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The state currently allows online poker, but WSOP has an almost monopoly position after Ultimate Poker decided that the market wasn’t commercially viable. The prospect of offering casino games in addition to poker might well convince providers to reconsider their stance.
During Friday’s hearing, the Policy Committee heard evidence that 84 percent of New Jersey online gambling revenues over the last year have been generated by casino games with poker accounting for the rest.
When Nevada became the first U.S. state to offer regulated online poker, there were still substantial concerns that online casino games could cannibalize existing land-based casino revenues.
Michael Cohen, senior vice president, corporate development, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Caesars Acquisition Company told the committee that his company had already seen the benefits of having both an online and a bricks and mortar presence in regulated markets.
He quoted the example of the 2015 WSOP, which attracted thousands of poker players to the state, and led to a revenue increase of 61 percent for WSOP.com in Nevada.
Cohen explained that in New Jersey, the online business was generating trade for the bricks and mortar business. Of 250,000 new customers at the live casino in New Jersey, 78 percent had no previous experience with Caesars’ Total Rewards loyalty program.
Cohen added the startling statistic that 41 percent of Total Rewards scheme members who had let their membership lapse re-activated membership after playing online.
Cohen explained that Caesars was seeing the additional effect of online games alerting younger players to the existence of the live casino experience. He told the committee that 39 percent of WSOP’s online players were under 30, compared with only 9 percent of its live customers.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) is well aware of the problem casinos are having with attracting millennials to this form of entertainment. The major part of the meeting spent time discussing how esports betting could be regulated.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval chaired the meeting himself. He was particularly concerned about any problems which might arise with geo-location and age verification.
The governor appeared to be reassured by testimony from Cohen and other witnesses that the technology had improved substantially in the four years it had been deployed, and that there have been no difficulties with either juvenile gambling or players from outside the state gaining access to online gambling.
The sight of New Jersey’s substantial tax revenues from online casino games added to the clear enthusiasm Caesars showed for the mutual benefits between online and live casino, and provided a good reason for the governor and committee to be enthusiastic about allowing online casino games.
The experience witnesses presented about age verification and geo-location in both New Jersey and Nevada seemed to remove any lingering doubts Governor Sandoval may have had. The governor directed the committee to study the issue further and be prepared to make decisions or legislative recommendations for the next meeting in October.
Should online casino games be authorized, the commercial analysis of the Nevada market will change, and several other operators may take an interest.
As long ago as March 2013, 888 US Limited and Treasure Island, LLC were issued Nevada online gaming licenses. Late in 2014, OPR’s own Steve Ruddock interviewed 888 Chairman Brian Mattingley, and was told that 888 planned to enter the Nevada market some time in Q1 of 2015.
The concept involved 888 and Treasure Island launching branded online poker rooms and sharing liquidity with WSOP Nevada, which operates its poker room with 888 software.
Nothing has since been heard about these plans. The additional revenues of online casino games would almost certainly lead to at least 888 entering the market directly.
Bad actor provisions in the Nevada legislation mean that PokerStars would not be able to enter the market, making it even more attractive to 888.
When Nevada introduced its online gaming legislation, Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson had not yet begun his crusade against online gambling.
Any proposals to add online casino games to the Nevada regulatory slate will meet with his active opposition. The Nevada Gaming Control Board can also expect nothing but neutrality from the American Gaming Association (AGA).
Spurred on by Adelson, the AGA changed its stance on online gaming legalization from supportive to Switzerland.
At the time, AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman expressed the impotence of his position.
“One of the things I’ve learned in this industry is we are extraordinarily competent at shooting at one another,” Freeman told the Wall Street Journal. “The snipers in this industry are of the highest quality, and if you let that be the focus, we’ll kill each other.”