ATLANTIC CITY - Al Callejas had a quick explanation for how he was able to top a field of 750 competitors in Borgata's free-throw contest Saturday.
"I'm a coach's son. I've had a ball in my hands since I was 3 years old," Callejas, 37, of Archbald, Pa., said after winning the grand prize of $10,220 with his score of 16 in the final round - the first-grade teacher's own bit of March Madness.
Answering the question of whether the tournament was a winner for Borgata would take longer, because it depended on how many of the participants and their friends spent money gambling, eating out, or staying at the hotel.
Borgata officials will crunch those numbers next week, based on data from the Borgata Rewards cards all participants were required to have, but they were elated Saturday.
"We're maxed out. We couldn't be happier," Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations, said during a break from catching shooters' rebounds at one of eight hoops set up in a meeting room off the casino floor.
Just before noon, there was a line at least 50 yards long of participants - mostly in their 20s and 30s. Each paid $20 for the chance to shoot 15 free throws in 60 seconds. The total prize pool grew to $20,440 from $10,000 because the tournament sold out, and a large number paid an additional $20 for a second chance to make it past the first round.
Just 64 of 750 participants advanced to the second round. The maximum score was 17, counting two bonus balls worth two points.
"It's harder than it looks," said Chris Voudouris, 34, whose best score was 7. "In the moment, it's just different."
But the Glen Mills native and Villanova University graduate, who lives in Georgia, said he was having fun. Even waiting in line for 2 1/2 hours wasn't bad because he spent the time trading high school basketball stories.
Julian Powery, 24, of Silver Spring, Md., was hopeful that his score of 12 would get him into the next round, but it just missed the cutoff of 14.
"Shooting is like life to me," Powery said. "If I don't get in, that means other people were better than me."
For Borgata, Atlantic City's most successful casino in terms of revenues and profits, the tournament, which experts called the first skill-based gaming event at a U.S. casino, marked a significant shift in strategy.
"Conceptually, I think it's interesting because it might broaden what can be offered in terms of a casino of the future, going toward a more skill-based game," said Keith Foley, who follows the casino industry for Moody's Investors Service.
Lupo said that in about a year Borgata expects to introduce skill-based gaming for slot machines. Think Angry Birds, X-Box type games, or even old-time Asteroids, he said.
"The more asteroids you blow up," he said, "the better chance you have of winning a jackpot."
Saturday's event brought $6,132 for the second-place finisher, $2,044 each for third and fourth place, and $100 in Borgata slot or match-play dollars for fifth through 16th place.
After several interviews with the free-throw crowd, it was not clear much extra spending would take place.
Jeremy Bauman, 25, of New Rochelle, N.Y., stayed at Borgata on Friday night, so he could be relaxed for the competition, but he wasn't sure how much more he would do at the casino.
"That depends on what happens in the tournament," Bauman said. "If I win $10,000, I'm going out for a nice dinner."
That's not how it worked out. Bauman lost in the round of 16 and was spotted grabbing a bite at the relatively low-cost Borgata Baking Co.
"Just don't say what I did in the final," he said.