New Jersey online casinos have not been shy about adding new slot games to their lobbies. With each passing month, dozens of new terminals are added, elevating what was once a modest subset of the state’s casino industry into a recognizable force.
These days, it isn’t uncommon for a NJ-based site to support over 200 terminals. And at the current rate of growth, at least four online casinos are projected to crack the 300 barrier by the time 2016 comes to a close.
Which raises the question: Has the online slot experience trumped that of spinning the reels in Atlantic City? In some ways, the answer is yes.
Game selection: AC wins the numbers battle, but online is becoming more diverse
Collectively, Atlantic City’s seven existing casinos (Trump Taj closed on Monday) boast roughly 14,000 slots, compared to just under 2,000 online. That may seem like an enormous divide, but in terms of unique offerings, the gap is much smaller.
To illustrate, each online casino features exactly one instance of each slot game. By contrast, an Atlantic City casino may feature banks of four, eight, or even 16 of the same machine. Taken together, it’s fairly safe to presume that Atlantic City only has roughly twice the number of unique slots as online — and that’s being generous.
And while it’s true that there is significant overlap of slots from one online casino to another, the same can be said of land-based casinos, in Atlantic City and elsewhere.
Online, players have a better idea of what they’re getting into
Both Atlantic City and NJ online casinos do an admirable job of explaining how their slots work, but online slots tend to go a bit further. Several sites, Golden Nugget Casino being the best example, offer detailed breakdowns of each of their slots.
For instance, by clicking on the “Info” icon, a Golden Nugget player can learn:
- How volatile a slot machine is
- The return-to-player (RTPs) as an exact percentage
- Maximum payouts
Similar levels of transparency are rarely found at land-based casinos, at least not yet.
Going further, online casinos allow players to try before they buy, via play-money demo modes that accurately simulate the real-money playing environment.
Slot players can more effectively stretch their gambling dollars online
Data indicates that in 2014, Atlantic City slots held just under 9 percent, up from 8.03 percent just thirteen years earlier. More recently, revenue figures provided by the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement show that individual AC casinos held between 8.4 – 9.5 percent of every dollar wagered on slots.
It’s worth noting, that in NJ land-based casino revenue reports, slots are grouped with video poker. Assuming even poor video poker players receive a return of 95 percent, the actual hold on slots is materially higher than the reports indicate, perhaps even eclipsing 10 percent.
NJ online casino revenue reports do not list wagers, only win. So there is no surefire way of knowing exactly what percentage online casinos win on slots.
However, as mentioned above, select online sites do list RTPs. From this, we glean that online slots return substantially more than those at AC casinos.
A glance at the Golden Nugget Casino’s lobby indicates that most slots return between 93 – 98 percent. If the average return is 95 percent, that means, on average, the gambling dollar will stretch twice as far.
That is hardly insignificant.
Online loyalty programs are growing more competitive
Slot players who frequent Atlantic City casinos receive a generous number of player perks. These incentives come in a variety of flavors, with the total value based off a gambler’s theoretical loss.
The most measurable way land-based casinos in NJ reward players is by returning a small portion of their investment.
Typically, AC slot players who have registered for a loyalty card (and use it) will receive about 0.1 – 0.2 percent of their wagers back as either free slot play or comps that can be spent on food, entertainment, hotels, and in gift shops.
In addition, casinos will often reward players via other means. The most common of these are mailers, which may include:
- Free room offers
- Free play offers
- Opportunities to pick up free gifts
- Discount coupons for spas, eateries and gift shops
- Special promotional offers, some of which are exclusive to higher tier players
Two years ago, NJ online casino rewards programs couldn’t hold a candle to their land-based counterparts, but the game has since changed.
These days, not only do some online casinos link their rewards programs to their affiliated land-based casinos, but nearly all now offer a diversified array of promotional offers, as well as a structured VIP loyalty program.
Some of these added incentives benefit players who play exclusively online. Others entice players to visit AC casinos, by tossing hotel and entertainment offers their way. Noticeably, many of these offers mimic those gifted by brick and mortar casinos.
…but they’re not quite on par yet
If there’s one area where NJ online casinos still trail behind AC casinos, it’s in the area of cashback. At present, top-flight online sites like Golden Nugget Casino and Tropicana Casino offer slot players somewhere along the lines of 0.025 – 0.05 percent cashback on wagers. That’s about 25 percent of what the average AC casino offers.
A portion of this disparity is offset by match deposit offers that are typically only available online. But whereas the live slot player usually only has to wager their bonus 1x to unlock funds, clearing online slot bonuses often requires a 5 – 20x turnover.
Admittedly, online sites that have rolled out a tiered loyalty program do offer their most loyal patrons cashback rates that are more competitive, but reaching these tiers often requires a mammoth effort.
The bottom line
Online slots are no longer the red headed stepchild of the NJ casino industry. In some ways, particularly with regards to return, playing online is a better bet than spinning the reels at a live venue.
That’s not to say their aren’t benefits of playing slots in Atlantic City, as AC casinos still support a greater diversity of games, better cashback rates, and promote a more social environment. It’s just that the major advantages it once enjoyed are growing smaller by the month.