Evolution Gaming received permission from New Jersey regulators this week to expand its online gambling studio in Atlantic City.
Evolution is a business-to-business company that provides live-dealer gaming services to NJ online casinos. It is currently the only supplier offering such products in the US online gambling marketplace.
The studio in question is located at the Hard Rock AC, the first property in the state for which it provided its services. Other online casinos, including Unibet and DraftKings Casino, have also begun offering games streamed out of that venue.
The expansion of the Evolution studio will involve a 70% increase in floor space to 5,386 square feet. It also includes the addition of 26 new tables.
Twenty-four of them will be additional blackjack tables, but two will feature new games.
Blackjack seems to be particularly popular for live-dealer play, but the use of physical decks means each table can only serve a fixed number of players — typically seven, as in a regular land-based casino.
Evolution’s history in the US market only goes back a little more than a year, but it has been expanding aggressively. Here’s a partial timeline:
Meanwhile, Evolution has also been working on expanding its range of products elsewhere in the world. So far, its New Jersey studio offers only the staples: blackjack, roulette, and three-card poker.
The company indicated, however, that it sees the future of live-dealer online gaming as including features above and beyond what players would experience in a brick-and-mortar casino. This includes unique sets, special effects, and even augmented reality.
Lightning Roulette, for instance, was an early experiment in which virtual “lightning” appears to strike several numbers on the board after bets are placed. Numbers struck in this way offer increased payouts on straight bets, from 50-1 up to 500-1, while other numbers pay out only 30-1 rather than the usual 35-1.
Evolution’s first such foray in the US will be Side Bet City.
This is one of the two new games being added as part of the New Jersey studio expansion. It is also listed among the games that will be available from the Pennsylvania studio once that goes live.
Side Bet City is another casino poker game, but one unique to Evolution. It’s based on 3-5-7 Poker, a table game occasionally found at casinos in the US and elsewhere. The digital game includes modified pay tables and the option to bet that none of the player hands win.
From a player experience perspective, however, its most distinguishing characteristic is its kitschy, retro-themed set and dealer costumes meant to invoke mid-1980s Las Vegas.
Evolution’s most ambitious, and by its account, most successful experiment has been Monopoly Live.
This is a Money Wheel game, once again based on standard casino offerings but featuring integrated augmented reality mini-games. It uses the visual iconography and Mr. Monopoly character from the eponymous board game.
In Monopoly Live, Mr. Monopoly is portrayed as a 3D animated character who appears to exist in the live studio alongside the dealer thanks to augmented reality technology. When a player triggers the bonus game by the spin of the wheel, he jumps up to take over from the dealer and lead players through the narrative. That could be the drawing of a Chance card or a walk around a virtual Monopoly board.
Though Monopoly Live is popular on euro and Bitcoin-driven sites, there’s no direct indication that Evolution plans to bring the game to the US. There are a number of possible reasons for that.
That said, the second new game included in the studio expansion is a Money Wheel. Though it seems that it will be a generic title at first, it could be the first step in eventually introducing Monopoly Live or other enhanced Money Wheel products (like Dream Catcher) to the US.
Meanwhile, there’s still no word on when Evolution’s Pennsylvania studio will open for business — or even where it will be located. This sort of lack of a clear timeline is unfortunately nothing new for the young PA online gambling market.
In this case, at least, we know it’s not a licensing issue. Evolution obtained the necessary permission from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board two months ago. It could be that construction is taking time, but if it were underway, we’d likely have heard rumors about the location by now.
One possibility is that the studio will be at the Live! Hotel and Casino, which isn’t scheduled to open until next year. Having a custom studio in a brand-new property would likely allow Evolution to secure a larger space and better infrastructure from the start. It may prefer that to building out a piecemeal operation, as it has at Hard Rock AC.
If that’s the route it’s going, it might explain the delay. However, not all approved PA online casinos have even launched yet. It could be that Evolution has an agreement with one of its partners not to open its studio until they’ve launched their primary product. Or perhaps it simply feels it’s better to wait until things have settled into their stride a little.
Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that live-dealer products will launch in PA before next year.