March Madness is producing excitement all over the U.S., and gambling hotbed Atlantic City, New Jersey is host to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament that kicked off on Tuesday (the MAAC’s women’s tournament is also being held in Atlantic City this week).
That’s when Tipico Sportsbook announced it has become the official sports betting partner of the MAAC:
“Basketball is one of the top sports to bet on, with March Madness seeing 30% more money wagered on it than the Super Bowl across the industry,” Tipico chief commercial officer David Pashkes said in a statement. “It’s only natural for us to provide these fans with unmatched experiences and create slam-dunk moments as they enjoy their favorite game.”
Yes – but no.
Games involving in-state schools are off limit
Fans of participating teams visiting Atlantic City from New York State (Canisius, Manhattan, Iona, Marist, Niagara, and Siena), Connecticut (Fairfield and Quinnipiac), Maryland (Mount St. Mary’s), and even within New Jersey (St. Peter’s, Rider) get to mix in some gambling at any of Atlantic City’s nine casinos as part of their visit.
That includes all conference tournament games – EXCEPT those featuring New Jersey schools and, most relevant in this case, any games that are played in the state.
The result is that none of the MAAC games – not just those involving in-state schools St. Peter’s or Rider, who happened to face each other on Wednesday – are off-limits to legal sportsbooks in New Jersey whether the mobile version or those located in the city’s casinos.
A result of decisions made decades ago
The curious scenario is the result of a decision made more than a decade ago by lawmakers to exclude such games. State Sen. Ray Lesniak – the founding father of legal gambling expansion in New Jersey – made the compromises to ensure that he had enough votes to get approval for a statewide referendum on sports betting in 2011.
After the proposal was backed by voters and then signed into law in early 2012, the NFL, NCAA, and three other sports organizations subsequently sued the state to prevent the wagering.
It took six years, but New Jersey officials finally prevailed in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 26-year federal law effectively giving national sports betting monopoly to Nevada was unconstitutional.
Even most visiting fans who somehow knew about the quirky New Jersey law couldn’t solve the issue by betting on the game at home, before driving to Atlantic City. That’s because New York and Connecticut also forbid legal betting on games involving in-state schools.
The exception was fans of Mount St. Mary’s, who could bet on their team from home. But after beating Canisius by one point in overtime on Tuesday, the Mountaineers lost by 20 points to top-seeded Iona in a quarterfinal game on Wednesday.
In his statement, Paschkes pointed to St. Peter’s, “which produced one of the greatest Cinderella stories in college basketball history just one year ago.”
The Peacocks coach departed for Seton Hall after the tournament, however, and many of the key players transferred to other schools. So St. Peter’s slumped to a 14-17 record – and a 7-13 mark in the MAAC, consigning them to a 10th seed in the tournament of the 11-team league.
Yet St. Peter’s upset No. 7 seed Fairfield on Tuesday, then followed up with a stunning win over No. 2 seed Rider on Wednesday. The Peacocks advanced to the semifinals on Friday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
Because St. Peter’s is located in Jersey City in the shadow of Manhattan, their students age 21 and over who reside on campus can take a brief train ride across the Hudson River to place legal wagers on St. Peter’s games.
But a solution is coming for Tipico and the MAAC, which this week announced an agreement to keep the men’s and women’s tournaments in Atlantic City through 2026.
Revival of a refenderum
There was a statewide ballot question in New Jersey in 2021 about whether to eliminate the limitations on betting on in-state college games and on college games taking place in the state.
Unlike many referendums, there was no concerted effort to either support or oppose the measure, which failed.
But with the NCAA awarding a March Madness regional and semifinal package to the Prudential Center in Newark in 2025, the expectation is that either this year or next year, the proposal will be back on the state ballot.
The Newark site in 2011 proved to be a hit with the four teams, which included basketball powerhouse schools Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State, and Marquette – all of whom have won men’s basketball Division I national championships.
If the Prudential Center plays host to a similar level of firepower in 2025, the state and its approved sportsbooks would be in line for a chance at a significant amount of revenue from visiting fans should the college betting limitations be removed.
Several lawmakers have said they will make an effort to raise voter awareness of the situation before the next ballot question comes up for approval. If successful, it also would open the door for MAAC tournament on-site betting in 2025.