The long-awaited day when Atlantic City casinos can again operate at 100% capacity has finally arrived. In addition, most of the other previous restrictions, including Plexiglas dividers at table games and mandatory mask-wearing have been lifted.
Even bar-side food and beverage service, buffets, and showroom entertainment are back. But how will all of these changes affect the revenue at NJ online casinos?
Why the pandemic produced a record increase in NJ online casino revenue
During the entire time that the Atlantic City casinos remained closed, NJ online casinos provided virtually the only legal form of gambling available. However, when the Atlantic City casinos finally reopened last July, and for months afterward, many people who would have visited under more normal circumstances stayed away.
One reason was the many mandatory restrictions. The governor’s orders significantly limited both the number of players the casinos could accommodate and the services and amenities they could provide.
A second reason was restrictions on interstate travel. A third reason was the lingering fear many people harbored that despite the casinos’ doing all they could to offer a safe and healthy playing environment, they could still catch the virus.
So, it should come as no surprise that during the 100+ days the Atlantic City casinos were closed, a record number of new players signed up with NJ gambling websites for the first time. Others who had previously played both in the casinos and online played online more often.
It should also come as no surprise that after months of playing online and enjoying it, many of these same people were in no hurry to return to Atlantic City. They didn’t want to subject themselves to the hassles of making the trip or the unnecessary risk, however small, of catching the virus.
But now, since most of the reasons to avoid Atlantic City no longer exist, will the amount of their online casino play diminish? Probably, but not even close to the extent you might think.
The published data for April 2021 already show a slight decline in revenue for NJ online casinos, and for May through the summer, we will probably see more. But the fallout probably won’t be major.
As in-person gambling increases, some decline in NJ online casino revenue is inevitable.
Now that the number of new virus cases in the area has declined dramatically and a large percentage of the adult population has been vaccinated, James Plousis, chairman of the Casino Control Commission, predicts a robust summer for Atlantic City. And top casino executives such as Joe Lupo, President of Hard Rock, and Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort agree. Many of the people who stayed away even after the casinos reopened will return to their old stomping grounds.
Since they can’t play online or on their mobile device at the same time, they will play online less often. But they won’t give up online gambling completely.
On the contrary, I will now cite multiple good reasons to believe that online gambling is here to stay and will continue to be a major source of revenue to the State of New Jersey for many years to come.
Atlantic City casino gambling and NJ online casino gambling have coexisted profitably for years.
When online gambling was introduced in New Jersey back in 2013 as an adjunct to brick and mortar casino gambling, it was a big hit from the get-go. Generous welcome bonuses lured players in, while access to a wide variety of games that they could wager real money on whenever they wanted without having to travel anywhere enticed them to keep coming back.
But those aren’t the only incentives. Players at NJ online casinos get the opportunity to earn the same kinds of reward credits, tier points, and benefits that playing in Atlantic City offers. They can also access special bonuses and promotions that the casinos extend to online players exclusively.
Over the years, NJ online casinos have kept getting bigger and better.
7 ½ years have passed since the first NJ online casinos launched on Nov. 26, 2013. During that time, many new gambling websites have opened and are still operating. They also keep getting larger.
Perhaps no NJ gambling website provides a better example of the meaning of the phrase “the bigger the better” than Golden Nugget Online Casino. As of this writing, Golden Nugget offers 851 games and counting. It is no coincidence that year after year, this casino leads all other NJ online casinos in revenue. It was also the Atlantic City casino least adversely affected by the pandemic because its online casino provides such a tremendous source of revenue.
Golden Nugget was also the first online casino in New Jersey to offer live dealer games. Many other NJ online casinos, seeing what a big money maker these games are, now offer live dealer games, too, along with greatly expanding the total number of games.
Keep in mind that the addition of many more games, including live dealer games, started long before the pandemic forced the temporary closure of the Atlantic City casinos. If the online casinos weren’t already highly successful, would they spend the sizable sums of additional money that offering these new games cost?
In fact, online casino gambling has been such a huge success in New Jersey that many other states have looked to it as a model to try to emulate in offering online casino gambling as an option for their residents.
Online slots offer a better return to player than their Atlantic City counterparts.
Slots are the bread and butter of any casino. But slot players as a group today possess a lot more knowledge about the game than previously. They know that different slots can vary considerably in the percentage of a player’s wagers that are returned back in winnings, as expressed in the return to player or RTP.
Many online slots have an RTP of above 96 percent, which makes them a better game than American Roulette. One of the most heavily represented manufacturers of online slots is NetEnt, all of whose games have an RTP above 96 percent. However, you won’t find any NetEnt slots in any Atlantic City casino. You can only play them online.
Slot players want to win, just like any other type of gambler. Therefore, online slots will always be a big attraction.
Recent casino revenue data look good for both Atlantic City and NJ online casinos.
Lastly, the most recent data reported for both forms of gambling confirm that a large number of New Jersey players still play online. Therefore, the operators of these online casinos have no cause for concern.
My 5/25/21 article for NJ Online Casino entitled “Atlantic City Casinos Had A Great April, As Did NJ online Casinos” and David Danzis’ 4/19/21 and 5/20/21 articles for Play New Jersey indicate the new picture starting to emerge.
The figures for May haven’t been released yet. But according to the Division of Gaming Enforcement, the Atlantic City casino win from slots and table games for April 2021 totaled $189.6 million. This slightly exceeded the $184.87 million reported for March 2021.
According to Jane Bokunewicz, Coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism at Stockton University, these slight slight month-to-month changes “could be an early indication of a balance shift back to in-person gaming.” In other words, “operators will no longer need to rely solely on internet gambling revenue.” However, it will still provide “a significant share of the casino revenue mix.”
What NJ online casinos can do in the months ahead to maintain their high level of performance
I agree with Ms. Bokunewicz that NJ online casinos will continue to make an important contribution to the casino industry’s bottom online. But even so, they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. They need to greatly step up the frequency and quality of their incentives to continue to attract new customers and maintain the loyalty of their existing ones.
We have already seen some positive moves in that direction. For example, several online casinos now frequently offer 100 percent deposit match bonuses to existing customers, We also see more offers at the NJ online sportsbooks both for new players and existing players for risk-free bets.
This summer, drawings are another type of online promotion we should see a lot more often. Prizes will include win free stays, gourmet dinners, and/or show tickets at the online casino’s affiliated Atlantic City casino.
Summary and Conclusion
Based on all of the foregoing, the thousands of patrons who enjoy what the online casinos have to offer and their operators and employees shouldn’t worry. The casinos aren’t going anywhere. This summer the Atlantic City casinos will be packed and jumping with activity. But online casino gambling is also still going strong and will remain that way throughout 2021 and for many years to come.