Rivers Sportsbook among platforms expecting big betting during March Madness

Summer shot of Rivers Casino

Officials expect Rivers Sportsbook to be crowded this weekend as March Madness kicks into gear.

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SCHENECTADY — Based on a survey by the American Gaming Association, the amount of money bet on March Madness will approach $15.5 billion through April 3, when the NCAA men’s basketball championship game will be held in Houston.

The Rivers Casino & Resort Sportsbook expects to be responsible for its fair chunk of that, bolstered by extra interest from fans and bettors in the Capital Region because first- and second-round games will be held in Albany this weekend.

Just don’t go to the Sportsbook expecting to contribute to that total by betting on the Iona-UConn game, which is scheduled Friday at MVP Arena, or on Thursday’s Colgate-Texas game in Des Moines, Iowa.

A New York state law that prevents New York state residents from betting on college games that occur in the state in any sport does offer an exemption for March Madness games held in New York. There is no exemption, though, from the part of that law that prohibits betting on games involving New York-based teams.

So Iona-UConn and Colgate-Texas are out, but everything else is in play, which means Rivers Sportsbook should be humming with activity this week and beyond.

“This is going to be big,” Rivers Sportsbook manager Brooke Nix said on Wednesday. “This is a great destination to watch the games, we’re going to have everything on, it’s going to be a great atmosphere, lots of people, lots of out-of-towners … it’s going to be fun.”

Nix said it’s difficult to estimate how much Rivers Sportsbook will handle in bets because this is the first year the venue hasn’t had some outside factor affecting a bricks-and-mortar site like Rivers during March Madness.

The casino opened in 2017, but the Sportsbook didn’t open until July of 2019, then the COVID-19 pandemic impacted 2020 and 2021.

Last year, online wagering in New York had only been legal for two months before the men’s basketball tournament began, so those platforms hadn’t fully established themselves.

“The first year we opened, we opened in July. Then the second year was 2020, so we were closed right before March Madness,” Nix said. “The third year was a 25% capacity [limit at the casino], so every year has been different. Then, last year, mobile sports betting went live on Jan. 8, and we’re not affiliated with mobile.

“Now, this year is a whole, normal year. It’s interesting. You have to prepare yourself for the foot traffic coming in. We’re hoping for the best.”

Many of those feet will belong to people from out of state.

Laura Primiano, Rivers vice president of hospitality, said The Landing Hotel is sold out Wednesday through Sunday, with a 60-40% split between out-of-towners and local patrons.

Most weekends, that ratio is the other way around.

“There were some people from Virginia who came in last night and have six rooms,” Primiano said.

Virginia Commonwealth University fans, perhaps.

The VCU Rams play Saint Mary’s (Calif.) in Albany on Friday.

Besides the games at MVP Arena, New York will also be the site of two Sweet 16 games and an Elite Eight game, at Madison Square Garden on March 23 and 25.

There are other states, like New Jersey and Rhode Island, with laws preventing wagering on in-state college teams and college games that occur within state borders.

The spirit of the laws, as explained by New Jersey assemblyman Eric Houghtaling in an article published in 2019 on nj1015.com, is to prevent games from being fixed through player inducement to manipulate the outcomes.

“This was one of those ideas to try to keep temptation out of college sports, because their athletes don’t get paid,” Houghtaling said.

Adding to the potential for a busy weekend at Rivers are mixed martial arts events scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Cage Wars 57 brings live MMA to the Event Center on Friday, and the Sportsbook will be showing the pay-per-view UFC 286 for free on Saturday.

Every March Madness game, whether in Albany or elsewhere, will be occupying the multiple TV screens in the Sportsbook, too.

“With it being in Albany, I believe we’re going to get a lot of foot traffic, so I’m excited about it,” Nix said. “That adds interest, and I think the COVID thing is in the rearview mirror, so I think that this should be a good year for us.

“We’re extremely looking forward to it. We’re getting a lot of people coming in from out of town. I spoke to some people from Chicago, some people are coming from Indiana. I have friends that are coming in from Pittsburgh. The hotel is booked.

“Here, you can watch everything at the same time.”

Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

Categories: College Sports, Schenectady, Sports, Sports

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