Madness helps fuel strong March for N.J. sportsbooks

March Madness produced a strong month for New Jersey’s sportsbooks, but the $1 billion wagering mark remained elusive, according to the latest report from PlayNJ.

The gaming analysis firm said in its latest report that sportsbooks took $859.6 million in wagers in March, according to the state’s figures. That was up 15.7% from the February mark, and up from $181.9 million in the pandemic-plagued March 2020. It also represented the highest handle ever for a month without football, PlayNJ said.

“March represents a much-needed bounceback after a somewhat disappointing February,” Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayNJ, said in a prepared statement. “It will probably be until football season before the state gets that first $1 billion month, but New Jersey’s online market has made a habit of outperforming expectations. Longer-term, though, New Jersey’s market faces serious challenges, most notably New York’s expected launch of online sports betting later this year.”

March’s wagers produced $60.8 million in revenue, up 360.9% year-over-year, and up 31.5% from February’s $46.2 million. That produced $7.7 million in taxes for the state.

The return of the NCAA Tournament — which was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 — helped basketball account for $441.7 million of the monthly handle, 51.4% of the total.

“The popularity of college basketball is what led to the resurgence of retail sportsbooks, good news for a segment that hasn’t seen much over the last year,” Eric Ramsey, a PlayNJ analyst, said in a statement. “If New Jersey allowed betting on in-state college teams, the run by Rutgers could have given them an additional boost. Regardless, it was an excellent month for sportsbooks.”

In other figures, retail sportsbooks generated $79.5 million in bets, representing the highest figure since January 2019. In addition, online casino gaming set a new record with $113 million in revenue. That was up 75.4% year-over-year, and broke January’s record $103.8 million, helping fuel a strong month overall.

“The March report, compared with previous years, shows the importance to the industry’s future of balancing brick-and-mortar operations with online options,” Jane Bokunewicz of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism said in a statement. “Together, land-based casino, internet gaming and sports betting operations drove total gross gaming revenue for the industry to a new record high.”

Added Lou Monaco, sports betting analyst with Group: “It will be interesting to see how the Final Four, National Championship, the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season and the conclusion of the Masters will bolster April figures.”