Pandemic? What pandemic?
Okay, business at Borgata casino in Atlantic City on Tuesday was relatively good — just not quite THAT good.
But within the statewide limitations — 25% maximum customer capacity, and no dining or drinks after 10 p.m. — the city’s leading casino attracted plenty of customers in this lull between Christmas and New Year’s weekends.
The closure of Pennsylvania casinos for three weeks — scheduled to end next week — no doubt had plenty to do with every 10th or 12th car in the Borgata parking garage seeming to bear Pennsylvania license plates. But the same could be said for New York plates, with a handful of Florida alphabeticals tossed in for good measure.
Table games — including three players per table for blackjack, plexiglass between each player and more between the players and the dealer — filled up nicely Tuesday.
Poker lives on at Borgata
Perhaps the most impressive demand for action came at Borgata’s poker tables, where there appeared to be no empty seats at seven-player tables with, yes, more plexiglass.
Almost a dozen men stood (a socially distanced) watch near an electronic tote board that listed a variety of game options and the names of those who would be next to gain a seat at a particular table.
For 1/3 No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em ($1 small blind, $3 big blind), the waiting list went 16 deep around 3 p.m. But there was a single open seat available for 2/5 NL Hold ‘Em.
Borgata’s 30-table poker room reopened in October, and clearly word has gotten around.
The slot machines had their own “regulars,” some of them with their walkers. One man wobbled through the casino with a portable oxygen tank, seemingly undaunted by fear of contracting COVID-19.
The adjacent BetMGM Sportsbook, rebranded to that new name three months ago, has been closed of late on some midweek days, an employee volunteered.
But the expected volume of customers for the “holiday lull” meant it was open for business on Tuesday — and rightly so, as about a dozen tables were in use for lunchtime for groups of two to six customers per table.
The temperature checks from spring and summer were gone at Borgata and at Bally’s, but security remained vigilant over patrons wearing masks, including ensuring they stay above one’s nose.
FanDuel stakes its Atlantic City claim
As of last week, there is a new addition to the casino floor at Bally’s — a temporary sportsbook with four self-service kiosks and three teller windows. An employee predicted that the permanent sportsbook would open in March, which would be in time for NCAA basketball March Madness (or April Madness, or May Madness, depending on how the season plays out).
The former Blue Martini bar already is boarded up as work begins on the permanent book, which will be within a few steps for Boardwalk visitors who walk into the casino next to the Johnny Rockets restaurant.
Caesars had been the only casino without a sportsbook, sharing the adjacent Bally’s “The Book” since both were owned by Caesars Entertainment.
But when Bally’s casino, as well as rights to use the brand name, was sold earlier this year to Twin River (which then adopted the Bally’s name nationwide for its gaming operations), the sportsbook wound up in the hands of Caesars.
That led FanDuel, the daily fantasy sports giant that has the state’s largest sportsbook at the Meadowlands Racetrack, to seize an opportunity to get in on the action.
Rival DraftKings already has a sportsbook at Resorts, while European bookmaker William Hill opened for business at Ocean Casino and Tropicana as well as at Monmouth Park.
A sunny day but temperatures only as high as the mid-40s tempered the size of the crowd on the Boardwalk on Tuesday.
While “social distancing” was a breeze under those circumstances, there were just enough walked dogs, couples, and families milling about to avoid making the scene too depressing.
(The scene had a better vibe than my “March Sadness” tour that came after the casinos had just shut down for COVID-19 — a condition that remained until July 4 weekend.)
Many of the T-shirt and tchotchke shops were open on the Boardwalk, but the merchants mostly talked among themselves as browsing customers were a rarity on this day.