Atlantic City's Borgata Casino on Saturday hosted a free-throw basketball tournament that gaming executives from across the country hope will reverse the ailing New Jersey resort town's fortunes.
About 750 contestants paid a $20 entry fee for the chance to win more than $20,000 in prizes by shooting basketballs into hoops in an event that marked the industry's first attempt at "skill-based" gaming, or games where most the element of chance is removed.
Al Callejas, 37, a first grade teacher from Archibald, Pennsylvania, and the son of a high school basketball coach, took home the first prize of $10,200.
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"I chalk it up to being taught to shoot the right way at an early age," Callejas said.
Skill-based games are just one of a number of developments in the highly regulated gaming industry that officials in New Jersey have allowed in an effort to prop up Atlantic City, which saw four of its 12 casinos close in 2014.
Gaming executives hope such activities will make casinos more attractive to younger customers who grew up with video games and who view slot machines as boring.
"It's really all about the demographic,” said Joe Lupo, Borgata's vice president of operations.
The contest drew free-throw aficionados from across the country, including Ed Palubinskas, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a former shooting coach for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Also in attendance was Jeff Harris, of Seattle, who shot 44 consecutive baskets with alternating hands in 2010 to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Casino executives will be looking closely at data from the event to see how many players went into the casino after to dine, gamble and head to the casino's nightclubs.
“It's about marketing the entire property,” said Bob Ambrose, who teaches gaming at Drexel University's Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. "It will bring a better bottom line to all of the casino's amenities."
Last September, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that partially repealed the state's ban on sports betting, but casinos have been reluctant to take it up out of fear that federal regulators could crack down.
Sports leagues have filed a lawsuit to stop sports wagering, and the issue is being considered in federal court.