68.

Gable said three other games were receiving significant opening day betting action.

  • Yale vs. LSU
  • Auburn vs. New Mexico State 
  • Purdue vs. Old Dominion

The scenario still leaves 60 teams in the NJ sports betting mix. To Tendler, those two games are not a concern.

“We have 32 games between [Thursday and Friday], so you still have 30 games to bet on. The games start at 12 o’clock and go to midnight, so they’ve got plenty of action.”

Could retail NJ sports betting see growth?

It’s clear, at least in the early months of NJ sports betting, that NJ sports betting apps are where the bulk of the action is coming.

February figures from the DGE show that $258,871,597 of the $320,368,087 monthly handle came in via online betting. Keep in mind, this includes the Super Bowl and Oscars betting.

But now NJ retail sportsbooks have an event that spans over four weekends. And many consider it the biggest sports betting event of the year.

So, the real question is: What kind of impact will this have on the March numbers when they come out in mid-April? Will retail pick up some steam against its more robust mobile counterpart?

Cavilla said Resorts has definitely seen retail business pick up. Putting the DraftKings Sportsbook on full display over these next few weeks could net positive returns.

“The majority of the activity is still online. Once you come in and experience watching sports on this grand scale, we feel we will be able to bring more folks in.”

Of course, betting from the mobile app is permitted at any of the 10 NJ retail sportsbooks.

Suffice it to say, the March Madness betting party in New Jersey is just getting started. And there is still plenty of time to experience the NCAA Tournament like never before.

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Bill Gelman

Bill Gelman is a veteran sports writer based just outside of Philadelphia and not too far from the Jersey Shore. Bill spends time in Atlantic City writing about casino openings and expansions, special events and now NJ sports betting and online gambling.

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