New Jersey is the sports betting capital of the U.S. — what better proof than the estimated $10 billion that will be wagered during this year’s March Madness?
Around 1.6 million New Jerseyans will bet on the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, with 625,000 of those wagering on the tournament for the first time, according to gambling.com. March Madness was canceled last year due to COVID-19, so there will be plenty of pent-up betting demand for this year’s tournament — the second biggest sports betting event in the U.S. (only the Super Bowl takes in more money).
The first four full days of March Madness — March 18 to 21, encompassing the rounds of 64 and 32 — are ”insane” for betting activity, according to Tom Gable, director of race and sports at the Borgata/BetMGM sports book in Atlantic City.
In 2020, $6 billion was wagered on sports betting in New Jersey, an all-time record for any state and 33% higher than the amount wagered in 2019. New Jersey has led the nation in sports betting every month since January 2020.
About 90% of sports betting is done online (and most of that by smartphone), but the retail, walk-in sportsbooks offer a cozy, plush-seated experience. There are COVID-related restrictions (at most books, you must be seated to be served alcohol), but there’s a camaraderie being among fellow fans and bettors. Dozens of screens mean you don’t miss a minute of NBA, NHL, MLB and other games.
Most of New Jersey’s 12 retail sportsbooks have partnerships/affiliations with one of the major online sportsbooks. Nine of the 11 books are at Atlantic City casinos: Tropicana, Harrah’s, Wild Wild West, Ocean Casino Resort (all William Hill); Resorts (DraftKings); Bally’s (FanDuel), Borgata (BetMGM). Hard Rock and Golden Nugget operate their own sportsbooks; Hard Rock partners with bet365 and Golden Nugget with FanDuel. The sportsbook at Meadowlands Racetrack is run by FanDuel, while the one at Monmouth Park is operated by William Hill.
Here’s our insider’s guide to all 11 N.J. sportsbooks, with details on features and amenities.
The FanDuel sportsbook at Meadowlands Racetrack is the nation’s highest-volume retail book, which may come as a surprise to those who’d assume a book in Vegas or Atlantic City would hold that honor.
But the Meadowlands sportsbook is the only one in North Jersey, with millions of potential customers within easy driving distance, including New Yorkers who think nothing of driving or taking a train to the Meadowlands, placing bets, then turning around and going home.
About 20% of legal sports betting in New Jersey is done by New Yorkers; legal sports betting in the Empire State is restricted to a handful of upstate casinos.
The Meadowlands sportsbook, a former sports bar/nightclub called Victory, opened July 14, 2018.
“We were surprised by (the initial business),” said Andrew Kleiman, the book’s senior director of operations. “It blew away our projections. The demand was there.”
The racetrack reported $183.9 million in online sports betting revenue and $22.5 million in retail (sportsbook) revenue in 2020, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. The latter number was four times greater than the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the Meadowlands’ nearest retail competitor in New Jersey.
The Meadowlands sportsbook includes 54 betting kiosks, 150 TV screens, an upstairs lounge, a seven-seat VIP area (with its own betting window) and an outdoor heated tent. There’s even a room where you stand on socially-distanced markers and watch the games. I asked Kleiman if guests could sit down on the floor if their feet got tired. No, he said, smiling, not allowed.
The Kleiman family is no stranger to the sports business. Kleiman’s brother, Rich, is a partner at Thirty Five Ventures and manager of basketball superstar Kevin Durant.
The sportsbook’s biggest-ever bet was $1 million, placed by a Houston mattress dealer in 2019. He was Jim McIngvale, AKA Mattress Mack, who bet $1 million at the Meadowlands on his beloved Houston Astros to beat the Washington Nationals in the 2019 World Series. If the Astros won, he would give customers who previously bought mattresses from him a full refund. The Astros lost, but Mattress Mack, a philanthropist who turned his stores into shelters during several hurricanes, seemed more heartbroken over his Astros losing than the millions he squandered.
The Willian Hill sportsbook at the Trop boasts the largest odds board in the city, according to a casino spokeswoman. This was one of my favorite books — not too big, not too small. Four large screens at top, eight screens below, a dozen screens wrapping around the side and back. There’s a walk-up betting window and three betting kiosks, one for large limits. The book is located next to Chickie’s & Pete’s.
Call the sportsbook at Borgata/BetMGM a sports bar in the round, with one giant screen, two smaller ones on either side and 15 other screens wrapped around the room. A ticker-tape-like scroll announces lines, and there’s a betting counter in the corner. A raised VIP area is against a back wall. VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network) broadcasts a weekend betting show from a nearby studio. Good wings here, by the way.
There are four rows of padded seats at the DraftKings/Resorts book, plus 18 betting kiosks and five betting windows. There’s also a VIP area (photo). Cups of FreshNap hand wipes can be found at each table. Scores, lines and injury reports scroll across the entrance. There’s a bar, but you can’t order or drink there; you must be seated. You won’t miss any of the action even if you go to the bathroom; there are screens above the urinals in the men’s room.
The sportsbook at the Golden Nugget, across the escalator from the Rush Lounge, manages to be cozy and spacious, with a two-row movie-theater-like sweep of seats in front of one big screen, and two rows of padded seats in front of two other big screens. There are three rows of 10 screens each suspended from the ceiling, and a half dozen betting kiosks. Bottles of GermX hand sanitizer are available at several self-serve stations. Recommended casino restaurant: Lillie’s Asian Cuisine.
This is the newest N.J. sportsbook; it opened Friday, replacing the temporary book on the casino floor. There’s a big screen, six smaller ones on either side, four screens on the right wall, betting windows, self-serve betting kiosks, nine 4-seat tables and three 10-seat rows of padded chairs up front. You can order food straight from the kitchen; I’ll give their smoked wings a try next time I’m there. Decent craft beer selection; drafts include Cape May White from Cape May Brewing Co. and A Little Sumpin’ from Lagunitas.
The William Hill sports book at Ocean Casino Resort (the former Revel) is a big, high-ceilinged space. A catwalk with klieg lights make you feel you stumbled onto a Hollywood stage set. As at most sportsbooks, the beer selection is depressing; did I just order a Michelob Ultra? When I was there, one of the screens was showing a college hockey game between St. Cloud State and Western Michigan. St. Cloud State are the Huskies. But you knew that.
The William Hill book at Harrah’s occupies the sportsbook middle ground: not as big as Wild Wild West, not as small as the Hard Rock. There are 32 seats and three big screens. Want to feel special? Book one of the two fan caves (photo), with its plush couches and abundant privacy. Food service available from nearby AC Burger Co.
This is the smallest of N.J.’s 11 sportsbooks, and Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, is quite content keeping it that way. He told me expanding the book would only reduce the amount of space given over to casino table games, a big money-maker. The sportsbook is like sitting in someone’s living room, albeit one with two dozen screens. There’s a walk-up betting window next door. Inside tip: If you’re like me and hate beer in plastic cups, make sure you order those available in bottles. Stella Artois comes in a cup; Corona, Bud and others in bottles.
There are five private fan caves at William Hill/Wild Wild West if you want to live it up, a VIP area, and 102 seats in all. The best beer selection at any book is here — the Beer Yourself wall of taps. You can choose from 16 craft beers, and you pay by the pour — an ounce or two, a full cup, etc. The amount consumed is registered on a card issued to each drinker. Because of COVID restrictions, Beer Yourself is off-limits to guests, but good news — the bartenders will happily take your order, and there are another eight taps behind the bar. Food available from Guy’s Bar-B-Cue.
The Monmouth Park sportsbook by William Hill comes in two parts — a utilitarian tile-floored space with tables and betting windows on the track’s concourse, plus the swanky Race and Sports Bar (photo), with about 30 tables, two long standup tables at either end, dozens of screens, and betting counters. Sign at entrance: Please remove sunglasses and hats before approaching counter.
This sportsbook opened last September; good luck finding any detailed information on the track’s or the Parx Casino web site. For more info, check out legalpsportsbetting.com. The sportsbook is located inside the area known as Favorites on the track’s ground floor.
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Peter Genovese may be reached at [email protected].