By Skip Charles
March Madness is only a month away.
And nothing that happens on the courts across America will hold a candle to the competition between New Jersey and New York for the online sports betting dollar.
When New York state started taking mobile sports bets last month, everyone assumed it would take a big chunk out of New Jersey’s nation-leading market.
And although New York did become the top market in the U.S. in terms of the amount bet on sports in January, it did not hurt New Jersey at all. In fact, New Jersey surpassed its best month in January, taking in $1.34 billion in bets.
That was up more than 40% from the amount New Jersey’s casinos and horse tracks handled in January 2021.
Jane Bokunewicz, director of the Lloyd Levenson Institute at Stockton University, which studies the Atlantic City gambling market, told the Associated Press that winter storms and online sports betting competition from New York posed “challenges both new and familiar.”
The weather undoubtedly hurt in-person gambling, but she said it could take some months for a clearer picture to emerge of how New York’s nascent online sports betting industry will affect New Jersey’s.
Joe Lupo, president of Atlantic City’s Hard Rock casino, was concerned about continuing weakness in Atlantic City’s in-person casino revenue, which was $192 million in January. That’s $9 million less than it was in January 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic began in earnest.
“With an additional Saturday and New Year’s falling so favorable in January, it is evident the record snowfall negatively impacted many properties, as the city land-based casino revenue fell behind pre-COVID 2020 levels,” Lupo told the AP.
“Our team did a spectacular job during the blizzard keeping our property energized and restaurants open, and I am extremely proud Hard Rock Atlantic City continues to lead the market in year-over-year casino revenue increases.”
When internet and sports betting are included, overall gambling revenue for casinos and tracks was $381.6 million, up over 10% from a year ago.
No doubt aided by bad weather keeping gamblers at home, internet gambling set a monthly record in January at nearly $138 million, up nearly 33% from a year ago. Sports betting revenue was $60.2 million, down nearly 27% from a year earlier.
Borgata led the market with $92.3 million in total gambling revenue, up 22.5% from a year earlier. Hard Rock won $42.3 million, up over 26%; the Ocean Casino won $26.4 million, up 1.6%; Tropicana won $25.7 million, up over 13%; Harrah’s won $17.5 million, up over 17%; Caesars won $16 million, down less than 1%; Resorts won $9.5 million, down nearly 10%, and Bally’s won $8.7 million, up 2%.
But casino executives say those numbers are misleading because much of the internet and sports betting money must be shared with technology partners, sportsbooks and other third parties, which is why they concentrate on their core business of in-person gambling.
New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 clearing the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting; so far, 33 plus Washington D.C. currently do.
New Jersey raced out to a national lead in terms of the amount of money its casinos and tracks handled in sports bets, a position it held for four years.
But the state realized that was not likely to last forever, particularly once neighboring New York, with a vastly larger population, approved mobile sports betting. More than 80% of all sports bets are made online in the U.S.
New York launched its mobile betting Jan. 8, and in four short weeks, seized New Jersey’s sports betting crown by taking nearly $2 billion worth of sports bets. New Jersey’s previous best month ever came last October when it handled just over $1.3 billion.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy anticipated that his state’s market would take a hit once New York went online. In a speech last week, he recalled stories of people taking trains, driving or even riding bicycles from New York into New Jersey to make sports bets.
“I think we thought from moment one assuming New York legalized sports betting that it would take a chunk out of our business,” he said.
That might still happen, but it has not in the early going.