The year 2018 was a good one for the New Jersey online gambling industry.
Online casino revenues continue to soar (growing by more than 30 percent in October and November) spurring the industry to a new revenue record with a month to spare.
But it’s not all sunshine and puppy dogs for the Garden State.
Online poker revenue is in a death spiral, with revenues dropping from a high of $3.4 million in January 2014 to an all-time low of $1.5 million in November 2018.
In this column, we will recap the first 11 months of 2018 for all seven NJ online casino operators, highlighting what they do and don’t do well and tabulating a year-end grade for each.
Borgata is the top land-based casino in Atlantic City. But the MGM-owned property hasn’t been able to transfer its retail dominance to its online offerings.
Despite a bevy of online sites operating under its license (Borgata, playMGM, Party, Pala, and Scores), Borgata is only generating about half as much revenue as industry leader Golden Nugget on a monthly basis.
To be fair, Borgata is the best of the rest, but even in that regard, it hasn’t been able to leverage its land-based brand to pull away from the other members of the trail pack in a meaningful way.
Pala operates an independent online poker site under Borgata’s license, but that site hasn’t been able to capture the interest of New Jersey gamblers.
In a market dominated by the local Atlantic City casino brands, a tenuous hold on the No. 2 spot isn’t much of an accomplishment for Borgata.
Overall grade: B-
Like Borgata, it’s safe to say that Caesars hasn’t lived up to expectations in the New Jersey online casino market.
Caesars has national online gambling aspirations, but its efforts aren’t bearing fruit in New Jersey.
Caesars operates three Atlantic City casinos (Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s) that collectively are the biggest revenue generator in the market, with a 30 percent market share. It should have one of the best databases in the market, but that hasn’t helped it.
It’s NJ online gambling sites have a market share of less than 15 percent in November. Removing online poker from the equation (only three of the seven operators offer online poker), Caesars online casino market share drops to less than 13 percent.
Even more troubling, Caesars’ online sites suffer from the dreaded “I-word:” inconsistency.
Setting aside the new arrivals of Hard Rock online casino and Ocean Resort, in any given month, Caesars can find itself dead last, challenging for the No. 2 spot, or somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The company’s variance is hard to explain but could stem from Caesars running random promotions that lure customers from other operators creating a short-term spike in traffic and spend. That’s not a recipe to create loyal customers.
Furthermore, Caesars nabbed a considerable advantage when the interstate online poker agreement with Nevada and Delaware kicked off in May.
With access to two online poker markets that its competitors in New Jersey (PartyPoker and PokerStars) are absent from, Caesars quickly ascended to the top spot.
However, Caesars online poker sites aren’t, as was expected, mopping the floor with PokerStars and PartyPoker, nor has it grown the overall market.
Overall grade: C-
Golden Nugget is the valedictorian of the NJ online gambling industry.
Golden Nugget isn’t simply the top online casino in the market, it’s lapping the entire field, and in some cases, generating three times as much NJ online casino revenue as some of its competitors.
Golden Nugget’s success is all the more impressive considering its low spot on the Atlantic City casino totem pole.
I won’t rehash the factors that led to Golden Nugget ascending to the top spot (you can find those here) but simply consider the following:
Golden Nugget’s revenue reached $5 million in February 2017. It hit $6 million in March 2017; $7 million in January 2018; $8 million in March 2018; and $9 million in July 2018.
No other NJ online casino has posted $5 million in monthly revenue.
Overall grade: A
Hard Rock Atlantic City
Hard Rock launched its online casino soon after its grand opening this summer. As such, Hard Rock’s grade is based largely on its early returns and future expectations, and at the moment, expectations are high.
In just a few short months, Hard Rock online casino eclipsed $1 million in monthly revenue and gobbled up a five percent share of a very crowded market.
Based on its early success, Hard Rock is likely to be a serious player in the market.
Overall grade: B+
Ocean Resort launched its online casino around the same time as Hard Rock, and all-in-all, its online casino is performing admirably.
The problem is, admirably isn’t going to get it done in New Jersey, and when compared to Hard Rock, it’s struggling to gain market share.
Overall grade: C
Resorts was fashionably late to the New Jersey online gambling market, gifting its competitors close to a two-year head start. However, it quickly caught up to the more established online operators and is now one of the top performers in the market.
Like Golden Nugget, Resorts is something of an also-ran in the AC land-based casino market.
Resorts is also set up well for the future. The state’s top online sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, operates under Resorts license and recently opened a physical sportsbook on-property. That could lead to a surge in online casino revenue if Resorts can create some cross-sell.
Overall grade: A-
Tropicana has been trending in the wrong direction during the last two years, and its struggles have come to the forefront in 2018.
Tropicana online casino would have received an “A” in 2015 and 2016 and a still solid “B” in 2017, but 2018 has been a different story.
After racing out to a strong start, Tropicana’s NJ online casino revenue has been stuck in the mud for more than two years.
By itself, its lack of growth would be concerning. When you factor in the utter turmoil the company’s online division is in, and what appears to be a complete indifference toward the vertical, the concerns over stagnant revenues become downright alarming.
Tropicana lost its longtime online steward when Luisa Woods left in late 2017. A new team that included industry veteran Chris Capra was brought in but to no effect.
That’s likely due to Tropicana’s new owners, Eldorado Resorts, disinterest in online gambling.
Capra has also moved on from Tropicana (he now works for William Hill NJ), which means the company will soon have its third online team in two years.
Overall grade: D