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Who will be the third online casino in West Virginia? If you’d asked last week, the likely answer would have been FanDuel, but now a new possibility has presented itself.
Golden Nugget announced on Monday that it had struck a market access deal with The Greenbrier for mobile sports betting and online casino in the state. The news comes just days after it announced its upcoming entry into the Illinois market with Wilmot Gaming.
While that latter deal involves construction of a new casino, this partnership with The Greenbrier is considerably more straightforward. Once it obtains its own regulatory approval, Golden Nugget will be able to launch its online casino and sportsbook app on The Greenbrier’s license. In return, it will pay the casino an unspecified share of its revenue, subject to certain minimums.
FanDuel has a partnership in place — also with The Greenbrier — and has been offering mobile and retail sports betting there since 2019. It’s unclear why it hasn’t managed to launch its online casino product in the state yet or whether Golden Nugget might now beat it to market. That may largely depend on the West Virginia Lottery, which regulates iGaming in the Mountain State.
“The partnership with The Greenbrier is an important milestone for the Golden Nugget online gaming expansion plans. We look forward to providing West Virginian players with our best-in-class product,” said Tilman J. Fertitta, owner and CEO of the company’s online wing, Golden Nugget Online Gaming (GNOG).
The announcement represents the final piece of the puzzle for both companies, in a sense. For GNOG, it’s the last private sector, legal online casino market in the US to which it didn’t already have access.
New Jersey is the company’s home base for online operations. The Golden Nugget Atlantic City is one of four land-based casinos bearing that name and the only one in a state where online casino gaming is legal. It’s been active in that market almost since the start and is the top-earning licensee, though second to BetMGM as an individual site by some estimates.
It isn’t yet active elsewhere but is coming to Pennsylvania as a qualified gaming entity. Furthermore, it has a deal lined up with Ojibwa Casino in Michigan for when that state goes live.
As for The Greenbrier, it’s the most popular girl at the dance and has hit its maximum number of partners. Each of the five casinos in West Virginia can have up to three online brands for each vertical: casino, sports betting, and poker. Golden Nugget Sportsbook will be number three for The Greenbrier, alongside FanDuel and BetMGM
Technically, it will only be the second online casino brand, since FanDuel hasn’t yet launched that product. However, it would be surprising if FanDuel decided to forego casino plans in the state or if Greenbrier picked up a third partner in the meantime. Meanwhile, it’s unclear if anyone plans to offer online poker in WV at all. If so, it will likely be only PokerStars, so the partnership limit won’t matter.
GNOG should have its hands full over the next year or so getting off the ground in WV, MI, and PA. Aside from the regulatory hurdles, it will be starting quite cold in terms of customer acquisition.
It will be at a disadvantage in all those states compared to competitors that already have a retail presence. Likewise, it lacks the nationwide customer databases of FanDuel and DraftKings, which built them through their daily fantasy sports products. It has the brand visibility and product quality to succeed, but it will still take some work.
Once it is well established in all four possible states, the question is where to go from there. While most gambling companies are betting the farm on their sports products, Golden Nugget has focused on its casino, and specifically on slots. That has worked out very well in New Jersey but may soon become a hindrance to further expansion.
There are really only two choices: It can start trying to build up its sportsbook, or it can wait patiently for more states to legalize online casino gambling.
Golden Nugget’s entry into Illinois doesn’t really tell us much in that regard. On the one hand, mobile sports betting is the only form of legal online gambling currently available in that state. On the other, it’s a prime contender to legalize online casinos in the next few years.
The closest we have to a clue is the wording chosen by the company in discussing this West Virginia deal:
“We are excited to partner with The Greenbrier and bring our award-winning online gaming offerings to the Mountain State,” said GNOG’s president, Thomas Winter. “Across New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and now West Virginia, Golden Nugget will have access to all four privately operated online casino markets in the country.”
The deal includes sports betting, yet Winter mentions only online gaming and online casino markets. Nor is there much discussion of the company’s sportsbook in the remainder of the press release. Thus, it seems that for now, the company sees itself as being in the casino business, with sports betting being just a side hustle.