For the first time in Atlantic City’s 42-year gambling history, every casino in town has a sportsbook to host March Madness.

And, after missing out on last year’s tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nine casino sportsbooks were ready for the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Through the first two rounds of action, the tourney delivered for Atlantic City’s casinos and sportsbooks.

March Madness tipoff packs AC

Steve Callender, regional president of Caesars Entertainment Inc.’s three Atlantic City casinos and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said operators “were encouraged,” by the first four days of tournament play.

“We made revenue from it because people were buying seats. Our food and beverage numbers were huge. We were sold out at all of our books,” Callender said. “We were very happy with (the) volume of both people and non-sports revenue.”

Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, said the property’s “bars, lounges, and casino were full all weekend.”

“We had an extremely busy weekend and the property was filled with a lot of NCAA Tournament fans who were ready to get out,” Lupo said. “Between the weather, COVID, and the tournament coming back after a year off, there was a lot of excitement (and) a lot of buzz.”

Breaking news: people like betting on sports

The pent-up demand for tournament action is only heightened by the Tri-State area’s love of sports. With “local” teams, such as Villanova, Rutgers,  and Syracuse, in the tournament, the weekend’s big turnout was no surprise.

“Sports are big, especially in this area,” Callender said. “People love their sports and they love betting on it. It feels real good and brings back some normalcy.”

‘Nice to be back,’ for March Madness

The casino sportsbooks were, in fact, packed all weekend.
Even with a state-imposed 50% indoor capacity limit and pandemic restrictions, Atlantic City sportsbooks were energized.

“The constant refrain you heard from people was, ‘It’s so nice to be back,’ because they really missed it last year and they missed having that traditional March Madness experience,” said Thomas Gable, director of race and sports betting at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “It was certainly a good weekend for us.”

Gable said the BetMGM Sportsbook at Borgata wrote more tickets Friday than it did over the first two days of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve already eclipsed what we did through the Elite Eight in 2019,” he said Monday morning.

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New kids on the (Boardwalk) block

The FanDuel Sportsbook at Bally’s Atlantic City is the ninth, and final, retail shop in town. The book opened last week, debuting just in time for the Big Dance.

Andrew Kleiman, senior director of operations for FanDuel, said opening the doors for March Madness was always the goal.

“It was perfect to be opening on March Madness, just because we wanted to get as many people as possible to see what we were able to do (in Atlantic City) in creating that immersive environment,” Kleiman said. “It was a great weekend.”

‘Electric atmosphere,’ in Atlantic City

The FanDuel and Bally’s AC teams benefitted by seeing what worked at other books in town and listening to customers, Kleiman said. The result is a prime location, an inviting environment, and an overall experience that the New Jersey sportsbook market leader is proud of, he said.

“You’re still part of the casino, but you feel like you’re in the sports bar where you can just sit and watch the games all day like you’re in your living room. And that’s what we are trying to achieve. I think that was recognized by all the customers,” Kleiman said. “There was an electric atmosphere in (Atlantic City) this weekend … we’re so excited to be there.”

AP Photo/Wayne Parry

 

 

 

 

About

David Danzis is an award-winning journalist who has covered business, politics, government, education, and sports in New Jersey. Most recently, he wrote about Atlantic City casinos, online gaming, and sports betting for The Press of Atlantic City. David is a graduate of Rutgers University.