ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- March Madness is back on, and Atlantic City casino operators hope it's the start of a much more profitable year for gaming in New Jersey.
"We're here because it didn't happen last season," said David Zaro of Interlaken, N.J.
Basketball fans at Ocean Casino Resort say because last year's tournament was canceled, this year they're going all out.
"We actually had a reservation to come down here last year and we were coming up until two days before they canceled the tournament. I was at work, I got the terrible news," said Mike Ryan of Staten Island, N.Y.
Now they're watching the games with friends in Atlantic City, many placing bets at the sportsbook. They say it's a little more exciting than betting online.
"I just bet through the apps and stuff at home, but this is the first time at the sportsbook in Atlantic City, and we're really excited to be down here and watch all the games," said Timmy Starek of Sayreville, N.J.
The pandemic shut down New Jersey's casinos for 107 days in 2020, and online gaming took over.
"It was our only revenue source for three months last year," said Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort.
According to data analysis done by Stockton University, New Jersey's online revenue during the pandemic almost doubled compared to the 12 months before the pandemic started.
But in-person gaming took a big hit, and total revenues for New Jersey casinos from March 2020 to February 2021 dropped by 20% compared to the year before.
Operators say bringing people back in person is critical.
"We're just happy to have people back in the building. This is the biggest event that we've done on property since we reopened last summer," said Tom Gable, Director of Race and Sports at Borgata.
Borgata's sportsbook was busy too, and we found local fans excited about local teams.
"Twenty-five years since Drexel's been in the tournament. Couldn't be happier to see 'em here," said Shane Moss from Doylestown, Pa.
Casino and indoor restaurant capacity are capped at 50% in New Jersey.
Ocean Casino Resort and Borgata set up extra viewing rooms for the games, and enforcing mask-wearing when patrons are not eating and drinking.