Editor’s Note: Names of the bettors have been changed at their request.
Playing like a girl is no longer a moment, it’s a way of life. It’s not limited to just athletes. You don’t need to possess the agility of Megan Rapinoe or the swing of Serena Williams to get in on the action. With the legalization of sports betting in 10 states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, playing like a girl is spreading to the sportsbooks.
Resorts Casino is ready for those who want to bet like a girl. They are the first casino in Atlantic City to host a “Ladies Night at the Sportsbook.” Every Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. at the DraftKings Sportsbook, Resorts offers a “Sports Betting 101 lesson” alongside drink and sushi specials.
To predict the future of women and sports betting someone would have to possess a mix of the clairvoyance of a Boardwalk fortune teller, the handicapping skills of Billy Walters, and an ability to tap into a woman’s psyche.
You would have better luck hitting the Powerball than finding that person.
So, I decided to experience Ladies Night at the Sportsbook myself. Much like women’s interest in sports betting, and even the legalization of New Jersey sports betting itself, it is still very much in its infancy.
A love of sports and sports betting
It wasn’t the only reason.
I’m obsessed with Philadelphia sports teams to the point that my favorite game to play on road trips is the “alphabet game.” A…Richie Ashburn. B…Bill Bergey… C…Bobby Clarke.
I played sports in the late ’80s and ’90s, just as “tomboy” began to finally fade from the lexicon. It was replaced by “athletic and strong,” then branded into the positive “play like a girl.”
For a woman to have a deep knowledge of sports, let alone a desire to place bets, is met with a bit of skepticism. Last year, during a trip to the William Hill Sportsbook at Ocean Casino Resort for some Week Two NFL action, my husband high-fived the group next to him to celebrate a win.
“He’s going to treat you to a nice dinner tonight,” one of them said.
I replied: “Actually, that was my bet. I picked them to cover.”
The man stood, a bit stupefied. Then, as if he was enlightened by a spirit said, “You know, I take my wife to the sportsbook, too. Sometimes she guesses right.”
I didn’t tell him I studied the games all week or who I liked for the 4 o’clock matchups. I didn’t need to verify my fandom or sports knowledge to him. I had a ticket to cash.
Ladies Night presented an opportunity where I didn’t have to recite the source of my sports knowledge for admittance. And watching games with a group — whether bonded by fandom or common interests — always beats a night of binge-watching Netflix.
The scene at the Resorts sportsbook
At 7:30 on a hot July Friday night, about a dozen women take a seat on the L-shaped black sofa. They range in age from 20 to 60. A pair of women are chatting about their upcoming fantasy football draft.
“I really want to pick Beckham.”
“Doesn’t he play soccer?”
“He’s a wide receiver. Beckham was traded by the Giants this offseason to the Cleveland Browns.”
“A Beckham plays soccer, too.”
The ladies eye the big screen offerings of the evening. Baseball. Wimbledon.
“I wish it was football season.”
She speaks for the masses as many of the women nod their heads in agreement.
Each woman has an interest in sports betting. They are not alone. Let’s be clear on one thing; it isn’t even close to the number of men, nor will it ever be. But women are interested in sports betting.
“We know women like sports and sports betting, especially the younger demographic,” said Heather Menzano, director of advertising & PR for Resorts.
“Sometimes the sportsbook can be a little intimidating so we thought about just offering something specifically for women.”
The lesson on sports betting
Michael Cranston, a supervisor at DraftKings Sportsbook, hands out a guide to betting that includes descriptions of types of bets, NFL regular season win totals, and championship odds. He gives a 20-minute crash course that hits all the main points.
He does it in a way without sounding like a know-it-all. By doing so, he’s eliminating the two biggest barriers keeping many women from sports betting – intimidation and uncertainty.
Cranston stops every few minutes to take questions. He says the majority of the questions he receives from all patrons of the sportsbook pertains to the plus/minus and how much money you have to wager.
But Ladies Night isn’t women’s first foray into the DraftKings Sportsbook.
“We also had a lot of people throughout the Women’s World Cup. It was nice to see so many women in the sportsbook, which is obviously something we are trying to do,” said Cranston.
‘There is a lot to grasp’
Tonight is Stacy from Millville’s first time at a sportsbook. She’s a Philadelphia 76ers fan who wants to place a bet on them to win the NBA East this season. She has a firm grasp of the point spread and now understands futures bets, but admits the array of sports on the 1,000 square feet of high definition televisions can be a bit dizzying and intimidating.
“There is a lot to grasp. Everything’s going on at once so it’s a little intimidating. I want to get the feel of it and start to get comfortable. I always wanted to know what it was about. So I’m happy they had this.”
Cranston offers to help if anyone wants to use the self-serve kiosks. He says the DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts has been well-received since its November 2018 opening.
“The first weekend of March Madness with games from noon until 1 a.m. was nonstop. It was the biggest event to date followed by the Super Bowl.”
“Resorts knew what they were doing having him teach this class. He’s fine,” said Tara from Hammonton, a rookie in the sports betting world but a regular at the casino. “The lesson was interesting. I’m a little confused. I would have to sit down and study, then place a bet.”
“I can look at him all day. He explained things very well, and I can look at him all day. There is something about a bald man. He looks very scholarly,” said Stacy of Cranston.
The chatter and the betting
“The great question that has never been answered… is ‘what does a woman want?” So pondered Sigmund Freud.
This group of women doesn’t want to bet on baseball. They think the sport is boring and the betting lines are confusing. But most are planning to bet on the NFL this season. And they are already planning on who will be their top pick in their fantasy draft and how they can get more depth at wide receiver.
Aside from sports, the discussions veered toward men and sex.
“He wanted to come with me this weekend. I told him I need to get away from your needy ass. Look at these texts,” said Cara from Cherry Hill. She won’t ask her husband about sports betting because he “has no patience and doesn’t need to know my business anyway.”
The men and the women
A group of about eight men in their late 20s is camped at the next sofa. They’re enjoying a bucket of beers and appetizers, breaking into laughter or cheers every few minutes.
They were set up before Ladies Night started. They decided to stay because of it.
“I think it’s great to have everyone come in and hang out,” said Andrew from New York. “Sometimes it’s just the same types of people at sportsbooks. It’s nice to have new people in here. Especially women.”
He admitted he doesn’t understand much about baseball betting lines either. When he has questions about sports betting, he’s “not embarrassed” to ask either his friends, the tellers, or whoever is sitting near him at the sportsbook for insight. They are always helpful. Andrew pays the welcoming vibe forward and is happy about a new demographic frequenting the sportsbook.
“Are you kidding me? One hundred percent,” said Andrew when asked if other sportsbooks should have a ladies night.
Andrew’s friend, Poe, normally brings his girlfriend to the sportsbook. But not tonight. It’s just the guys in Atlantic City. No one in the group wanted to go to a club with loud music. When Poe saw a group of women sitting next to them, he was immediately intrigued.
“I want to know what insights they have about games,” said Poe about the Resorts’ Ladies Night. “I want to ask them.”
“Women bring a different view of the game. Women bet with their heads more than we do. We bet with our hearts.”
Conversations and camaraderie
Tara from Hammonton glances over at the group of guys. They are about the age of the younger man she is dating.
“Mmm,” she purrs quietly. She smiles at her phone when a text pops up from her boyfriend. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been with someone younger than me. He is so strong, I can’t believe how he has me sometimes. This man lifts me. I’m blessed.”
Then I chime in and share the intimate details of my relationship with a bald ex. There is something about being with a group of women who share an interest in sports and sex. It’s the type of camaraderie that brick-and-mortar sportsbooks have that NJ sports betting apps don’t.
The super-screens and the sofas are nice, but the best part of the experience is a communal aspect of watching sports… and all the other side conversations. So while online betting makes up more than 80% of NJ sports betting handle, it’s the land-based sportsbooks that make it an experience all its own.
“I think there is always going to be a place for a brick-and-mortar sportsbook even with the numbers skewed online. People like to bet next to their buddy,” said Cranston. “The atmosphere of the sportsbook is what makes it fun. A lot of people come in here and don’t bet at the counter or kiosk. But they are bringing their laptops or iPads.”
“It’s very social, too,” added Menzano. “It’s about bringing out the ladies and introducing them to something new that they might not have considered before.
My prediction for the future of women and sports betting
There are three main reasons that women and sports betting are going to have a future together.
According to a study by Ohio University, women are the fastest-growing market for the NFL. Half of all women in the United States are football fans. Between 2009-2013, NFL female viewership rose by 26%, more than double the 10% increase among US men.
Fourteen percent of TV-sports watching millennial women (ages 24-35) make weekly bets. This survey was conducted in August 2018, only one month after sports betting was legalized in New Jersey.
Seventeen million women play fantasy football, a 14% increase over three years.
Sitting on the comfortable couch bathed in cool air conditioning, surrounded by women in jeans and sensible heels, the sportsbook is the most relaxed night out I’ve had in a long time. I’m not Spanx’d to the point of suffocation at a club. Or sardined in a bar with better odds of the Philadelphia Flyers winning the Stanley Cup this year than finding a seat.
The sushi (half price, by the way) from Mukashi was delicious. The drink program for Ladies Night could use a Jon Taffer-type Bar Rescue. The frose was too sweet and none of the drinks were Instagram worthy.
Menzano touts the sportsbook as a great place for a bachelorette party, birthday parties, and draft parties. A “girls night out” experience now spans everything from hot yoga, make-your-own-perfume, paint/pottery/anything while drinking wine, axe throwing, and pyramid scheme (aka buy these leggings, tea, makeup) parties.
A night at the sportsbook is better than all of those options. There is comfortable seating, lots of action, the ability to carry on a conversation without screaming, a chance to win money, and if you’re looking, lots of men.
A great place to meet men
There is another question that goes with Freud’s all-timer. “Where can I meet men?” which is then usually followed by one of the most googled questions of all time, “Does he like me?”
With dating app fatigue settling in, women are searching for ways to meet men in real life.
Jill, a friend whose done it all from the bar scene to Bumble, is now in a long-term relationship with someone she met through friends… at a game night. When I told her I was going to Ladies Night at the Sportsbook in AC, she asked me to put $10 on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl, then gave me another $10 to buy her saltwater taffy.
“The basis of most of eighty percent of our conversations when we were single was ‘where are the men at’ and ‘how do I meet them,’” said Jill. “You’re finally getting the answer when I have a boyfriend and you’re married. That’s a bitch. But you know… paying it forward is always a good bet.”