April 2014 was the first month that New Jersey’s casinos reported a drop in profits since legalized online gambling began in the state in November 2013. This drop came after a steady month-by-month increase in profits that still fell short of Governor Christie and the New Jersey State Treasurer’s initial projected earnings for the state. When he signed the bill allowing New Jersey gamblers to access legal online casinos, Governor Christie set a goal of $1 billion in revenue from online gambling in its first year. By April, only $27 million had come in.
Why So Short of the Goal?
It’s not that New Jersey’s gamblers are unaware that they can easily log into well-known casinos from the comfort of their own homes. Advertisements on the radio, television, internet and along our major roadways have made sure of that. So what’s the problem? Why aren’t New Jersey gamblers flocking to their desktops and grabbing their tablets to get in on the fun? I recently posted this question on two New Jersey-focused internet forums and got back fairly consistent answers.
Distrust of the Games
New Jersey’s gamblers have a strong collective distrust of the odds of winning in an online casino. In a physical casino setting, all the card games are played with an actual deck of cards and dealt by a human dealer right in front of the players’ eyes. One responder said this is the only way they play card games.
Because this isn’t possible on the internet, websites use random number generators to create hands and spreads, and that makes some players wary. The concern that many people who answered had was that websites could program their generators to give the house more of an advantage by giving players lousy hands more frequently than they’d occur with an actual deck of cards.
This is how modern slot machines work — they can be programmed to pay out a jackpot at specific spin intervals. This is why many gamblers who consider themselves to be more serious players tend to avoid slot machines both on and offline. The prospect of a blackjack or poker table operating like a slot machine is a turn-off to players.
Their Concerns are Unfounded
According to an IT architect for one of the casino companies, players shouldn’t worry about being ripped off by a website’s random number generator.
“I can say it is very tightly controlled and regulated,” the architect said, “Anyone afraid of getting cheated or suckered: fear not, at least for those sites hosted in NJ. You have just as much chance winning there as in a real casino.”
Because the online casinos that operate in New Jersey are all affiliated with physical casinos in Atlantic City, they are held to the same standards as the brick and mortar operations. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission regulates the gambling industry in the state, ensuring that all games are held to a standard level of fairness.
A Lack of Boundaries
Some responders said that they choose not to gamble online because it’s too easy. A traditional casino requires a car or bus ride, which requires gas, tolls, fare, and parking, all of which limit the number of visits a player can make to a casino. This physical separation is important to players, especially those who have had problems with compulsive gambling or a family history of addictive behavior. Being able to just log in and spend money straight from their bank accounts brings the casinos a little too close for these players’ comfort.
Other gamblers simply enjoy the casino experience. The sounds, sights, and endless cocktails are all part of the ambiance of Atlantic City casinos, creating a unique atmosphere that no website can replicate.
Old Problems, No New Solutions
Some of the players also cited geolocation problems as a reason why they don’t gamble online in New Jersey. Back in November, lots of New Jersey gamblers found themselves locked out of casino websites because the required geolocation software didn’t recognize that they were physically within New Jersey’s borders. This problem is being corrected by improved geolocation software, but it still leaves some players unable to log in.
Having to download software and then be kicked out of poker rooms mid-game because of geolocation problems has been incredibly frustrating for some players, to the point that some have completely given up on trying to gamble online in New Jersey. Other responders cited slow performance and a poorly-designed interface as the reasons why they don’t gamble online.
A Little Better Regard for Online Poker
Across the board, responders had a more favorable opinion of online poker. This could be because online poker has existed for more than fifteen years. It’s familiar — people have been playing and winning long enough for any wariness of it to subside. Now that it’s legal and regulated in New Jersey, seasoned poker players have even less to be worried about. Responders liked that they can make secure deposits and cash outs in New Jersey’s online poker rooms and many reported winning money from playing poker online.
Poker, unlike other casino games, involves skill along with luck. It draws a different clientele from other casino games because it can be played competitively. One of the poker players who responded liked that playing poker online is less expensive than playing in a casino and enjoys playing poker regularly.
Nobody guessed that the response to legal online gambling in New Jersey would be so underwhelming. Nevada and Delaware are the only other states that currently allow online gambling, and Nevada differs from the other two because it only allows online poker – not slots or other games. Both New Jersey and Delaware are far behind their projected profits. Nevada hasn’t released data yet about its online gambling revenue.
Legal online gambling was supposed to be one of the wires that would jump-start Atlantic City’s comeback, but New Jersey players have given their response: they don’t trust it, they can’t access it, and they’re slow to adapt. Online gambling is still very new in New Jersey and an underwhelming initial response does not mean it is a complete failure.
As I gathered from my polls, one of the biggest obstacles online gambling sites face is the public’s distrust of them. As more players give online gambling a chance and start to win jackpots through these websites, the stigma could begin to diminish. Trust has to be built organically, and the best way for New Jersey’s online casinos to build their audience’s trust is to be the best at what they do by delivering a safe, convenient, fun experience for their players.