Later this spring, Atlantic City casinos will start taking bets with real money for fantasy sports.  (Mel Evans/AP)

Later this spring, Atlantic City casinos will start taking bets with real money for fantasy sports. (Mel Evans/AP)

Fantasy sports are about to become real – in Atlantic City, at least. New Jersey gaming officials announced this week that gamblers will soon be able to wager non-fantasy money on daily fantasy teams. John Brennan, who covers New Jersey sports business and gaming for The Record, explained how it will work.

“This would be a daily game, for the most part, where you would be able to choose four or five players in a particular sport,” Brennan said. “And that evening, whoever had the most productive performances, you might win a tournament out of 20 or 50 or 100 people. The new law, what it does is it allows you to go directly to the casino window and cash out and take your money there, which is always that big thrill of the gambler.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is also trying to add Vegas style sports gambling. That move is currently held up in federal appeals court, but Brennan said there’s less fear that fantasy gaming will also be challenged – because pro sports teams in the NCAA already have their own fantasy games on their websites.

[Pro sports leagues] are going to be hard-pressed to try and protest against Atlantic City offering daily fantasy games when they offer them themselves.
– John Brennan, The Record

“What they said in the court case in New Jersey was that, it’s no more gambling than playing Monopoly to being a real estate investor,” Brennan said. “One is just you’re pretending to be this mogul, and the other one, you’re actually doing the operation. So they’re going to be hard-pressed to try and protest against Atlantic City offering daily fantasy games when they offer them themselves.”

Atlantic City just started in-room gaming, allowing gamblers to play online poker from their hotel rooms or elsewhere on hotel property with their smartphones. Soon, people anywhere in the state will be able to play.

“Anyone can be home in their bedroom in the evening, relaxing, and they can play the online games,” Brennan said. “That will probably come about sometime near the end of the year. New Jersey’s racing Nevada and Delaware to be the first state in the country to do it.”

Governor Christie has said the additions are necessary as the state recovers from Sandy, but Atlantic City was already in decline before storm hit, due to increased competition in neighboring states. Brennan said gaming revenue is down about 40 percent since 2006.

The fantasy sports program comes too late to attract the gamblers currently crowding the casinos in Las Vegas for March Madness. The system won’t be in place for baseball’s opening day, either. Fantasy betting debuts April 22, and Brennan said it could take months before casinos know if it’s a success.

“It’ll be seen as sort of an extra option for gamblers,” Brennan said, “but I think it may take a while – probably until football season, where they can really launch programs that are designed to specifically get people for the fantasy games, and not just for the regular table games and slot machines they already have.”