Scenes From Meadowlands Racetrack On Day 1 Of The New March Madness Sports Betting Era

Enthusiasm, testosterone, and New Yorkers taking their business across state lines abounded as March Madness betting tipped off in NJ.
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“Go Bulldogs!”

That was a clear sentiment — and occasional holler — at the Meadowlands Racetrack’s FanDuel Sportsbook on Thursday afternoon as the first full-fledged day of March Madness legal sports betting outside of Nevada got underway.

While the almost exclusively male crowd at the bar didn’t give the impression that many among them have a framed diploma from the New Haven, Connecticut Ivy League school hanging at home, it didn’t diminish their fervor.

And no wonder; the game served as a perfect example of how the annual dramatic series of buzzer beaters throughout the NCAA basketball tournament is now augmented by crowds who have another very tangible and very legal reason to root for more than just which team wins the game.

You don’t need a close game for a dramatic finish

While Auburn later hung on for dear life for a one-point win over 13th-seeded New Mexico State, 14th-seeded Yale couldn’t get so close against LSU.

In fact, LSU never trailed in the game, getting off to a 9-0 start in building a 16-point halftime lead. Yale fought back to within four points in the final minute, but the Bulldogs never did make it a single-possession game, nor did they ever have the ball with a chance to do so.

So why all the commotion? LSU opened as nearly 10-point favorites on Sunday night, but a wave of action on Yale — thanks in part to a scandal-related sudden resignation by the LSU coach — knocked the line down to 7½ points at some books and 6½ at others.

With that in mind, note the changes in scoring in the final two minutes:

  • 67-60, goes either way
  • 68-60, LSU covering
  • 68-62, Yale covering
  • 70-62, LSU covering
  • 70-65, Yale covering
  • 72-65, goes either way
  • 72-68, Yale covering
  • 74-68, Yale covering
  • 75-68, goes either way
  • 75-71, Yale covering
  • 77-71, Yale covering
  • 77-74, Yale covering
  • 79-74, Yale covers

Hence the high-fives among so many of the “alums” who rode Yale to a profitable result.

Full house — but not too full

The Meadowlands Racetrack, Monmouth Park, and eight Atlantic City casinos all faced the challenge of guesstimating the size of the crowds for the historic first day of legal sports betting on March Madness.

Super Bowl crowds in New Jersey tended to be modest; plenty of people popped in to make their in-person pre-game wager, but then left for their annual Super Bowl parties as usual.

But what about the Madness? At the Meadowlands, the crowds turned out nicely. It was busy, but no mob at the entrance or long wait to make a bet, and no crowds five-deep or six-deep behind every barstool, either. (Speaking of which, Barstool Sports hosted a live feed from the track on Thursday and will again Friday.)

meadowlands fanduel sportsbook march madness overhead view
An overhead view of the scene at the Meadowlands’ sportsbook

Meadowlands officials expect larger crowds on Friday, as employees sneak out to kick off a long weekend with some post-lunch wagering at the sportsbook.

The crowd size relieved track operator Jeff Gural.

“I’m pleased that we don’t have long lines. We added a lot of self-bets [kiosks], so hopefully our customers will learn how to use them,” Gural told NJ Online Gambling. “Especially the people who bet the parlays and some of the smaller bets, so they don’t kind of muck things up [for high rollers].”

New York, New York

There were out-of-state license plates spotted at the track from Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania (curious, as that state has its own legal sports betting), and “The Department of State.”

But by far the most common was New York. One row near the entrance had a remarkable sequence of six cars in a row with plates from New York, a state that, barring a remarkable about-face by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will not even have legal sports betting come football season in the fall.

meadowlands racetrack parking lot new york plates
New York plates, as far as the eye can see

American Gaming Association Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Sara Slane made her first visit to the FanDuel Sportsbook to mark the occasion.

“It’s amazing, just amazing,” Slane said. “The thing I find astonishing is all the cash being spent at the tellers. Why is that?”

It’s a Jersey thing, said Gural and FanDuel President Kip Levin.

fanduel sportsbook betting kiosk
FanDuel Sportsbook has plenty of self-service kiosks, though a lot of bettors prefer the teller windows

Friday’s betting sheet will list a full complement of 16 games, compared to only 14 on Thursday. New Jersey schools Seton Hall (vs. Wofford) and Fairleigh Dickinson (vs. Gonzaga) cannot legally be the subject of a wager in New Jersey.

fanduel sportsbook betting sheet march madness day 1
There were 16 games in action on Thursday, but only 14 you could bet in NJ

How male was the crowd? At one point, only one female who is not a Meadowlands employee was spotted among 200-plus men in the common area of the sportsbook. There was plenty of diversity in age, race, and ethnicity — just not gender.

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