The Departed Soles Brewing Company near the St. Peter’s University campus in Jersey City was at standing-room-only status more than an hour before the start of Sunday’s March Madness men’s college basketball game featuring the hometown 15th-seeded Peacocks — the nation’s Cinderella — and national hoops royalty program North Carolina, a No. 8 seed.
The latest batch of “Busted Bracket” lager, born in the week-old wake of a shocking upset of No. 2 seed Kentucky to open the tournament, was available in 16-ounce and four-pack versions. The newly minted “Elite Eight” IPA brew, with only a 10-ounce single-serving option thanks to its robust 8.7% alcohol volume, also was on the menu.
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But some in the eager crowd found out that making a modest wager on the game via their mobile sports betting app was unavailable — in spite of the large billboard on the road toward the Holland Tunnel touting “The FanDuel Sportsbook — Bet the Bracket.” That’s because New Jersey law bans bets on New Jersey-based college athletic teams, while allowing bettors to risk money on every single other college game in March Madness.
A couple of would-be bettors expressed confusion to others in their group about the gambling quirk, and invariably someone in their circle of friends understood the rule that has been replicated in other states — including nearby New York and Connecticut.
Among the Sweet 16 schools in states without available legal betting on their team’s games, St. Peter’s on-campus residents had the easiest path to placing a wager. A brief car, bus, or PATH train ride would bring them across the state line into New York, which launched mobile sports betting on out-of-state schools in January. But such a trek so close to tipoff would have cost Departed Soles visitors a seat.
Still, the lack of a convenient betting option didn’t seem to faze anyone in attendance. This was a brewery after all, not an Atlantic City sportsbook (several of which we visited 10 days earlier when March Madness began on St. Patrick’s Day).
Let the game begin!
The mostly young crowd cheered vigorously as the pre-game show yielded to an on-site view of the pending game in Philadelphia. A mere 18 seconds into the contest, a referee’s whistle produced the first “that’s a bullsh*t call!” by a young lady who seemed laser-focused on the game.
But the Peacocks produced few highlights for the lively crowd, falling into deficits of 9-0, 19-7, and 27-9 in the opening 14 minutes. The score was 38-19 at halftime, and the difference between a locale like this and a sportsbook became obvious in the second half.
Moneyline gamblers likely would have walked out on the game with 15 minutes left, when a 25-point deficit meant that an all-time record-tying comeback would have been needed to salvage that bet. And for those who grabbed roughly 8½ points on the underdog Peacocks, a 63-38 North Carolina lead with five minutes to play would have sent those backers to the exits long before the 69-49 final score was reached.
But at Departed Soles, the crowd hung tough. After all, many weren’t even watching the game, content to partake in the atmosphere of the joy of St. Peter’s having become the first 15th seed since March Madness expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to win its first three games.
A consolation prize
If the Peacocks had pulled off yet another miracle win, the scene would have been even wilder than what some patrons described having seen in the same bar on Friday night, when St. Peter’s edged No. 3 seed Purdue, 67-64.
And for the many brewery patrons on Sunday who would have bet on the game if they had a chance to do so, the New Jersey law merely served to keep some money in their pockets this time — since almost all of them would have placed losing bets on St. Peter’s, located in a city that The Washington Post, in a feature on the team, described amusingly.
— EJ (@LuckDragnFalkor) March 24, 2022
The vibe of the Departed Soles crowd was what gamblers call “playing with house money.” The unprecedented achievement of the Peacocks could never be erased.
And when it became clear, rather early in this game, that it was not meant to be — well, this wasn’t a sportsbook crowd. Good times with good friends remained on the menu, after all, and would-be bets on St. Peter’s were avoided, thanks to New Jersey’s curious law.
Photo: Mitchell Leff/USA TODAY