ATLANTIC CITY — The LSU Tigers led by nine points in the game, and Maloney, of Adams County, Iowa, was intently watching one of the massive screens inside the DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts Casino Hotel.
He was surrounded by hundreds of fellow sports gamblers and college basketball fans, but Maloney was so focused on the game, he hardly noticed.
“This is torture,” he said, gripping his $500 bet slip.
The Bulldogs kept chipping away at the deficit, but it wasn’t enough to win.
When the final buzzer sounded, LSU won by four points to advance to the next round. But while the Bulldogs lost, Maloney won as Yale covered the spread.
“Yeah, baby!,” yelled Maloney. “That’s what I’m talking about.”
The first March Madness with legal sports gambling in Atlantic City is underway and the resort’s sportsbooks and casino hotels reaped the rewards.
“It’s certainly meeting my expectations,” said Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts. “We were hoping we were going to be busy and, as you can see, we are.”
Giannantonio said the influx of guests in town to experience an Atlantic City March Madness was carrying over to other parts of the casino hotel.
“There is a lot of ancillary business that occurs. People are eating, drinking, they’re doing some gambling. We’ve seen a nice uptick at our tables,” he said. “So, we’re pleased.”
In the Marina District, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa put together a large viewing area upstairs complete with a full bar and tellers to accommodate the huge number of sports gamblers.
Among them was Greg Lloyd, of Haymarket, Virginia, who typically traveled to Las Vegas to bet on March Madness.
“This is, obviously, our first year coming here,” he said. “We figured we’d rather drive three-and-a-half hours than fly for five.”
Lloyd said he was a loyal MGM Resorts patron — the parent company of Borgata — so he frequented National Harbor just outside of Washington, D.C., often and Bellagio Las Vegas when he traveled out West. Lloyd said the atmosphere for March Madness was different in Las Vegas, but he and his two friends were having a good time in Atlantic City.
“Las Vegas has a lot of experience (when it comes to March Madness). In Vegas, everyone really gets after it,” he said. “But, give this place a couple of years, and it will be the same.”
March Madness, the three-week long NCAA men’s basketball tournament, has long been the biggest sports betting event in Nevada.
A record-breaking $437 million was wagered at Las Vegas sportsbooks on basketball overall in March 2018, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Sin City’s casinos collected more than $38 million in revenue from basketball bets during that time.
This is the first year that legal sports gambling is available outside Nevada after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal regulation that limited single-game wagers to just the Silver State.
New Jersey is one of six other states that legalized sports gambling in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in May.
According to the American Gaming Association, nearly 47 million Americans will wager $8.5 billion on this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.
“During this year’s tournament — the first in post-PASPA America — sports fans are expected to bet 40 percent more than they did on this year’s Super Bowl,” said Bill Miller, AGA’s president and CEO. “Unlike any other sporting event in the country, March Madness attracts millions who fill out brackets, make casual bets with friends or wager at a legal sportsbook, which Americans can now do more than ever before.”
Joe Nicosia, sportsbook manager at Golden Nugget Atlantic City, said the crowd for the earliest games Thursday included a lot of new faces, which he took as a sign that people were interested, not only in the tournament, but in what Atlantic City had to offer.
“The room is buzzing,” he said. ‘Everybody is excited.”
Nicosia put extra staff in place to help the new bettors and to “make sure we didn’t disappoint when a customer walked through the door.”
Hal Tendler, manager of the DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts, said it was “an all hands on deck” day.
One of those extra hands was Ryan Rothstein, co-host of ESPN Radio 97.3 FM’s “Sports-Bash” with Mike Gill. Rothstein is a supervisor at the DraftKings book in addition to his broadcasting responsibilities.
“Never in my life (have I seen anything like this),” Rothstein said, looking over the wall-to-wall crowd inside the sportsbook Thursday afternoon. “Going into today, you don’t know what to expect. This is new to Atlantic City ... but March Madness is the sportsbook’s Christmas. So, for the next four weeks, it’s Christmas morning. This is best-case scenario.”
Legalized sports betting in Atlantic City is offered at Bally’s Atlantic City, Borgata, Golden Nugget, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Ocean Resort Casino and Tropicana Atlantic City.
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