2014 began with six online poker sites in New Jersey, but the online gaming industry suffered a similar fate to Atlantic City’s land-based casino industry (where four of New Jersey’s 12 casinos shuttered their doors in 2014), as only four of the original six online poker sites remained when the calendar turned to 2015.
More alarming, only two of the four original online poker operators managed to survive the first year of iGaming in New Jersey. Borgata and Caesars dominated the online poker market in New Jersey, responsible for some 98% of the state’s online poker revenue in 2014, while Ultimate Poker (Trump Taj Mahal) and Betfair (Trump Plaza) closed their online poker rooms.
Despite this dominance, if things progress as expected, we should see the addition of at least two new online poker sites in 2015. But is their space in the market, and can they unseat Borgata and/or Caesars to claim that space.
The first wave
On November 21st, 2013 the following companies launched online poker sites during New Jersey’s soft-launch period:
- Trump Taj Mahal and Ultimate Gaming: Ultimate Poker
- Borgata and partypoker: BorgataPoker.com (shared player pool with NJ.PartyPoker.com)
- Borgata and partypoker: NJ.PartyPoker.com (shared player pool with BorgataPoker.com)
- Caesars Entertainment and 888 Holdings: WSOP.com
- Caesars Entertainment and 888 Holdings: US.888Poker.com
- Trump Plaza and Betfair: BetfairCasino.com
Several other operators launched online casinos without online poker rooms as well, with more than one (Golden Nugget and Tropicana) intimating that online poker products could be unveiled down the road.
To date, none of these “second wave” poker rooms have materialized, and two rooms, Betfair and Ultimate Poker, are no longer operational – Ultimate Gaming withdrew from the market entirely, while Betfair moved from the now-closed Trump Plaza to Golden Nugget scrapping their nonproducing online poker roomsoon thereafter.
Why have they reconsidered?
The lack of revenue generated by the six online poker operators likely caused Tropicana/Gamesys and Golden Nugget/Bally Tech to rethink adding online poker to their online casino offerings that are producing decent revenue numbers without poker, particularly Tropicana.
For one thing, the New Jersey iPoker market is already overcrowded due to theliquidity restraints of New Jersey’s 8.9 million residents, and supplanting one of the established online poker rooms would also be extremely difficult.
As Ultimate Poker learned, a floundering online poker site can cost you millions of dollars. Conversely, Betfair’s online poker room demonstrated that you have to market. Any new online poker site in New Jersey is taking a major risk: Either do nothing and hope people show up, or spend, spend, spend with no promise people will play and hope you don’t explode your budget.
Betfair’s online poker site generated all of $50 in 2014 before calling it quits, and some have estimated that Ultimate Poker’s valiant efforts to gain a foothold in New Jersey cost the company eight-figures and likely hastened their demise in both New Jersey and Nevada.
New Jersey’s appeal to online poker sites may hinge on whether or not the state enters into liquidity sharing agreements with other states, as the market simply can’t support more than two or three rooms maximum in its current state.
Who is coming down the pipeline?
Tropicana and Golden Nugget may have put their online poker plans on hold, buttwo other operators have tentative plans to launch an online poker site in 2015, perhaps feeling they can shake up the New Jersey online poker industry.
Pala, a California Indian tribe, launched their online casino in New Jersey in late 2014 through a partnership with the Borgata. Pala also indicated they would launch an online poker site in New Jersey sometime in 2015.
Pala’s online poker site is likely little more than a trial run, as the company is far more interested in launching in their home state of California, where the population is over six-times that of New Jersey.
If Pala launches in 2015 they will likely have a lot of trouble unseating Caesars’ WSOP.com or Borgata/Party from the #1 and #2 spots. But as mentioned above, this is not really their goal in the Garden State.
PokerStars partner in New Jersey is Resorts Casino, and unlike Pala, pretty much every analyst expects PokerStars to be the #1 online poker site in New Jersey within weeks of launch.
The problem with PokerStars is one of licensing, specifically, what unknown force is holding up the company’s license approval, which seems to be anyone’s guess at this point.
Still, despite the delays, PokerStars is expected to eventually be licensed in New Jersey, and when they do it’s game on for the rest of the operators.
Other potential additions
There are other possible players as well.
One possibility is if the Revel reopens as a casino. If this is the case, the new owners of Revel will almost certainly look into obtaining an online gaming licensefor the facility.
The big question, assuming they get into iGaming, will be whether or not they stick with online casino games, or try to grab a piece of the disappointing and far more competitive online poker pie. This may depend on who Revel partners with, and whether or not PokerStars has entered the market.
Of course, it also depends on what becomes of the Revel, so there are a lot of “if’s” at play.
Another possibility is the Trump Taj Mahal, which already possesses an online gambling license, but lost their partner (Ultimate Gaming) when Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy. If The Taj can survive their current fiscal issues, and come up with a long term solution to keep their doors open, they might (emphasis on might) reenter the online gambling fray with a new partner.