With Atlantic City casinos currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, welcoming the NBA would do wonders for Jersey Shore.
The current shutdown is the longest in AC history, and it’s expected to continue for several more weeks. Of course, that means there will no NBA in Atlantic City, or anywhere else for that matter until the country opens back up.
The league has yet to share an official statement regarding how and when NBA games will return.
Will teams finish the regular season? If so, how many more games will be played?
What will the exact playoff format be?
Will fans be allowed to attend the games?
The NBA and the other professional sports leagues have never faced these questions before.
NBA playoffs in Atlantic City, Las Vegas or Orlando?
On paper, Atlantic City seems like the most unlikely destination for an NBA postseason tournament.
The Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas is home to the NBA Summer League and UNLV basketball games. Plus, the 2007 All-Star Game was played there.
The Amway Center in Central Florida is home to the Orlando Magic. That would give home-court advantage to a franchise holding down the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed. That doesn’t seem fair.
AC, on the other hand, is neutral turf.
Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall has hosted several basketball events. This includes last month’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It was abruptly cut short when the NCAA decided to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
The Atlantic 10 previously held its postseason tournament in AC before moving it to Brooklyn.
Boardwalk Hall can hold more than 14,000 fans.
In terms of hotel rooms, the Las Vegas Strip has more room inventory. In AC, the nine casino-hotels alone could provide more than 15,000 rooms for teams, league executives and fans.
Think about the potential boost an NBA event of this magnitude could do for the NJ sports betting industry.
As long as the social distancing rules are loosened, the eight retail sportsbooks would be filled to capacity. Even if bettors wager using one of the 17 mobile apps, those who can’t get tickets at the arena will be looking for a gathering place to watch and bet on the NBA games.
But this gathering of several hundredNFL betting fans was not interested in a ribbon-cutting ceremony or speeches.
Kickoff for the Eagles-Washington Redskins game was fast approaching.
The line for the betting windows extended to the center of the Wild Wild Wild West Casino floor. That’s where the former temporary space was set up.
While all the betting action was taking place, there was a small ceremony nearby. Former Eagles’ Chris Long, Hollis Thomas and Fred Barnett came running through a giant banner as confetti was fired off.
Inside Bally’s sportsbook in Atlantic City
There was no need for someone famous to step up to one of the betting windows to place $100 bet on the Dallas Cowboys to cover against the New York Giants.
Long, who wonSuper Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and Eagles, did pose for pics with fans.
Celebrities aside, the management team at Bally’s is “super excited” about the finished product.
The previously unused and vacant space located toward the back of the casino floor is now a gathering spot for thousands of football betting fans several days a week.
Besides having the massive space, the main attraction is the 98 foot by 18 foot, high-resolution LED television wall with surround sound.
And it can show up to 16 games at once. Sunday’s early viewing experience included:
Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings
Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs
New York Jets and Buffalo Bills
Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins
Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets
But more importantly, the massive sportsbook is an added attraction for the slower months.
Karie Hall, general manager at Bally’s AC, is looking forward to seeing what the new space does for the property.
“We get extra business in. People get an experience they didn’t get before. We are excited to see how well that translates throughout the fall and winter.”
The NJ sports betting space services sister properties Bally’s and Caesars customers, too.
Barnett says Eagles have tools to go far
While the other properties around town held their respective opening NFL weekend festivities, fans at Bally’s enjoyed some added perks.
Long, Barnett and Thomas were on property signing autographs and mingling with fans.
During Barnett’s playing days, which included 1990-95 with the Eagles, sports betting was restricted to Nevada. At least legally.
Things have changed just a tad since.
Barnett said he is not the betting type. However, he is not one to shy away from talking about his former team.
Many of the NJ futuresmarkets had the Eagles regular-season win total at 9.5.
Barnett did not take the wager, but he did offer this analysis:
“It’s really about everybody staying healthy because I really think they have the tools to go far.”
Will it be easy? Not necessarily.
“I tend to look at everybody else that they’re going to play against,” Barnett said. “So when I look at the league, in general, I think in order for them to be successful they’re going to have to play very hard this year because there are some pretty good teams out there that are stacked up.”
One of the big ifs is whether or not starting quarterback Carson Wentz can make it through the season healthy.
His career to date has included being sidelined with a torn ACL and fractured vertebrae.
Second-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld is out with a broken wrist. Current backup Josh McCown came out of retirement to sign with the Birds.
And as a result, July was the first time an accurate year-over-year comparison of a nine-casino market could be done.
Before the two uptown casinos opened, speculation often lingered on how nine casinos would survive in Atlantic City. Are the two new additions helping or hurting the market? Which casinos are growing and which have taken a hit, if at all?
Rummy Pandit, executive director for Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism, said monthly gross revenues and quarterly net revenues show “a positive growth trend for the city as a whole.”
“Also, the new properties aren’t the only ones seeing revenue increases indicating the pie is continuing to grow and the slices are getting larger,” said Pandit.
If we look at the latest numbers released by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, total gaming revenue came at $323,324,385 — that’s nearly an 8% increase from the same period last year.
But a closer look shows that there are winners, some losers, and a market that is still figuring itself out.
Borgata still the undisputed king
The MGM-ownedBorgata seems to be one property that isn’t feeling the impact. One year later, the Marina District property continues to be the one the other Atlantic City casinos are chasing.
In July alone, Borgata reported $87,994,493 in total gaming revenue. It’s one of those numbers that just pops out on the spreadsheet. As it should. It’s the best month ever in the casino’s 16-year history.
In fact, Borgata saw growth across the board:
Total gaming revenue increased by 14.8%.
Online casino revenue came in at $6,365,511, a 29.1% increase.
Sports betting revenue was $859,478, of which $696,392 came from retail.
Or does it matter? After all, Borgata has been the king of the market since 2006, long before sports betting in New Jersey joined the party.
The new kids on the Boardwalk: Hard Rock + Ocean
On the flip side are the newcomers, both of which are making names for themselves.
Hard Rock is coming off a very strong July with $38,709,141 in land-based casino revenue — good enough for second in the market behind Borgata. That number marks a 19.5% increase from the same period last year.
The property is second in total gaming revenue (including NJ online gambling) with $40,766,575, a 24.6% increase.
How has Hard Rock moved the needle so far? Well, besides being an internationally recognized brand, Hard Rock has an A-list entertainment lineup that draws foot traffic to the property.
The property reported total gaming revenue from casino, sports, and online of $20,170,694 for July — an 18% increase from the same period last year.
The majority of that number is from the casino floor. In the NJ online casino market, Ocean is still a ways behind its competition. It only has the one skin to its name. In comparison, Borgata has nine total sites using five brands under its belt.
Plus, for now, all sports wagering is via a partnership with William Hill NJ.
Many would likely assume that Golden Nuggetand Resortswould be getting hit the hardest by the bigger and swankier properties.
But if we are talking total gaming revenue, this is far from the case. And they both have the success of online gambling to thank for it.
To really understand Golden Nugget’s power, we need to look at year-to-date totals.
Golden Nugget alone, year to date, has earned $93,536,687 just in online casino winnings. Besides the self-branded app, Betfair NJ, PlaySugarHouse Casino, and BetAmericaall operate under the license. And all of them have an online sportsbook attached.
Added to that is Betfair’s connection to the No. 1 sportsbook app in the state: FanDuel Sportsbook. That link gives Betfair a big boost in terms of cross-selling, which in turn helps Golden Nugget’s online revenue totals.
Cross-selling between the online sites certainly has helped. But what makes the number stand out even more is that slots and table game winnings at the AC property come in at $116,000,049 year to date.
Besides the two numbers being very close to one another, the 13% drop from the casino floor is wiped out by the 60.5% increase from online.
Combine it all together and Golden Nugget’s total number is $210,076,239. That’s currently good enough for second-best in the market and a 9.6% increase.
Tropicana, although down 9.8% for the year, is currently third overall with $203,004,316.
Resorts Digital powering Resorts Atlantic City
Look at Resorts simply from a land-based perspective, and Atlantic City’s oldest property is flat.
The $18,160,182 in total gaming revenue is the lowest among all operators. This includes minimal July earnings from the DraftKings Sportsbookat Resorts.
But like Golden Nugget, Resorts makes up serious ground via its online casino and sports betting partnerships.
In other words, Resorts, along with Golden Nugget, contributed big time to July’s $39,315,731 Internet gaming win — a new all-time high.
The previous record of $39,134,380 was set back in March.
On the sports betting side, the license holder is No. 2 in the market thanks to the success of DraftKings. FanDuel Sportsbook is still on top, but $4,266,540 is not too shabby.
Plus BetStars NJ will be transitioning to Fox Bet just in time for football season. Expect to see the online numbers continue to climb at Resorts.
The Caesars question
But what does the future hold for business at the center of the Boardwalk and Caesars Entertainment as a whole?
Business at Bally’s and Caesars is not as strong. The latter saw a 15.2% drop in total gaming revenue for the month — the biggest loss among the nine operators.
Bally’s saw a drop of 11.3% in the same category. The sister properties are celebrating their respective 40th anniversaries this year.
But Bally’s is now home to AC’s largest sportsbook (15,228 square feet, to be exact), complete with its own self-serve beer wall. The space had a mid-June soft opening.
The chance for fans to watch games in a Vegas-style setting will draw plenty of foot traffic. But will it equate to customers playing slots and table games?
Sister property Harrah’s Resort currently ranks the fifth year to date in total revenue ($179,423,929).
And the Eldorado factor
The short-term fix at Caesars, however, may be drastically different than the long-term one.
At some point next year, the Caesars and Eldorado Resorts merger is expected to be finalized. The Trop is currently operated by Eldorado.
And although Tropicana reported the fourth-highest total gaming revenue for July ($32,981,858), the number signifies an 11% drop.
Pandit said the three Caesars Entertainment properties are a key piece in the pending merger of the two companies.
“Whether the merger succeeds or not, we can expect significant changes at these properties which should make them more competitive in the Atlantic City market,” he said.
“All four properties have recently made capital investments in their gaming and non-gaming products and are on a path to providing a more distinctive customer experience. Should the merger succeed, all four will have access to a combined Caesars/Eldorado loyalty program.”
So, what is the magic number in Atlantic City?
Unlike the Las Vegas Strip, it’s highly unlikely we will see new casinos rising in AC anytime soon.
But will all nine casinos remain open following the Caesars/Eldorado merger?
The reality is Atlantic City can no longer be viewed as simply a land-based operation. Online casinos are a huge source of revenue up and down the Boardwalk and Marina, giving smaller casinos a lot of power and growing the pie as a whole.
The mobile sports betting market consistently accounts for more than 80% of monthly wagers.
In terms of what it means for projecting AC’s future, Pandit said consumer demand and changes in regional gaming supply may create market conditions that favor a larger or smaller casino market.
“Customer demand is always a moving target,” Pandit said, “and regional gaming expansion, as well as the launch of legal sports betting, contribute to an evolving supply of gaming products in the Atlantic City market.
“In essence, the market is always evolving along with changes in demand and supply.”
The revenue numbers released last week by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement are proof that Ocean is making strides in Atlantic City.
Ocean reported a casino win of $20,158,853. The number is good enough for sixth best among the nine properties. And yes, we are talking about the same place that was $23 million in the red at the beginning of 2018.
Overall, the newcomer experienced all-time highs in several key categories:
Highest gaming revenue month ($21,488,130) in the property’s history
Highest slot revenue month ($14,144,131) in the property’s history
Most profitable month in the property’s history
Highest occupancy month in the property’s history
Mike Donovan, Ocean’s chief marketing officer and senior vice president, said all the numbers were “great to see.”
“It’s finally good to see all of these initiatives the team has been working very hard on over the last five months have started to finally pay dividends for us.”
Ocean Casino Resort take two
It’s no secret that the building formally known as Revel has yet to live up to its full potential.
The property failed to make a profit under its former name, leading to a 2014 casino closure.
Bruce Deifikand AC Oceanwalk purchased and reopened the property on June 28 of last year, but the company still suffered a similar fate.
The big difference between Ocean and these other competitors is the resort model versus the traditional brick-and-mortarcasino approach. Ocean has a lot to offer customers besides its 138,000-square-foot casino floor.
Of course, Ocean does have a self-branded online casino platform, but it remains unavailable to iOS users. The problem is tied to the new Apple policy.
Donovan said they are working with software provider GAN to resolve the issue.
This continues to be the weak spot in the property’s overall performance with just $356,790 in revenue. Not having an Apple app certainly plays a roll in that weakness.
Meanwhile, the overall market is looking sunny with another $38 million month.
Adding a strong mobile sports betting and casino portfolio will certainly help Ocean in the total gaming revenue department.
On the land-based side, Ocean has additional capital improvement projects in the works. The majority of them fall under the details coming soon category.
The District, a quick-service food court, is getting close to opening. It will feature five different dining options ranging from Asian to salads to ice cream. An early August opening is the target.
All that being said, casino revenue remains the primary focus. And if things stay on course, June will be the start of a new monthly trend at Ocean — the first of many more $20 million-plus months to come.
But “we still have a lot of work to do before it’s where we want it to be,” Donovan said.
The official unveiling took place during Friday night’s grand opening party. Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal even made a guest appearance. But he wasn’t exactly there to bet.
Those expecting a Las Vegas-style sportsbook are likely going to be disappointed. Borgata’s concept is completely different from the rest of the market.
The basic description is an 8,000 square foot sports bar that doubles as a sportsbook. Sorry folks, no stadium seating here.
Marcus Glover, COO and president of Borgata, took it all in at last week’s event and was quick to note that “it looks better in person than the conceptual renderings.”
Doing things the Borgata way
Let’s be clear: Moneyline is more than just another sportsbook.
Yes, bars like this 35-foot-long bar with 19 built-in slot machines centers are common at most sportsbooks.
But the restaurant setting with a waitstaff is what makes it unique. The Borgata team started discussing the plans about two years ago.
“We knew we didn’t want to build a traditional sportsbook like you would see in Las Vegas,” Glover said.
“We felt we needed something to anchor, one, this side of the property, but something that could also anchor seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That’s what you see in this space.”
While there are plenty of food and drink options on the menu, customers have the option of placing bets and watching the games. There are shuffleboard and foosball tables, too.
Race & Sports or Moneyline?
Those seeking more of a traditional sportsbook setting still have the Race & Sports Book across the way. Horse racing and betting tends to dominate that room.
It’s the same space that served as Borgata’s temporary sportsbook. And it’s where the first legal bet in Atlantic City history took place.
Tom Gable, director of race and sportsbook operations, explained the difference between the two spaces.
“You have the traditional handicapping room for the Race and Sports Book. … Now we have this room that is obviously a very social atmosphere.”
And “social” might be putting it lightly.
Moneyline offers the sports betting crowd a chance to eat, drink, bet on, and watch the games. There is a bar across the way, too, but the entertainment experience is just a tad different.
Plus, Borgata unveiled the new Level One Cocktail Bar & Lounge nightlife experience, complete with blackjack tables, that connects to Moneyline.
“We have two totally opposite end of the spectrum experiences, but it’s really great to offer them under one roof,” Gable said.
Borgata sportsbooks: comparing spaces
There will be plenty of curious customers looking to check out Moneyline, especially when the NFL preseason gets underway on Aug. 1.
Others may prefer to stick with the more traditional wagering setting. Here are the highlights of the two spaces:
Race & Sports Book
100 seats with individual flat-screen monitors
10 betting windows
Kiosks available for horse racing bets
Video wall with screens to view live events
A completely nonsmoking atmosphere
Boot & Whip, an in-venue bar
Moneyline Bar & Book
A 40-foot wide by 11.5-foot tall LED video wall
Full-service food and drink menu
17 additional 98-inch and 86-inch displays
Banquet seating in the VIP lounge
Six betting windows
NJ gaining upper handle on Nevada
The opening of Moneyline comes at a very exciting time in NJ sports betting history. Yes, celebrating year one of the first legal sports wager in the Garden State was a pretty big deal.
However, the bigger story was last week’s news that New Jersey took the sports betting crown from Nevada. We are talking a handle of $318,940,677 for NJ versus $317,380,281.69 for the Silver State.
The Borgata executive team knew the day would eventually come, just maybe not one year into the game.
Had somebody walked up to Glover on June 14 of last year with such a prediction, his likely response would’ve been: “I wouldn’t have thought that it would’ve happened that fast.
“I would have thought it inevitable that it would occur. It has taken off. We have a population density to really take advantage of an offering like sports wagering. “
Stepping up its NJ sports betting game
The opening of Moneyline puts Borgata on a level playing field with the rest of the NJ sports betting crowd.
It joined Harrah’s Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City in unveiling new spaces during the prime season at the Jersey Shore. (Here is a comparison of the three sportsbooks.)
It’s no secretFanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook are leading the pack. However, opening a new sportsbook and heavily promoting the new BorgataSports app are signs that Borgata is upping its ante.
“It’s funny,” Glover said. “Our permanent space wasn’t open. We had the Racebook somewhat masquerading as a sportsbook, probably in a more traditional fashion.
“I still think we held our own in land-based operation in terms of volume compared to the rest of the market where they had their permanent operation going.”
Borgata is now showing its full sports betting hand in which customers have multiple ways of placing bets.
Besides the two sportsbooks, there are PlayMGM sportsbook and the previously mentioned BorgataSports apps, which launched on May 14.
Glover has every reason to think that the Borgata sportsbook will be on a new trajectory come the fall.
“Now that we have our full complement of offerings, we feel very good about our circumstances heading into what we feel is going to be the most luminous time of the year in terms of betting transactions for us,” Glover said.
And ever since then, its monthly revenues have garnered headlines. It was an amazing day when online revenues hit $5 million for the casino. Then it surpassed $8 million. And then $10 million. And then $14 million.
But here is another fact: The May 2019 revenue data from the Division of Gaming Enforcement shows just over a $3 million difference between Golden Nugget’s land-based revenue ($17,137,676) and online casino revenue ($14,078,208).
That total gaming revenue puts it in the No. 2 spot for the month of May among all Atlantic City casinos.
But can that online number surpass its land-based number in the future? All signs point to yes, and here’s why.
Expanding live dealer games
One of the things that separated Golden Nugget from its NJ online casino competitors is the live dealer studio located right on the property.
They were the first of the AC casinos to roll out this novel concept and reaped the benefits. Golden Nugget was often quick to point out that its live dealer games were a gold mine.
But the company continues building on those initial plans.
Earlier in June, Golden Nugget online casino expanded access to its live dealer games. The studio is now open 24/7. This change in hours (eliminating the 3 a.m. closing time) means the popular games are available any time of day.
As more and more customers get wind of this, online numbers could continue to increase. Plus, there are several more seats at the live dealer tables these days.
The amount of tables has more than quadrupled in size going from threeto13 tables. Increasing from eight to 24 hours is good for business, too.
Instead of fearing the competition, Thomas Winter, senior vice president and general manager of online gaming for Golden Nugget, sees a prosperous road ahead to the tune of “close to $100 million” wagered at the Golden Nugget studio in June alone.
” … We strongly believe that live dealer will eventually account for more than 20 percent of the online casino market, so there’s still plenty of room for innovation and growth.”
The popularity alone, therefore, likely is one reason Golden Nugget’s online revenue will continue to grow.
Strong online gambling partners
There is more to the online success story besides the live games.
New Jersey regulators permit license holders to have deals with multiple partners, and each has taken full advantage of that rule. Golden Nugget is well aware that it’s online growth is not solely due to its own success.
“You can’t really compare land-based and online revenues because online combines revenues from different skins,” said Winter.
In Golden Nugget’s case, there are four brands, or skins:
The SugarHouse brand in and of itself is an extremely recognizable one to customers residing in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area.
Besides having a land-based casino located nearby, the platform has casino games and sports betting. (The latter operates under the Monmouth Park license.)
And right now, PlaySugarHouse benefits from renewed interest in the region. A sister Pennsylvaniasite was the first of the sports betting apps to hit the market there. Its PA online casino is targeted for a mid-July launch.
But that’s just one slice of the pie.
The Betfair-FanDuel connection
Betfair, besides being around since 2013, is one of the many brands that established itself in the UK before launching in the Garden State.
But the bigger story here is that parent company Flutter Entertainment (previously Paddy Power Betfair) also owns the market-leading FanDuel Sportsbookbrand.
It means customers have access to a shared wallet and there are strong opportunities for cross-selling. FanDuel customers are currently being offered $10 in free play if they sign up for a Betfair account.
Churchill Downs’ BetAmerica launched earlier this year, and like other brands, the NJ online sportsbook and casino are integrated into a shared wallet.
No matter which app customers are using, they are all contributing to Golden Nugget’s overall online revenue picture.
Retail customers vs. online customers
What’s important to note is the customers using these platforms are not necessarily the same ones gambling on the casino floor.
Golden Nugget is known for attracting an older crowd. Online gambling, on the other hand, caters to a much younger crowd.
Upcoming appearances by Little Anthony & The Imperials and Tommy James & The Shondells are not going to necessarily attract the online casino customer.
Winter notes the online player is 15 years younger than the typical land-based player. In essence, there are “two distinct demographics.”
While it’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, online casino customers are still visiting the land-based operation.
“Of course there is some overlap, but our data shows that land-based patrons who start playing online don’t stop coming to the physical casino.
“If anything, they tend to increase their land-based play, not reduce it. Online gaming competes with other forms of digital entertainment, like Netflix, not with land-based entertainment, which is by nature a social experience while mobile is a solitary, time-killing one.”
The NJ online sports betting dilemma
There’s still a couple wild cards to Golden Nugget’s revenue equation.
First, its self-branded NJ sports betting app has yet to really take off. You may or may not have noticed the lack of marketing of its mobile app, at least the sports wagering part of it.
Plus any brands operating under the Golden Nugget license (retail and mobile) are not permitted to offer NBA betting. This is a result of owner Tilman Fertitta holding a majority stake in the Houston Rockets.
But the NBA betting bancould be lifted by the time the 2019-2020 season rolls around.
A proposed bill in the NJ Assembly would essentially permit wagering on any games not involving the Rockets.
The combination of NFL and NBA wagering plus a heavy dose of cross-selling could generate a big revenue boost that has yet to come into play.
For now, Winter is taking the wait-and-see approach.
“NBA is, of course, an important part of sports betting and not having it meant we couldn’t compete on a level playing field. This is why we didn’t rush to launch our mobile sports betting last year and why we haven’t actively advertised it since launch.
“If the New Jersey legislation is amended to prohibit team owners from offering bets on their team, as opposed to all games of the league, which has worked well in states like Nevada or Mississippi and is enough to protect sports integrity, then we’ll, of course, reconsider our investments in online sports betting.”
Golden Nugget currently has two of its three allotted online sports skins filled. There is no word on if and when a third platform will be coming.
Opening the door to cross-selling
Speaking of cross-selling, there is a possibility customers will start seeing some cross-selling between the Golden Nugget casino and sportsbook platforms.
Winter notes, however, cross-selling from casino to sports is less significant than the other way around.
Summertime at the Golden Nugget
The other element to consider in any revenue discussion is the seasonal nature of Atlantic City.
During those prime summer weeks between Fourth of July and Labor Day, it’s highly unlikely mobile customers will take a summer break.
But the Golden Nugget is the only AC property with its own marina (some may remember the property formerly known as Trump Marina).
And like previous summers, there are special events booked for The Deck, including next month’s FakeFest. The H2O Pool is open for the summer, too, so land-based customers do have reasons to book an extended stay.
If we look back at July numbers from last year, Golden Nugget reported $20,105,343 in casino floor revenue and $9,328,814 in online revenue, the latter of which was a 49.8 percent year-over-year increase.
August 2018 produced $8,172,508 from online gambling. Combined, that is more than $17 million in NJ online revenue when the beach and Atlantic Ocean are the prime attractions.