The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is holding its conference tournament in Atlantic City this week to determine its representative for the NCAA men’s basketball March Madness tournament that begins on March 19.
The event is being held at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, an iconic facility along a strip that is home to six of Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
But as the tournament looms beginning on Monday night, legal gambling — the heart and soul of the city — on the event will be severely limited throughout the tri-state area.
Not only can neither casino visitors nor mobile sports betting customers anywhere in the state of New Jersey legally wager on any games played by in-state event participants Monmouth, St. Peter’s, and Rider, the tournament itself also is off-limits.
It all stems from the wording of the 2011 Constitutional amendment approved by voters statewide, setting the stage for an eventual legal gambling revolution in the U.S. capped by the May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling permitting any state to follow in Nevada’s sports betting footprints:
“If legalized in New Jersey, bets could be placed on professional, college, or amateur sports or athletic events — except that bets could not be placed on any college sports or athletic event that takes place in New Jersey or in which a New Jersey college team is playing.”
So, no MAAC tournament wagering in New Jersey.
New York — there’s a catch there, too
How about in New York, which features six of the MAAC’s 11 schools? Sports betting is legal in New York, after all — but as with New Jersey, only with an exception that bans betting on games involving New York state schools.
And Connecticut, home of MAAC schools Quinnipiac and Fairfield, has no legal sports betting at all.
So here’s the rundown of what legal bets can be made on this tournament in the tri-state area this week:
- No. 6 Canisius vs. No. 11 Rider — none, because game includes a New York team
- No. 8 Quinnipiac vs. No. 9 Iona — none, because game includes a New York team
- No. 7 Fairfield vs. No. 10 Manhattan — none, because game includes a New York team
- No. 1 Siena vs. winner of Quinnipiac-Iona — none, because game includes at least one New York team
- No. 2 Monmouth vs. winner of Fairfield-Manhattan — none if Manhattan plays, but legal in New York if Fairfield is the opponent for Monmouth
- No. 3 Saint Peter’s vs. winner of Canisius-Rider — none if Canisius plays, but legal in New York if Rider is the opponent for St. Peter’s
- No. 4 Marist vs. No. 5 Niagara — none, because game includes two New York teams
- Siena-Quinnipiac-Iona winner vs. Marist-Niagara winner — none, because game includes at least one New York team
- Monmouth-Fairfield-Manhattan winner vs. St. Peter’s-Canisius-Rider winner — none, if Manhattan or Canisius are playing. Otherwise, legal in New York
- No legal betting in the region unless 8th-seeded Quinnipiac pulls off a pair of upsets en route to the final — because otherwise the game includes at least one New York team
MAAC a legal betting wasteland?
So remarkably, it’s quite possible that a college basketball tournament will be held in gambling hotbed Atlantic City without a single game being available for legal wagering anywhere in the tri-state area.
And even if there are single games available beginning on Wednesday, the only legal bets would come in New York — and only at upstate brick-and-mortar casinos, because New York does not allow mobile wagering.
St. Peter’s, the third seed, is located in Jersey City, where the Manhattan skyline soars just across the Hudson River. But if a Peacocks fan on campus wants to bet legally on Thursday’s possible game against Rider, for example, they can’t just spend a couple of minutes on a PATH train and then bet the game on New York soil.
Instead, they’ll have to schlep 95 miles to the Live! Casino in Philadelphia; 90 miles to the Resorts World Catskills casino in New York or to Rivers Casino Philadelphia; or try other Pennsylvania alternatives 85 miles away at Mount Airy Casino, 80 miles away at Wind Creek Bethlehem, or 75 miles away at Parx Casino and Racing.
Betting-minded fans of second-seeded Monmouth — whose team might face Fairfield in a quarterfinal game on Wednesday — face about the same distances from the West Long Branch, N.J. campus “down the Shore” to the Philadelphia-area casinos, while the Catskills casino is 135 miles to the north.
Of course, those fans just might decide instead to visit an illegal, offshore, non-regulated sportsbook on their mobile phones in the comfort of their dorm rooms.
Limited number of fans, too
Fans can make friendly wagers in the stands with each other as they watch the games — but won’t want to get too close due to social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Well, not just any fans. MAAC officials announced 10 days ago that no tickets will be sold for the tournament to the general public.
Only “friends and family” — such as parents, siblings, and children of the student-athletes and the coaching staffs — will be permitted, with a maximum of 10% capacity under a new order by Gov. Phil Murphy that ended the year-long ban on visitors to indoor facilities such as Boardwalk Hall.
Legal sports betting in the U.S. has come a long way in the past three years. You’d just almost never know it when it comes to the MAAC tournament in Atlantic City.