- US Online Poker
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To say the landscape has changed dramatically since 13 online gambling sites simultaneously launched on Nov. 21, 2013 would be an understatement.
In the ensuing four years since the initial launch, the number of sites in the market has grown by more than one-third. Thirteen sites have turned into 21.
And several new companies have entered the market, which has more than offset the casualties New Jersey’s online gambling industry experienced in its first year.
Here’s a timeline of when each brand entered the New Jersey online gambling market and the impact it had.
To guarantee all operators would begin on equal footing, New Jersey decided to go with a synchronized launch, setting a date for all operators to launch at the same time.
Each operator was given the same timeline to work with when it came to licensing and testing. A firm deadline was set that they needed to meet in order to a part of the state’s soft launch.
On Nov. 21, 2013, six of Atlantic City’s casinos — Borgata, Harrah’s, Caesars, Tropicana, Trump Plaza, and Trump Taj Mahal — launched seven online casinos and six NJ online poker sites.
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The only casinos not involved in online gambling in any way were Showboat (one of Caesars’ AC properties) and Revel.
In addition to the casinos that were part of the initial launch, two others, Golden Nugget and Resorts, were waiting in the wings. Yet another, Bally’s, was used by Caesars (Caesars had four Atlantic City casinos in 2013) in an ancillary licensing role.
Golden Nugget Casino was briefly part of the synchronized launch, but technical issues forced it to take its online casino offline during the testing period.
Golden Nugget eventually ironed out its issues, and following a successful soft-launch, it was finally approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in mid-December.
Tropicana’s online gaming partner, Gamesys, launched its own online casino brand in early 2014, VirginCasino.com. Gamesys acquired Virgin Games in January 2013, with an eye on leveraging the well-known Virgin brand as a social and real-money online gaming platform.
The launch of VirginCasino.com helped propel Tropicana toward the top of the online casino market in New Jersey and marked the end of the first wave of online gambling sites.
It would be close to a year before another site launched in the market. In the interim, three sites were shuttered.
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Betfair was one of the original online gambling operators in New Jersey, but its chosen partner, Trump Plaza, turned out to be a dud. Trump Plaza closed in September 2014, leaving Betfair’s future in the market up in the air.
The DGE allowed Betfair to continue operating until Trump Plaza turned in its gaming license. Following a brief stop under Caesars online gaming license, Betfair eventually found a permanent partner in the Golden Nugget.
The partnership has been a boon for both companies, even though Betfair decided to scrap its inconsequential online poker site soon after landing at Golden Nugget.
The partner of the other Trump Entertainment property in Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal, wasn’t so lucky.
The market’s first casualty occurred less than a year after the initial launch. Ultimate Poker and Ultimate Casino announced they were pulling out of the New Jersey market when Trump Taj Mahal landed in bankruptcy court.
According to court filings, Trump Entertainment was two months late on payments to Ultimate. But the writing was on the wall for the upstart online gambling operator, with Trump Taj Mahal’s financial woes little more than a convenient excuse to leave the market. Ultimate would shutter its Nevada online poker site soon thereafter.
Ultimate pumped millions into the New Jersey market but ranked last in terms of online casino revenue, and its online poker site was an afterthought — frequented only by value-seeking players looking to cash in on the site’s numerous overlays and player-friendly promos.
On Nov. 16, 2014, PalaCasino.com became the first new online casino to launch in the New Jersey market since VirginCasino.com in January.
The launch of Pala also marked the first tribal online gambling site in the US, and the first out-of-state operator to launch in the New Jersey market. But Pala was there for different reasons than the other online operators who had partnered with the state’s brick and mortar casinos.
Pala’s New Jersey debut was seen as a trial balloon of sorts; a way for the tribe to prep its software so it would be ready if California was able to pass an online poker bill.
The next site to launch was ResortsCasino.com on Feb. 27, 2015. As a new land-based operator — not merely a skin — Resorts’ entry into the New Jersey online gambling market radically altered the online gaming landscape in the state.
Resorts had been patiently waiting for its online poker partner, PokerStars, to receive licensing approval from the DGE. But as 2015 rolled around, Resorts decided to go ahead and launch its online casino, which is powered by NYX.
Since launching, the Resorts online casino has steadily gained market share, and got another shot in the arm when it launched a sister site several months later in July.
The next addition to the New Jersey online gambling market was MoheganSunCasino.com, which launched under Resorts’ online gaming license.
The link between the two casinos isn’t well-known, but Mohegan Sun runs Resorts Casino, so the launch isn’t as odd as it seems.
With a casino in Connecticut and in neighboring Pennsylvania, the Mohegan Sun brand is fairly well-known in New Jersey.
One of the last additions to the market was also one of the most anticipated: PokerStars.
PokerStars first applied for an online gaming license back in 2013, but it would be more than two years before the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement approved the company on Sept. 30, 2015. It wasn’t until six months later that Stars was ready to launch in the New Jersey market.
PokerStars hasn’t been able to greatly expand the total online poker market in New Jersey, but it quickly rose to the top of the pack.
One of the more interesting additions in New Jersey was a standalone bingo site launched by Pala, PalabingoUSA.com. The launch went largely unnoticed due to the timing — Pala Bingo went live the very same week PokerStars launched in the Garden State.
Pala isn’t the only New Jersey online gambling site that offers bingo (Tropicana and Virgin have a 75-ball version of the game available in their casino software), but it is the only one with a site dedicated exclusively to bingo.
The most recent online gambling website to enter the New Jersey market is another out-of-state casino, PlaySugarHouse.com. SugarHouse launched under Golden Nugget’s online gambling license in September 2016.
SugarHouse Casino is located just across New Jersey’s western border in Philadelphia, which means a significant percentage of its customers reside in New Jersey and can legally play online casino games.
With the addition of SugarHouse, Golden Nugget smashed through the $4 million/month revenue mark and was propelled to the top of the New Jersey online gambling charts when it comes to gross revenue.
Perhaps tired of waiting for California to pass an online poker bill, Pala decided to launch its proprietary online poker platform in New Jersey.
Pala was an extremely late entry into the already saturated online poker market (two other online poker sites had already folded) and has struggled to gain market share. What it has done is showcase its software to potential partners in other states.
Scores (yes, Scores the gentlemen’s club) entered the New Jersey market as a skin of PalaCasino.
The launch of Scores was the first skin of a sub-brand in the market.
Scores news cycle didn’t last very long. The following day MGM launched its first branded online gaming sites, playMGMcasino and playMGMpoker. Both sites are powered by the same GVC/partypoker software that is used by Borgata.
MGM’s New Jersey launch is seen as a harbinger of things to come. The company has made it clear that it has national online gaming ambitions, and the launch of playMGM can be viewed as ground zero for the company in the US online gaming market.