Meadowlands Racetrack Crowd Turns Out For Much More Than Just March Madness

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Every week, it seems, produces more information and details about the brave new world of legal sports betting at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

Thursday night was no exception.

This figured to be all about March Madness, as four Sweet 16 games dotted the card. But a visitor arriving around 7 p.m. would have noticed a few things.

Not just your usual sports bettors

The first thing to observe was a more crowded parking lot than expected.

That’s partially because, in spite of this revolutionary new opportunity to gamble legally, it’s all of little to no concern to the fabled horse racing simulcast regulars — a remarkable number of whom would tell you about showing up for opening night on Sept. 1, 1976.

meadowlands racetrack simulcast bettors
Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night will keep Meadowlands Racetrack simulcast bettors from their appointed rounds.

The new, $100 million grandstand opened six years ago on the site of the former backstretch, leaving the 1-mile track oval — as well as the habits of those regulars — intact.

Normally, you can walk in and take a left to the main FanDuel Sportsbook located as part of the Victory Sports Bar, go way right to the auxiliary sports betting lounge, or go up the steep escalator to another bet-watching area.

But on this night, there was no room for “railbirds” upstairs. The second-floor overlook to the massive TV screen complex was reserved for a private party — something which is liable to be repeated often.

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Meanwhile, as the Gonzaga-Florida State and Purdue-Tennessee March Madness games tipped off, it was obvious in the sportsbook that the crowd had another form of Madness in mind: Opening day of the Major League Baseball season took up plenty of screens as well.

Intersections and in-race wagering

The intersection of horse players and sports bettors will only grow each Friday and Saturday night through Aug. 2, with the Hambletonian following to wrap up the season on the afternoon of Aug. 3.

The Big M handle has reached the $3 million mark five times this year, marking the five largest handles in North America this year, as a state-sponsored purse subsidy lures in a higher quality of horses and horsemen.

At tipoff, more than a dozen bettors waited in line at the teller windows. But with in-play betting, there isn’t that frenzy to get the bet down before the game as there used to be.

The same dynamic exists for horse racing. Many in the state are unaware, but New Jersey is the lone state that allows “exchange wagering,” so one can bet on a race in the middle of it.

Lay the price on the chicken wings?

I also made an earlier foray to the Meadowlands on Thursday, to catch the opening pitch for both the Mets and Yankees regular-season openers.

There was a good mix of fans of each team. But as has been the case throughout this first year of legal wagering, there isn’t such a crowd that one feels squeezed in.

I had no trouble scoring a table at the sportsbook’s restaurant area, which features a revamped menu. A $14 price on the chicken wings appetizer raised my eyebrows and lured me in. I got my food in just a few minutes, and the wings looked good – all eight of them. Hmm, that’s more than $1.50 a wing.

Still, they were meaty and tasty. Worth it? That’s up to you.

victory sports bar chicken wings
The $14 chicken wings at the Meadowlands, paired with a Goose Island IPA.

Meanwhile, only a few hundred feet away, another menu beckoned — with wings or tenders and fries being offered as a “Cafe Special” for just $8.50, with a slice of pizza going for just $2.75.

For a gambler, their choice of sustenance at the Meadowlands might just be determined by how that last “over” bet turned out.

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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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