The 64-team March Madness men’s college basketball bracket kicks off with 16 games on Friday and 16 more on Saturday — and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has given the Atlantic City casino industry a boost.
Murphy declared that, as of Friday, casinos and restaurants may operate at 50% capacity — up from 35%. Just last month, Murphy ended the statewide 10 p.m. curfew for such establishments, and Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. immediately signed an executive order allowing casinos once again to be 24-hour operations. That allowed for the casinos to more expansively serve their Super Bowl weekend visitors.
“Leading up to the basketball tournament last year, Atlantic City seemed to be unstoppable,” said Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ). “We were on a 21-month winning streak of revenue growth, our sportsbooks topped Nevada’s, and our diverse offerings were attracting new visitors. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, [March Madness] was canceled, stay at home orders were issued, and our casinos were closed for almost four months.
“What a difference a year makes. As the spring and summer seasons approach and the vaccine is distributed, we are optimistic about the future.”
Casinos enticing Madness fans
Borgata officials say they are offering “watching and wagering” in the BetMGM Sportsbook and Bar, the Borgata Race and Sportsbook, or the Borgata Event Center. Interested fans and gamblers can call (609) 317-8006 to see if any spaces are left. First come, first served viewing is also available at Borgata’s B Bar, Lobby Bar, and Long Bar.
Tropicana has a Full Court Room Package starting at $199 (it’s $329 on Friday and Saturday nights) that includes a room, reserved tables for two at William Hill Sportsbook at Tropicana, and a $50 beverage credit.
At Harrah’s, guests can reserve “stadium seating” starting at $60, and Fan Caves at its William Hill location for $500 — which includes a $350 reservation fee and $150 F&B pre-select and two buckets of beer/seltzer.
At Caesars, the third Caesars Entertainment property in the city, their massive 15,228-square-foot sportsbook (the one formerly associated with Bally’s) features $75 buckets of beer as well as themed cocktails such as Alley Oop! and Time Out.
New sportsbook in town
After Bally’s was sold by Caesars last year, it began seeking a new sportsbook and found a willing partner in FanDuel, the daily fantasy sports giant. The book opened quietly earlier this month, but it won’t be quiet once the tournament tips off.
Bally’s has a free Bracket Challenge on its website, with tips being offered by experts from new business partner and daily fantasy sports company Monkey Knife Fight.
Hard Rock, meanwhile, has a new innovation: a popup space in the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena tunnel, as well as its regular sportsbook seating.
Ocean Casino’s wrinkle is full-day and half-day ticketed reservations at its sportsbook when the tournament is taking place.
The DraftKings Sportsbook at Resorts will feature a “Spin the Prize Wheel” on Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Golden Nugget touts its $20 buckets of beer and $5 shot specials throughout the tournament.
What neighboring states are doing
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf is going a step further, allowing restaurants to be open to 75% capacity rather than 50%. But that change won’t occur until April 4 — Easter Sunday. And Philadelphia elected officials indicated they were not ready to go that far just yet.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a joint announcement with Murphy about the boost from 35% maximum capacity to 50% for New Jersey and for New York City starting on Friday. Restaurants in the rest of New York state will now operate at up to 75% capacity.
“We feel confident in this step given the improving metrics we have seen over the last several weeks in both New Jersey and New York City, as well as the continued ramp-up of our vaccination program,” Murphy said last week.