Live In Atlantic City For The Debut Of Sportsbooks At Golden Nugget And Resorts

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As legal sports betting has become more widespread in the Garden State in the last two months, the launches are becoming more lowkey.

Borgata’s first legal sports bet was made by “Dr. J,” Julius Erving.

For Monmouth Park’s launch, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy did the honors.

But for Golden Nugget and Resorts in Atlantic City on Wednesday, “regular Joes” were at the head of the line — Neil Calise of Staten Island risking $100 on the Giants to win the Super Bowl and Michael Sylvester of Rye Brook, New York placing $500 on the same team, both at 40/1 odds, and going very much against the grain in Eagles-mad South Jersey.

In fact, Golden Nugget officials didn’t even alert the press until the night before their launch, leading to a mere smattering of media and sports bettors at 10 a.m. Resorts drew considerably more attention an hour later, but still, there was little waiting in line for early bettors.

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Both eye September for self-branded sports apps

Of course, for many eager gamblers, news about online offerings trumps brick-and-mortar info. DraftKings — in partnership with Resorts — was first out of the gate last week with a mobile option (something Delaware and Mississippi, the other new sports betting states, do not have).

A Resorts official said Tuesday that his casino would have its own “skin” — online sports betting website — running by the end of September and its third and final skin, with PokerStars’ parent company, coming “in the very near future.”

A Golden Nugget executive offered the same “end of September” estimate for its first mobile platform.

Golden-Nugget-sportsbook
The Golden Nugget sportsbook, moments before opening for business on Wednesday

8 down, up to 6 to go

For Calise, it’s been a memorable year: He proposed to his girlfriend, Crystal Kaye, on Atlantic City’s new observation wheel on the AC Boardwalk in January and now has a June 2019 wedding date. While the Aqueduct casino in Queens is a much shorter drive, Calise said the variety of activities in Atlantic City has him making monthly visits to Golden Nugget.

Why did he pick the Giants? “I gotta go with my gut,” Calise said.

Monmouth Park, Borgata, and Ocean Resort earned win, place, and show sports betting honors in June — in the month following the U.S. Supreme Court’s groundbreaking dismissal of a 26-year-old federal law that had given Nevada a virtual sports betting monopoly in the U.S.

The Meadowlands was fourth with a July 14 launch, while Bally’s and Harrah’s kicked off their own wagering options last week. There still are six more possible brick-and-mortar sports betting sites in the state: Tropicana, Hard Rock, and Caesars casinos; Freehold Raceway; and the location of former racetracks Garden State Park in Cherry Hill (near Philadelphia) and Atlantic City Race Course.

An inside look

The two newest sportsbooks did not feature the dozen or more sets of betting sheets on everything from MLB to mixed martial arts, pro tennis, PGA Tour, WNBA, CFL, and more that are staples of the two racetrack sportsbooks. A Resorts official winced at that idea; the casino prefers to post its odds on screen, it seems. (It’s worth noting that racetrack visitors skew far older than sports bettors.)

Warren Steven, senior director of product and operations for online gaming at Golden Nugget, said that because the casino cannot offer betting on the NBA (owner Tilman Fertitta also owns the Houston Rockets), the sportsbook may place extra emphasis on college basketball wagering.

Both casinos opened temporary sportsbooks that, within weeks, will be replaced by larger new facilities. At Golden Nugget, by next month bettors can expect to see 90 televisions, four terminals, and nine self-serve kiosks.

Resorts CEO Mark Giannantonio, when asked if DraftKings, Resorts, and PokerStars mobile sports betting sites will be “rivals or teammates,” replied, “Look, we’re all competitors. I just credit [Resorts owner and prominent horseman] Morris Bailey for putting these deals together. It took someone like him to transform this property.”

This is the 40th anniversary of Resorts opening as the first U.S. legal casino outside of Nevada, and as Giannantonio notes, there were moments when it wasn’t clear that the casino would live to see that milestone. “By 2010,” Giannantonio said, “this casino probably should have been closed, but [Bailey] has turned it into a profitable boutique hotel.”

John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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