Evolution establishing US online gambling roots in NJ, PA

Evolution Gaming To Expand Its Live-Dealer Studio In New Jersey

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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.

More blackjack coming; new games too

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 short but eventful history in the US

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:

  • August 2018: The Hard Rock AC studio opens, the company’s first in the US and tenth worldwide. It has 10 tables at launch.
  • November 2018: Evolution announces a deal to acquire its sole competitor in the US, Ezugi, which had launched New Jersey live-dealer gaming in partnership with the Borgata earlier the same year.
  • June 2019: Evolution wins the award for Service Provider of the Year at the inaugural American Gambling Awards.
  • July 2019: DraftKings Casino builds its own branded studio in cooperation with Evolution. This, too, is located at Hard Rock AC.
  • September 2019: Evolution obtains a license to launch a second US live-dealer studio in Pennsylvania.
  • October 2019: Evolution signs important strategic deals with Flutter and Scientific Games.

Evolution evolving outside the US

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.

Side Bet City a novel first for US

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.

Monopoly Live offers augmented reality mini-games

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.

Where is Monopoly Live?

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.

  • The problem could be on the licensing front, as regulatory bodies can be deliberate in approving new products.
  • Or it could be on the technological front, as the studio itself is newer and smaller than Evolution’s European ones.
  • It could also be that the company is still doing market research about the game’s potential in the US.
  • It’s also possible that Evolution doesn’t hold the rights from the game’s owner, Hasbro, for use in the US.

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.

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Pennsylvania remains a question mark

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.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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