The first chance for relative normalcy at Atlantic City sportsbooks for March Madness since pre-pandemic 2019 coincided with St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday. The festive holiday won out over any “war is over” theme, it turned out upon some inspection.
The sportsbooks at Caesars, Bally’s, and the BetMGM version at Borgata each featured a fine assortment of gamblers soaking up the early action on Day One of the main-draw 64-team bracket. But there was no “hangover” evident from the loss of two years of highly social gambling on games.
The massive book at Caesars in the Wild Wild West sector of the casino was busy but not overflowing, and the big book at Borgata had a wait to obtain a table, but not to wander in and find a standing-room spot among fellow bettors. The compact FanDuel-sponsored book at Bally’s, while also at capacity in terms of tables for those with reservations, had room for stragglers on the margins.
But the bigger trend, easily, at the sportsbooks was the opportunity taken by those of Irish heritage and many others to bid homage to the festive holiday.
Every point matters
At Caesars, No. 11 seed Michigan grabbing a lead for the first time at 45-44 in the second half was widely celebrated — and those who had the Wolverines on the moneyline went on to make some extra cash.
The result also was popular at Bally’s next door, where a quarter of the 20-somethings seemed to have same-game parlays featuring Michigan and an “over” play of more than 137 points — making the 75-63 margin, albeit with some late missed-shot hiccups, all the sweeter. One bettor needed that exact adjusted-spread-based margin, it appeared, based on rooting and reaction.
The crowds figured to pick up on Day Two of the main-draw March Madness on Friday, with the weekend and the march to the Sweet 16 gaining ever more attention.
The challenge the industry’s sportsbooks face is that, aside from Caesars, Borgata, and the expanding footprint at Ocean, many of the nine casino options in the city don’t offer a lot of wiggle room. That said, those who wanted to be out and about for the day, but who didn’t need to literally rub elbows with a multitude of like-minded gamblers, were savvy enough to grab barstools or tables at smaller bars in the casinos that featured multiple TVs and more intimacy.
Other Madness observations
The casino floors at Caesars and Bally’s were relatively dormant on Thursday compared to Borgata — not surprising, given the latter’s long-running dominance in monthly revenue leadership.
The plexiglass partitions separating table-game players and dealers from each other, while perfectly understandable for the first two years or so of the COVID-19 pandemic era, thankfully were gone.
Almost 100% of employees and perhaps 10% of casino patrons practiced mask-wearing — with most of the customers doing so falling into the category of caution-minded seniors.
The sportsbook patrons skewed young to middle-aged, and utterly and overwhelmingly male. Plenty of women do bet on March Madness, but it didn’t appear — on Thursday afternoon anyway — that they were eager to make it a mass spectator sport at an Atlantic City sportsbook.
The joint eyebrow-raising quotes of the day came via two friends overheard in a men’s room, of all places. “Dude, you have the best wife in the world. She gives you a bankroll, and all she says is, ‘Don’t do drugs and don’t hire a hooker.'” The reply: “She is pretty swell.”
Photos: John Brennan