ATLANTIC CITY — Online and mobile sportsbook operators in New Jersey may take nearly 80% of all wagers throughout the year, but on the first Sunday of professional football, casino sportsbooks were handling plenty of action.
From the Boardwalk to the Marina District, Atlantic City’s eight brick-and-mortar sportsbooks were filled with avid gamblers and casual fans, all eager to watch a full slate of games during the opening weekend of the 100th season of the National Football League.
At the official grand opening of The Book inside the Wild Wild West Casino at Bally’s Atlantic City — the resort’s largest sportsbook at nearly 15,000 square feet — former Philadelphia Eagles players Chris Long, Hollis Thomas and Fred Barnett greeted fans, signed autographs and took pictures.
Among the fans there to bet on the home opener against the Washington Redskins and meet his Eagles heroes was Thomas Killian, 39, of Chester Pennsylvania, who spent the weekend in Atlantic City in preparation of the NFL’s first Sunday.
“This place is perfect for watching the games, hanging with friends and, hopefully, winning some cash,” Killian said, while showing his bet ticket at The Book that showed his $100 wager on the Eagles to win by more than 10 points. “We’ve never been to Atlantic City for football before, but I think we’ll be back.”
Killian was among those who saw easy money disappear in the final seconds of Sunday’s game as the Redskins, down by 12, scored with six seconds left to pull the game within five points (Philadelphia won 32-27), meaning his Eagles bet did not win.
Mike Zani, 54, of Middletown, New York, and Stephen Brennan, 58, sat in reserved seats at The Book on Sunday. The duo had wagers on several games, including Brennan’s bet on the New York Jets to win by more than two points and Zani’s pick for the Kansas City Chiefs to win by more than three.
“If (the Chiefs) lose, I have a bad day,” Zani quipped. “They’re like the sun today — everything revolves around them.”
Kansas City won by 14 over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Jets lost by one to the Buffalo Bills.
Further down the Boardwalk, at the William Hill Sportsbook in Ocean Casino Resort, Justin Teegs, 25, of Highland Park, Middlesex County, picked against the Jets although he is a fan of Gang Green.
“I always bet against my teams,” Teegs said. “That way if they lose the game, I still walk away happy.”
While bettors and fans enjoyed the first NFL Sunday of this year, the casinos and sportsbooks were equally pleased. One sportsbook manager, who could not speak on the record because they were not authorized, said Sunday “was the busiest the windows have been” since sports betting started in New Jersey last June.
“We’ve had more walk-ups, more first-time players (today) than I’ve ever seen,” the manager said. “A lot of $10 and $20 bets, but people are really into it. You can see what it’s doing for the restaurants and bars and casino,” gesturing to a crowded gaming floor and standing-room only bar.
Since legalized sports betting began in New Jersey in June 2018, an average of 80% of all wagers have been placed through an online or mobile operator, with daily fantasy sports giants FanDuel and DraftKings leading the way.
For fans such as Killian and Teegs, the games were secondary to the experience of spending a football Sunday at an actual sportsbook.
“I could easily see this being my go-to spot for football,” Killian said, before heading over to the self-serve beer dispenser at The Book.
Teegs, who lowered his head in an all-too-familiar agony while watching the Bills take the lead late in the Jets game, held up his bet slip from across the sportsbook, shrugged and mouthed, “I win.”