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Pennsylvania is gearing up to become the second major state with legalized online casino gaming. With a launch potentially months away, Online Poker Report has identified five lessons the Keystone State can take from the Garden State’s experience.
In this installment of the series, we’ll look at the public and behind the scenes lobbying that has derailed and degraded online gambling legislation.
New Jersey was anticipating a windfall when it legalized online gambling in 2013. The state was estimating an absurd amount, but even the more tempered projections of industry analysts and operators failed to materialize.
One reason for the slow start: consumer awareness.
Online operators in New Jersey were shocked by the lack of consumer awareness during the industry’s early days. That lack of awareness went way beyond not knowing that Borgata or Golden Nugget launched an online casino, most of New Jersey didn’t even know the state had legalized online gambling.
How bad was it? It was really bad.
Six months into the New Jersey online gambling experiment, in May 2014, Brian Mattingley — then CEO of 888 — told Bloomberg News the company was “Absolutely shocked at the slowness of the market.”
In an August 2014 interview with Bluff Magazine Mattingley put a number on it, saying, that only about 10% of New Jersey residents are aware online poker is legal.
That experience wasn’t exclusive to 888.
In an October interview with Bluff Magazine, Jeffrey Haas, bwin.party’s director of poker at the time, said the company expected the market to be 3-4 times larger than it turned out to be. During that interview, Haas highlighted consumer awareness and education as key hurdles to overcome.
Furthermore, at the time, the lack of awareness didn’t make much sense.
There was plenty of mainstream press before and after New Jersey legalized online gambling, and operators were anything but frugal. Money was being poured into all sorts of marketing campaigns: print, billboard, online and TV.
The problem was most of the advertising was similar to the ads from offshore gambling sites US players had been bombarded with for years. Most of the ads hyped the sites’ deposit bonuses with very little emphasis placed on touting the legality of the newly regulated market.
The lack of consumer awareness didn’t stop at legality.
After 15 years of dealing with black market sites, US customers were running into all sorts of first-time problems in the newly legalized market. And since most of the operators were European companies that assumed there was some baseline knowledge, these hiccups once again caught them off guard.
Instead of proactively addressing these problems, they were dealt with reactively, with players would have to take their queries to customer support:
It took a while, but New Jersey online gambling sites eventually figured it out.
Sites began steering customers towards preferred depositing methods, and giving customers alternative depositing methods if their first choice was declined.
Similarly, sites began warning players that certain programs on their computers would cause them to fail their geolocation check, and explaining the player verification process required by New Jersey regulators.
Pennsylvania online operators need to avoid New Jersey’s early missteps.
The early marketing should focus on online poker’s and online casino’s legal status in the state. It should also explain how to differentiate between sites that are licensed by the state and illegal offshore sites (more on that in the next installment of this series).
That is far more important than deposit bonuses and rewards clubs.
Similarly, Pennsylvania operators need to provide their customers with a step-by-step walkthrough of the registration and depositing process: