The 10-year anniversary of legal online casinos in New Jersey is in the rear-view mirror. Now is the perfect time to keep our eyes on the road ahead and ask the question: What’s next?
At this point, the future of online casinos in NJ is a bit of a crapshoot. If the industry’s first decade in the Garden State taught us anything it is that change and adaptation are inevitable. And no one actually knows what that looks like yet.
Regulatory issues, economic headwinds, technological advancements, political motivations and public perceptions are all variables that could alter the trajectory of NJ online gambling.
Growth is the name of the NJ online casino game
The first 10 years of iGaming is defined by steady, consistent growth.
“I think it’s been more of a success than anybody could have thought,” said Ed Andrewes, CEO of Resorts Digital Gaming. “(And), the markets continue to grow more than anybody could have thought.”
The number of online operators, the revenue generated and the state’s tax collections have all increased since November 2013.
So, too, has the support from Atlantic City casinos. The Jersey Shore gambling parlors who were once apprehensive of digital competition have since embraced the idea of having an online component.
Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, said Atlantic City operators no longer see land-based players as separate from internet gamblers.
“It’s one patron, one brand, and it’s the ability for the one patron to have access to all the elements and amenities we have to offer,” he told PlayNJ.
“At the end of the day, we want to keep people under our umbrella of offerings, and you can’t really do that unless you embrace (the synergy).”
Follow the leader – or the public
Lobbyists and pro-gaming lawmakers around the country are hoping to capitalize on the sentiment expressed by Giannantonio — who also serves as president of the Casino Association of New Jersey — and others that online gambling can be beneficial.
Shawn Fluharty, a West Virginia Delegate and president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, said it is time for the conversation to go beyond the trope of additional tax revenue for states. He said that the conversation going forward should involve educating the public (i.e. voters) on the pros and cons of online casinos.
“My view is the public needs to want it before the politicians do,” Fluharty told PlayNJ. “Once the public demands that, the politicians usually follow.”
Bill Pascrell III, a gaming industry lobbyist for Trenton-based Princeton Public Affairs Group, agreed with the West Virginia lawmaker.
However, Pascrell said the messaging and the expected outcomes need to be tailored to each jurisdiction.
“You cannot treat this as a cookie cutter approach,” said Pascrell. “Every state is different. It’s got a different culture. It’s got different priorities.”
NJ outsourced gambling expansion
New Jersey’s success has directly led to several other states embracing online casinos. Even now, states like New York are exploring the possibility of adding legal online casinos.
As it currently stands, NJ is one of seven states with legal online gambling (excluding sports wagering). Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Connecticut have legal iGaming, while Nevada allows online poker. Rhode Island online casinos will go live in 2024.
Most people involved in the gambling industry fully expect others to join the party. Eventually.
“I do believe there’s an opportunity for other state jurisdictions in the US to look at expansion of gaming to what we have in New Jersey,” said David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
New York Sen. Joe Addabbo was a driving force behind the Empire State’s foray into legal sports betting, and he expects to duplicate that segment’s success with online casinos.
“Every year we don’t do iGaming, we lose a billion dollars,” Addabbo said, adding that money is only part of the equation. Addabbo, like other pro-gaming advocates, points to regulation as a matter of consumer safety and government responsibility.
“How long can we sit on the sidelines and let New Yorkers (gamble online) in an unsafe manner, where it’s not regulated?”
‘Know Your Customer’ could mean something different soon
The industry’s technological advancements have been a game-changer, both for users and operators.
Digital payment processing, geolocation/know your customer services and live dealer table games in NJ are all part of the reason why online gaming in the Garden State is what it is today.
The next wave of gambling tech is still to-be-determined.
“Developing technical capabilities to recognize customer behavior, online and on the property — and we still got further to go with it — is a key focus for us,” said Andrewes, the digital gaming executive.
Still shaking our heads about this
The other wrinkle in the saga of NJ online gaming is the State Legislature.
Despite the unprecedented and undeniable success of iGaming, lawmakers in Trenton created market instability earlier this year.
When a 10-year extension of legal online casinos came up for a vote, NJ lawmakers inexplicably altered the terms to a five-year extension.
To date, not one elected representative in the state capital has explained the reasoning for the change.
New Jersey lives up to expectations
What’s next for online gambling in New Jersey? The only true answer to that question is that no one actually knows.
But we’re willing to bet it will be every bit as entertaining and unpredictable as the first 10 years.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” said Rebuck, the longtime director of NJ’s regulatory enforcement agency.
“It’s been a great ride. And I look forward to the next 10 years because I’m sure that our state will continue to be the leader, because it’s expected of us.”