The sixth (6!) anniversary of New Jersey online casino gambling is upon us and what a crazy ride it has been.
There have been some dramatic changes, significant growth, and definitely some ups and downs over the past six years.
Looking at where it all started and comparing it to today, it’s hard to imagine that it has only been six years. It is akin to the memory that feels like yesterday and yet, it still feels like forever.
Well, it wouldn’t be an anniversary without a look back at the humble beginnings of the NJ online gambling market.
Leading up to the launch of NJ online casinos
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature finally came to a compromise on the differences that earned a veto on a previous version of the bill.
On Feb. 26, 2013, online casino gambling became a reality for companies partnered with brick-and-mortar Atlantic City casinos.
In preparation for the launch of online casino gambling, the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) started accepting applications in July. All 12 AC casinos at the time applied for online gambling licenses.
Year One (Nov. 21, 2013-14): NJ online casinos launch
All eyes were on the NJ online casino industry as it prepared to launch. To make things fair, the DGE arranged a synchronized launch for Nov. 21, 2013.
All online operators had the same timeline to secure licensing and perform testing. And when the time came, six Atlantic City casinos flipped the switch, bringing seven online casinos and six online poker rooms in NJ to life:
- Trump Plaza
- Trump Taj Mahal
Golden Nugget had every intention of participating in the synchronized launch. Unfortunately, technical issues prevented it from moving out of the testing phase.
It would be about three more weeks before Golden Nugget successfully passed testing. It finally came online on Dec. 13, 2013.
Technical issues continued to plague the industry, mostly in the form of geolocation software. In fact, geolocation continued to be a problem through much of the first year.
In January, three notable events took place:
- Virgin Casino comes online under the Tropicana license.
- WSOP.com hosts the first major online poker tournament, the New Jersey Online Championships.
- Borgata Casino paid out the first online jackpot of more than $150,000 from a progressive slot machine.
Much of the first year was uneventful, or as uneventful as launching a new industry can be. That all changed in September.
Within one week, both Trump Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal shut down leaving several online casinos without a home.
Ultimate Casino and Ultimate Poker shut down when Trump Taj Mahal failed to pay them. Betfair Casino (now FanDuel Casino) and Betfair Poker, originally partnered with Trump Plaza, temporarily moved to Caesars’ license until a permanent partner was found.
Betfair secured a deal with Golden Nugget AC just days before the one year anniversary of the market. Additionally, this was the time Pala Casino came online, the first online casino operated by a Native American tribe in NJ.
At the end of Year One, the online casino market racked up $104.3 million in revenue and paid $15.6 million in taxes to the state.
On Nov. 20, 2014, and heading into Year Two, there were:
- Eight online casinos
- Five online poker rooms
Year Two (Nov. 21, 2014-15): Bad actor no more
Year Two does not start off well. On Dec. 1, 2014, Betfair Poker closes its virtual poker room.
Online poker then takes center stage when 888 Poker and WSOP.com ring in the new year by pooling liquidity.
This strategic move catapulted WSOP and 888 into first place among online poker rooms in NJ. It also stepped up the competition against its main rival, the Party Poker-Borgata network.
Following the boost to the online poker scene, Resorts Casino finds its way online minus a poker room.
Resorts is aligned with PokerStars NJ, which has been prevented from launching due to the “Bad Actor” clause in the legislation.
The next big news again focuses on poker, only this time it is outside of New Jersey. In March, Nevada and Delaware begin combining player pools across state lines.
Unfortunately, it will be several years, before New Jersey makes the duo a trio.
In the summer of 2015, Golden Nugget joins forces with NYX Entertainment and undergoes some significant software enhancements. Looking back, it is easy to see these enhancements setting the stage for Golden Nugget’s eventual market domination.
Around the same time, Mohegan Sun Casino came online under the Resorts’ license.
The fall of 2015 welcomed the popular e-wallet PayPal to the market for deposits and withdrawals at New Jersey online casino sites. It is still one of the more popular ways to fund an online casino account in the Garden State.
Additionally, PokerStars NJ finally wins its approval from the DGE. Its initial launch was scheduled for November, but it wouldn’t come online until Year Three.
At the end of Year Two, the online casino market racked up $141.1 million in revenue. That is an impressive increase of 35.3% over its first year in operation. Plus, the state collected another $21.2 million in taxes.
On Nov. 21, 2014, and heading into Year Three, there were:
- 12 online casinos
- Four online poker rooms
Year Three (Nov. 21, 2015-16): Hit me, dealer
It was March of 2016 before the next big news hit the market.
PokerStars NJ is finally online. Players in NJ were waiting a long time for the global brand to come to the Garden State.
Then several months later, the online casino industry would change forever. On Aug. 11, Golden Nugget launched live dealer games to provide an online casino experience similar to that of a brick-and-mortar one.
Live dealer games become hugely popular. Along with its computer upgrades from the year previous, it is said to be the main reason Golden Nugget enjoys its market leader status today.
It’s September before the next online casino launches. SugarHouse Casino crosses the Pennsylvania state border to launch an online casino in the Garden State under Golden Nugget’s license.
That brings us to the end of Year Three. The online casino market earned $188.4 million in online gaming revenue. That figure is good for a 33.5% increase over the same period from the previous year.
The state is getting wealthier, too. It added another $28.3 million in tax revenue to its coffers.
On Nov. 21, 2014, and heading into Year Four, there were:
- 15 online casinos
- Five online poker rooms
Year Four (Nov. 21, 2016-17): Poker players can almost taste shared liquidity
The beginning of Year Four was relatively quiet.
The first real big news came in May when Betfair adds live dealer games to its portfolio. Golden Nugget and Betfair will continue to be the only NJ online casinos to offer live dealer games until 2018.
Then during the summer of 2017, Pala Poker opens its poker room. It surprises everyone by forgoing the opportunity to share liquidity with Borgata and Party Poker.
Pala Poker has struggled to meet guarantees and draw players to its network from the beginning.
In late summer, two more online casinos launch:
- Scores Casino (Under the Borgata license)
- BetMGM Casino and Poker
Besides the arrival of PokerStars, the big news online poker players were awaiting was the opportunity to join Delaware and Nevada in sharing player pools.
New Jersey finally signed the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) with the two states on Oct. 13. However, it will still take several months before shared liquidity happens.
At the end of Year Four, NJ online casinos generated $239.8 million in revenue. It, again, saw double-digit percentage growth of 27.3% over the year prior. The industry paid an additional $35.9 million in tax revenue to the state.
At the end of Year Four, there were:
- 17 online casinos
- Seven online poker rooms
Year Five (Nov. 21, 2017-18): New Jersey saves the day
Little did we know at the start of Year Five what a momentous year it would be. However, it wouldn’t take long to understand that history was in the making.
On Dec. 4, 2017, the State of New Jersey challenges the legality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. A SCOTUS Blog watch would commence a few months later.
And while NJ sports betting has its own milestones to celebrate, there is a correlation to the launch of online sports betting in June 2018 and the continued growth and success of online casino gambling in the Garden State.
Of course, casinos and casino games continued to grow throughout the year. Live dealer games spread to eight casinos by summer and a second live dealer studio opened up thanks to Evolution Gaming.
And finally, what all poker players were waiting for became a reality. Just before the first “shuffle up and deal” of the 2018 World Series of Poker, player pools finally combined between three states:
- New Jersey
The timing was just right to allow New Jersey online poker players a chance to win one of four WSOP gold bracelets offered for online events. In fact, a New Jersey player would go on to place one of those gold bracelets on his wrist.
Even with the sports betting news and the implementation of shared liquidity, the biggest news for Atlantic City came in June when two shuttered casinos on the Boardwalk came back to life.
Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino opened their doors on June 28, just a few weeks after the first sportsbook opened its betting windows. Both Hard Rock and Ocean Resort would launch online casinos shortly after.
Then after being the first online sportsbook to launch in NJ, DraftKings Casino began offering blackjack.
What was notable about this news wasn’t that DraftKings became the daily fantasy sports operator turned sportsbook turned casino. It’s the integrated online sportsbook and online casino app prioritizing the customer experience.
Once the Supreme Court decision was handed down, the rest of the year flew by in a blur. Revenue for the online casino market grew by 18.5% year over year to $284.1 million. The state collected its share, which equated to $42.6 million.
At the end of Year Five, there were:
- 19 casinos
- Seven poker rooms
- Nine online sportsbooks
Year Six (Nov. 21, 2018-19): Another record-setting year
It didn’t seem possible to keep up the pace of the second half of 2018. But as 2018 came to a close and the beginning of Year Six began, a new normal in New Jersey online gambling was being established.
More online casinos would launch, more cross-selling between sportsbooks and casinos would occur, and more revenue records would be set.
To ring in 2019, DraftKings becomes the latest online casino to offer live dealer games through a partnership with Evolution Gaming. On the other end of the spectrum, six-month-old Ocean Resort is struggling financially and goes up for sale.
It is renamed Ocean Casino in early 2019.
An Eldorado and Caesars merger is heating up and Eldorado moves to sell a few properties to clear the way. Consolidation seems to be the latest industry buzzword.
This year ushered in four new gambling sites:
- BetAmerica (Golden Nugget)
- Unibet NJ Casino (Hard Rock Atlantic City)
- Bet365 Casino (Hard Rock Atlantic City)
- Parx Casino (Ocean Casino Resort)
Now that we’ve reached the end of NJ online gambling’s sixth year, there are:
- 23 casinos
- Seven poker rooms
- 17 online sportsbooks
And it doesn’t quite feel like the market is done yet. There’s a reason New Jersey is a model state when it comes to online gambling.
It has not always been easy, but NJ and the DGE have efficiently navigated the ups and downs that rapid growth brings to any business.
It’s impressive to review the changes from one year to next. One can only imagine what 2020 will bring.