Even sports betting will not save Atlantic City

To think that sports betting will help drive the long declining popularity of Atlantic City into a major new direction is unreasonable.

Recent suggestions of legalized sports wagering "rescuing AC” are grossly exaggerated

As I walked the historic boardwalk last weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey my mind shifted back to the earliest days of casino gambling at Resorts International, the legendary town’s first casino hotel. 

Believe it or not, one had to stand in line three deep outside a blackjack table rooting for someone to lose to simply wrestle for a seat.  Slots were difficult to come by as well and in the middle of the summer any chair at less than a $25 table was virtually impossible to come by.   The thought of placing a bet on sports was a fantasy dream. Only for Nevada, up till then the single state in the U.S. reserved for legalized casino gambling.

sports betting William Hill Atlantic CityFlash forward three decades later it seemed like a mirage staring upon the beaming new William Hill sportsbook at the Ocean Club, the giant re-named Revel hotel in Atlantic City.  One of the first sportsbooks that will eventually occupying all the casino hotels within the seaside resort.  I know we can’t change yesterday, but if A.C. indeed had sportsbooks legalized back thirty years ago, would it been enough to change their long declining fortunes?

Hate to be Negative, But…

The answer is an obvious NO. 

It’s terrific that among many other casinos in America, Atlantic City will now market sports wagering to its customers.  But to think that it will "save" or have any significant impact on their bottom line balance sheet is a bit crazy. 

The main reason is the long history of online sports betting, with New Jersey being the brand-new pioneer state for legalized sports wagering.  Having led the bitter fight against PASPA, they certainly deserve all success coming to them. 

However, as the weather starts to become colder, all sports bettors will be either a click or a phone app away from placing their wagers.  It would be foolish to think they might be primarily motivated to travel to any casino to place a wager without having some extra social reason involved.  That could be to watch a game or maybe play other games at the casino.  But to suggest a high percentage will help drive the long declining popularity of Atlantic City into a major new direction is unreasonable. 

A Major Factor

The introduction of legalized online sports gambling in Nevada, and especially Las Vegas, might be the footprint for what Atlantic City may follow, especially in the early stages affecting New Jersey.  In Nevada all registered account holders can deposit wagers into their accounts but are restricted to collecting their winnings or account holdings in-person on location.  That is a huge factor to keep in mind.

We can expect a similar process taking effect in New Jersey.  Account holders will be motivated to deposit easily and freely through their computer or web application BUT necessary to be on-hand to collect sports wagering withdrawals at Atlantic City locations. 

Unlike long-established horse racing websites and applications like Twin Spires or TVG Network, we will evaluate in the immediate future if this process will change. There, an account holder can receive winning requests or any account holdings back into their registered bank account within 24-48 hours at no charge.  Again, the obvious motivation here is encouraging account holders to visit each casino property to enjoy their amenities and play at their respective casinos.

Next States on Deck

We are currently seeing the next U.S. states come on board rapidly for legalized sport gambling including Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia.  Up to a dozen other states have also entered the legislative discussion for sports gambling.  No one has ambitious plans to "save" their casino sector, but certainly an opportunity to increase their state tax income, fund new state programs and offer people within the state the option to wager on sports.  Also, a chance to compete with the long successful offshore wagering segment and the list of top preferred offshore sportsbooks.

Reasonable Conclusions

Look for sportsbooks to begin entering all casinos in Atlantic City sometime in early September.  Their impact will help draw local people within the tri-state market for a new opportunity to wager and enjoy professional and college sports.  Unlike Las Vegas, this will be a completely different marketing approach.  Feature parties around specific games and promotional events are to be expected.

The most important reality is this IS NOT 1988, where New Jersey shared the U.S. casino landscape with only Nevada.  It will certainly help that among new casino hotels, Atlantic City has a new, very exciting feature to visit and advertise.  But to think there will be a complete renaissance due to legalized sports gambling is far-fetched. 

Here’s hoping it basically helps and, along with many other needed improvements, begins the process of being a destination people will surely want to visit again.  The next steps will involve completely re-building the town of Atlantic City itself.  We can’t depend on global warming to create another South Florida or Southern California landscape for nationwide U.S. tourists, vacationers or bettors to race toward. 

Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding previews and picks from Glenn, click here.

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