Welcome to Phase II.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa made history last year, becoming the first casino in New Jersey to accept a legal sports wager under new state guidelines. It launches another era this weekend, bringing a destination bar, entertainment, wagering and signature events under one roof.

The property unveils its cutting-edge Moneyline Bar & Book with typical panache. A grand-opening legion of sports celebrities, art gallery exhibits, memorabilia and autograph-signing sessions usher in the new facility. It will be just steps away from the race and sports book that operates all year long.

Burgers and bets? Parlays and platters? There may be no better way to highlight the blending of these two worlds than to showcase athletic royalty.

This weekend launch is like having Phillies’ icon and Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt throw out the first pitch at a high-profile event. Which in essence he does on Saturday, as the first athlete to engage in a meet-and-greet ceremony with the public at 12:30 p.m. in the Signature Room. Fellow baseball star Doc Gooden, softball legend Jennie Finch and noted football celebrities Brent Celek, Keith Byars and Lawrence Taylor will also conduct autograph sessions in a program stretching into the evening.

The weekend kicks into gear Friday with a pop-up sports art exhibit. It features original pieces painted by renowned sports artist James Fiorentino in the Signature Room. The display runs 6-10 p.m. Friday and from noon-9 p.m. Saturday, Fiorentino has won accolades and awards for art work depicting Steve Carlton, Cal Ripken and Muhammad Ali, among others.

In addition to experiencing this exclusive gallery, patrons can meet Linda Ruth Tosetti, Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, from noon – 2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. on Saturday.

“We’re excited about opening a great facility than is more than just a sports book,” says Mike Woodside, Borgata’s vice-president of marketing. “There is so much energy, as this is more than just a great place to watch a game. This will be a tremendous experience. Our key focus in our programming is that we have a sports book that is open seven days a week, not just on days when there is heavy volume or one major event. You can not only make a wager, but have a great meal.”

The athletes, meanwhile, are high profile. Schmidt made the baseball Hall of Fame on the back of a 12-time All-Star, 3-Time National League MVP career. Finch led the United States to an Olympic gold medal as a pitcher after notching an unheard of 60 consecutive wins as a college hurler. Time magazine described her as the most famous softball player in history.

Gooden was a four-time All Star and Cy Young Award winner. Byars was a stellar performer on many good Eagles teams and Celek captured a Super Bowl ring with them. Taylor helped redefine the middle linebacker position and was a force on the New York Giants’ Super Bowl championship in 1986.

There is a liberating aspect to athletes not only being in a casino, but celebrating an event highlighting sports gambling. Baseball superstars Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were once barred from their sport (and later reinstated) for working with Atlantic City casinos. The wall between sports and gambling permanently fell last year, when the legalization of sports betting ignited more than $2 billion of statewide wagering and the expectation of much more.

Gaming establishments have raced to embrace the new market, and Borgata shows a unique understanding of the trend. Making an important connection between gambling and consumer appetites, the casino elevates the food and beverage realm above the footnote status it long held at traditional sports books.

“We had the time to look and see what other books had been doing and come up with our own plan,” Woodside says. “We feel the difference is that we are a food and beverage destination, as well as being a sports book.

“In opening now, we want to capture the business of the summer crowd in this great venue and make sure our operation is kicked off well in time for the football season.”

The title, Moneyline, is embedded in sports wagering. A money-line bet is made on a team to win the game outright, not merely cover the spread.

What are the athletes underscoring?

Designed with the sports enthusiast in-mind, guests are welcomed into Moneyline Bar & Book by a 40-foot wide by 11.5-foot tall LED video wall with 17 additional 98-inch and 86-inch displays surrounding the 8,000-square-foot venue. A 35-foot-long bar with 19 built-in slot machines centers Moneyline under a distinctive light feature inspired by a coach’s playbook.

Guests can grab a seat at the bar in a flex-back gaming stool or choose one of several high-top tables with device-charging capabilities, plush U-shaped booths, or elevate their experience with banquette seating in the VIP lounge. In addition to six betting windows, guests may place their bet at one of Moneyline’s interactive sports betting kiosks.

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