This is what the casinos envisioned last May when the Supreme Court ruled in New Jersey’s favor. Basketball fans bringing their Big Dance traditions down in the offseason to watch the madness unfold at the new sportsbooks.
The first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is usually the most anticipated and chaotic four-day stretch on the sports calendar. It’s also big business for the oddsmakers. Handle usually surpasses the Super Bowl.
I took a trip down to AC Sunday afternoon and checked out the three books on the north end of the boardwalk. Two big names are down there, separated by one of the new players in town. Here’s what I saw.
Hard Rock Casino
Sunday afternoon was a little smaller volume across the books. Fans were either wrapping up their weekend excursions or already out of town. The clock struck midnight for many Cinderellas. It was also a fairly nice day to stroll the boards with spring just starting.
My journey started at Hard Rock Casino, who recently opened their book. It’s a similar set-up to Pennsylvania casinos, with a mix of automated kiosks and betting desks. Games were on a wall of TVs (apparently, so was Moana on the Disney Channel. Palate cleanser I suppose).
Fans could easily get their bets in because the book was virtually empty. It’s a smaller venue off the side of the massive casino floor. Perhaps we’ll see a bigger, more welcoming space as we head towards the summer and football season.
Hard Rock is a really different experience than other casinos. It serves as a museum/entertainment destination, full of photos, artifacts, and lots of video from Hard Rock Calling festivals. It offers a very unique feel, especially compared to other themed places across AC.
DraftKings at Resorts
The crowds were better at Resorts, where DraftKings Sportsbook has created an atmosphere that rivals anything in the market and probably the nation. A large seating theater with plenty of games and ample seating.
Fans were watching the last seconds of UNC’s convincing second-round win Sunday, awaiting the UCF-Duke matchup. The bar was lively and the lines were moving effectively.
DK’s a little different because you can’t use your app to bet on the floor (learned that the hard way). However, DraftKings was one of the two major NJ outlets that shortened vigs for the games. If there’s a game players like, maybe wait until the day or before to lock in the best prices.
I chatted with Marquita Carmichael, one of the managers at DraftKings at Resorts. She noted the business was good over the weekend, with the largest crowds coming on Friday night. “Those games had over 200, 300 people here,” she said.
Their space is inviting without being too expansive. Carmichael said the venue can accommodate 500 max.
William Hill at Ocean Resort
As the UCF-Duke game got underway, there was a buzz of excitement at the tip of the Boardwalk and William Hill’s massive lounge at Ocean Resort. This was the first big venue to open on Labor Day Weekend and remains the standard in AC.
Fans occupied the chairs and couches, while others filled the bar. Lines weren’t too long for the windows. William Hill also had ambassadors to sign up players to use the app.
The open floor and impressive dimensions mean the locations can probably fit more than their competition at Resorts. It feels more like a sports bar/night club hybrid. In addition to the bar, there’s a vendor selling hot dogs and pretzels on the side.
I requested comment from the team at Hill. No one responded.
It was good to see crowds at the books over the weekend. Foot traffic hasn’t been great overall with the NJ Transit train shut down since September. The line is scheduled to restart around Memorial Day Weekend.
It’s been really interesting to see players at venues in the Northeast. Fans in New Jersey have taken to online betting substantially. However, there’s still a special feeling going to venues and experiencing games with others. There not be a better weekend to do it than when March Madness tips off.