To say the success of Golden Nugget in the New Jersey online casino market is surprising is the ultimate understatement.
After spending several months at the bottom of the state’s revenue reports, it is now at the top, challenging Borgata and Tropicana for the title of the top grossing iCasino each and every month.
A rocky start
It’s safe to say that before the industry launched, not much was expected from Golden Nugget’s online casino in New Jersey.
The company didn’t have the powerful brand or the money of Caesars or Borgata, nor did it pick a “sexy” iGaming partner with its own recognizable brand, instead settling on the mostly land-based B2C gaming company Bally Technologies, a known commodity in the gaming world, but little-known among the general public.
Then disaster struck.
Golden Nugget was the only casino that failed to meet New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement requirements during the soft launch, so while Borgata, Tropicana, WSOP.com, Ultimate Poker and the rest of the iGaming sites were allowed to fully launch on November 26, 2013, Golden Nugget would have to wait several weeks before the DGE gave it the green light.
The delay gave Golden Nugget’s competitors a significant head start, and it showed for the first several months as Golden Nugget lagged behind the rest of the operators.
It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up
There are several reasons for Golden Nugget’s success, not least of which is the leadership and vision of Thomas Winter, the man Golden Nugget’s parent company, Landry’s Inc., selected to head its online gaming operations.
With Winter at the helm, Golden Nugget didn’t panic following its slow start. It simply picked itself up, dusted off, and went back to work.
By March of 2014, Golden Nugget caught up to Trump Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal, but was still well off the revenue numbers being generated by Tropicana, Caesars, and Borgata.
By the summer of 2014, Golden Nugget had separated itself from the trail pack with the two Trump properties, and by July it was flirting with million-dollar months.
Furthermore, another trend started to develop in New Jersey. Other operators were seeing their revenue decline but Golden Nugget was still growing.
Customer service a Golden Nugget focus
In a recent interview with iGaming Business North America, Winter attributes a lot of this success to the company’s customer service, which has an 86% satisfactory rate according to the article.
Winter noted, among other things, that the company’s customer service reps were located in New Jersey from day one, and that they proactively contacted players who were having issues with verification and payment processing.
What first mover advantage?
In his interview with IGBNA, Winter pins the company’s early struggles on two interrelated issues.
First, he admits the company was not ready when the industry launched in late November, and second, with several aspects of the platform not up to its standards, the company decided to hold back on marketing as well.
Winter and Golden Nugget also deserve a lot of credit, as they made a very risky but calculated decision to continue to hold off on marketing until geolocation, player verification, and payment processing had improved.
“We knew that we had missed a big opportunity in not being there to try and attract the most interested players,” Winter told IGBNA about the missed opportunity due to its delayed launch.
“Ironically, missing that first wave also gave us a significant advantage.”
While its competition was busy fighting for these coveted players, they were also spending millions marketing to these players, many of whom were unable to access their sites because of the early technical issues the industry dealt with. Having missed out on being a first mover, Golden Nugget wisely bided its time.
By the time Golden Nugget ramped up its marketing, its competitors had started winding theirs down. This also coincided with geolocation and payment processing improvements, as well as the launch of mobile products.
Taking advantage of Ultimate Gaming’s demise
Winter also noted that the September 2014 demise of Ultimate Gaming in New Jersey occurred during GN’s marketing blitz.
This allowed it to specifically target wayward Ultimate Gaming players.
Betfair pushes GN over the top
In November of 2014, Golden Nugget made another bold decision that would pay off in spades.
Betfair’s original partner, Trump Plaza, closed its doors in September of 2014, leaving the future of Betfair in limbo.
Despite being a solid performer in the market, other casinos weren’t interested in bringing the company under its license. Golden Nugget decided to take a chance on Betfair, and by December of 2014, with both brands firing on all cylinders, Golden Nugget had shot past Caesars in monthly iCasino revenue and was suddenly neck and neck with Tropicana and Borgata.
By March of 2015 the company was posting $3 million months, and is the only iCasino operator to eclipse the $3 million mark in a single month, something Golden Nugget has accomplished twice.
Worst to first
Six months into New Jersey’s online gaming experiment, Golden Nugget had a 5% market share among the six operators.
A year later, in April of 2015, Golden Nugget’s market share peaked at 25% among the state’s four remaining online operators, and an even more impressive 31% if we remove the online poker revenue generated by Borgata and Caesars.
Revenue has declined a bit in May and June, but they are still among the highest-grossing iCasinos in the state.
Golden Nugget started slow, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, particularly with Winter at the helm.