After decades of gambling on sports, here's a surprise that few Americans were betting on: sports gambling is now legal. The May 14 Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on sports bets represents a change in the gambling world so massive it was hard to put into words, even for seasoned bettors like the Philly Godfather.
"It's a monumental day," the Philly Godfather, real name Steve Maltpepe, marveled. "People are gonna be able to bet on whatever they want."
The implications of the Supreme Court decision are still be figured out – like when exactly the news laws take effect – but everyone agrees legalizing a multi-billion dollar black market industry will create jobs and boost the local economy. Coupled with an upward swing in the fortunes of Atlantic City, which recently reported its first gains after years of decline and has two brand-new casinos set to open on the same day next months.
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"It's gonna be great for the East Coast," Philly Godfather predicted. "No one has to fly out to Las Vegas anymore, that five-hour grueling flight. As long as Atlantic City can be built up in the right way, that whole Vegas feel they have out there, if they can replicate it here, it will be huge."
A new state report shows that as of April 2018, total gaming revenues were up 1.3 percent in Atlantic City's casino scene over a year prior at $214 million, according to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Enthusiasm is in the air: on Memorial Day weekend, Resorts Casino Hotel will celebrate its 40th anniversary by dropping 10,000 beach balls on the Boardwalk and re-enacting the first roll of the dice ever to take place at the casino in 1978.
Four weeks later on June 28, two casinos are opening on the same day (reportedly a first in Atlantic City history): the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and the Ocean Resort Casino. The two casinos collectively represent the creations of some 6,500 jobs in the area. Several of the casinos are planning to open up their own sports books to compete with those in Vegas.
"It could be huge if they do it the right way .... the pool parties, the clubs, you gotta have other things to do. Now, with the sports betting it will be a domino effect, if you can make it a destination," Philly Godfather predicted. "NBA playoffs, NHL Stanley Cup, March Madness – people like to go somewhere and have fun while they're gambling. It could become ever biger than Vegas. The majority of the population lives on the East Coast, 140 million people. Who's gonna take that five-hour long flight?"
Philly Godfather runs his own website, PhillyGodfather.com, a subscription service that since 2012 has offered his picks and tips for who to bet on in the sports world. ("We're the real deal, the one percent of professional sports bettors that actually win," he said.) He said with the new law, even Walmart could get betting kiosks.
The only people who will get hurt, he said, are small-time street bookies who have been the go-to guy for black market gambling. And he predicted states will begin cracking down on those operations as they begin collecting tax revenue on legalized, regulated gambling.
"It's bad news for the local street bookies. … It's really going to hurt the mob more than anybody else," he said. "They're gonna be in trouble economically."
Rising from the ashes
Atlantic City is in need of good news. The long-suffering resort town has been declining since the recession, and five casinos shut over 2014-16, ending some 11,000 jobs. But new life is coming back. The Hard Rock is opening inside the former Trump Taj Mahal, while the Ocean Resort is located in the former Revel. Those two alone are expected to bring back 6,500 jobs.
In its glory days, the '70s and even the '90s, AC at times had more gambling revenue than Vegas. Those are days that could return, Philly Godfather predicted. "Who's gonna go to the desert when you got an ocean view?" he asked. "And its not just AC, Margate, Ocean City, Cape May. Why would anyone from the East Coast go out to Vegas anymore?"