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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren

A three time winner of the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism award, J.R. Duren is a freelance writer. He has contributed to numerous publications including Snooth, Bespoke Post, and Barcelona Metropolitan, and covers the New Jersey regulated online gambling business for various online outlets including PlayNJ.com.

About J.R. Duren

A three time winner of the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism award, J.R. Duren is a freelance writer. He has contributed to numerous publications including Snooth, Bespoke Post, and Barcelona Metropolitan, and covers the New Jersey regulated online gambling business for various online outlets including PlayNJ.com.

Here are my most recent posts

PokerStars NJ’s Live Event In Atlantic City Turns Into Second Bad Beat

J.R. Duren October 28, 2017 0 comments
New Jersey PokerStars live events
For as popular as PokerStars’ online tournaments and sit-and-go games are in New Jersey, its two live events in Atlantic City have been busts by most accounts.

Low turnout plagued PokerStars’ live MEGASTACK poker series Oct. 6-8 at Resorts Casino Hotel, marking the second consecutive live tourney disappointment. This most recent weekend event was divided into the Sunday Special Live main event and the no-limit deep-stack “Cheap and Deep.”

Overlays on both PokerStars NJ tournaments

PokerStars’ main event tourney on Oct. 7 boasted $100,000 in guaranteed prize money, and four different starting flights competed.

Sunday Special Live drew 409 entrants and, when multiplied by the $220 buy-in, the total prize pool generated by entrants was $89,980, resulting in an overlay of $10,020. The picture was pretty bleak on the deep-stack side. The event brought in less than half of the guaranteed $25,000 purse.

PokerStars’ own Chris Moneymaker won the deep-stack tourney while Egg Harbor Township’s John Monahan won the Sunday Special Live.

Why is PokerStars struggling with live events in NJ?

It’s up for debate why PokerStars is having a hard time filling seats at live tournaments.

Maybe players aren’t going simply out of inconvenience and cost. Atlantic City is the only location in the state with casinos — a November 2016 referendum kept it that way.

Players in northern New Jersey may find the drive south too far, particularly considering the amount of money they’d spend on gas, a hotel stay, and food for the weekend, not to mention buy-ins. Why drive two hours to a tourney when they can play from the comfort of home?

In that sense, PokerStars’ online popularity in the state may very well be working against its live tournaments.

Another factor could be the amount of money that can be won online versus in person. PokerStars’ September/October tournament series featured 46 online events with more than $1 million in prize money. The biggest event on that schedule, purse-wise, was the Oct. 15 NL Hold ’em Main Event, which had a $200,000 prize pool.

Multiple factors hampered first tournament

While there haven’t been any theories as to why the most recent PokerStars event didn’t perform as expected, experts in the industry say the company’s first event in Atlantic City in October 2016 was the victim of several converging factors.

These included the lack of a guaranteed prize pool, another poker event happening at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, and having only two months to market the event.

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Image credit: James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com 

December 4 Will Be A Historic Day, As SCOTUS Hears The NJ Sports Betting Case

J.R. Duren October 19, 2017 0 comments
Supreme Court date NJ sports gambling
There was a time when the thought of New Jersey being home to sports betting was nothing more than a pipe dream.

Now, on Dec. 4, the state of New Jersey and the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association will present oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States. The court case will be the furthest the state has gotten in three attempts to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and make sports betting legal in New Jersey.

Should New Jersey gain the victory, Gov. Chris Christie told NorthJersey.com he expects betting across the country on the 2018 Super Bowl.

“If they say that states should make the decisions, New Jersey voters have already decided by a two-thirds vote [in a 2011 referendum] that they want sports gambling, and so that’s what we would do in our state, and I assume a lot of other states would follow,” Christie said.

The Dec. 4 hearing will not include a decision. But the court will hear oral arguments from New Jersey and its opponents, the NCAA and the country’s professional sports leagues. The SCOTUS decision is expected in late spring or early summer of 2018.

NJ says PASPA violates states’ rights

New Jersey’s chief argument is that the federal government doesn’t have a right to bar states from passing sports betting laws. PASPA basically froze states’ ability to pass such legislation when Congress passed it in 1992. Therefore, only the states that allowed gambling at the time (Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon) have it today.

New Jersey will argue Congress passing a law preventing states from passing their own is a violation of the 10th Amendment.

Public, judges moving toward legal sports betting

One sign of optimism for New Jersey is a recent Washington Post poll indicating the majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing sports betting for the first time since PASPA was passed.

According to the poll, 55 percent of Americans support legalizing sports betting while 33 percent are against it. Those numbers are far different than results from a poll in 1993, which was practically the reverse.

This sea change could be an indication of the nation’s sentiments — and possibly the Supreme Court’s — in favor of a practice already legal in four states.

NorthJersey.com added further evidence to this trend by pointing out Judge Julio Fuentes, one of the justices who initially supported a district court’s decision to deny New Jersey sports betting, is now in favor of allowing the state to legalize wagering on sports.

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It’s Official, Maybe – TEN Has A Buyer?

J.R. Duren October 5, 2017 0 comments
Revel NJ casino sold
TEN Atlantic City. Glenn Straub. Revel Casino Hotel.

Those eight words have been the source of one of the most cantankerous narratives in Atlantic City. And according to local sources, all that may come to an end with just one word: sold.

“A Colorado-based company has filed an agreement of sale with the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office, signaling its intent to purchase the closed Revel Casino Hotel,” the Press of Atlantic City reported.

Reports say Colorado group is the NJ casino’s buyer

According to PoAC, the name of the buyer is Mile High Dice MGR, LLC, and is based in Colorado.

The company filed a notice of sale agreement with the city in August, PoAC said.

Basically, a notice of sale agreement represents serious intentions to buy a property, but is not a sale agreement in the sense that it guarantees a deal will go through.

However, the developments indicate that Mile High Dice is relatively intent on closing a deal, thus ending a saga that city leaders are probably happy to see finished.

Who is Mile High Dice?

Mile High Dice’s head man is Bruce Deifik, CEO of Denver’s Integrated Properties, Inc.

According to Deifik’s company profile, Integrated Properties was founded in 1990 and has “acquired 103 commercial properties in five states in excess of 8.5 million square feet.”

At the time of publishing, the company held one casino: Lucky Club Casino & Hotel in North Las Vegas.

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Not the first time the TEN has been in sale talks

Developer Glenn Straub’s TEN Atlantic City property has courted multiple suitors over the past two years. Those interested parties, mixed with Straub’s oft-outlandish behavior, have earned the TEN a comically dubious reputation.

The most recent interested party, according to NJ.com, was a New York private investment firm who reportedly wanted to make an offer of $225 million on the property.

The payoff would’ve represented a nice return for Straub. He bought the beleaguered property in 2015 for $82 million, an absolute steal considering the Revel was built at a cost of more than $2 billion.

However, Straub told local news sources he was unaware of an offer, muddying a situation that was already about as obfuscated is it could get.

There’s no telling what will actually happen with TEN AC

While the news of a potential buyer is encouraging it is by no means a certainty.

The TEN/Revel’s history has included many promises of renovations, repurposing, and grand openings, none of which materialized.

The latest disappointment? Straub said TEN AC would open on June 15, exactly one year after the casino’s much-ballyhooed first major reopening promise.

Both openings never happened.

Image credit: Creative Family / Shutterstock.com

Tropicana Online Casino Surrenders $197K Jackpot To One Lucky New Jersey Player

J.R. Duren August 30, 2017 0 comments
Tropicana NJ online casino jackpot
Her name is Kim Seib, and she’s now nearly $200,000 richer.

Seib, a Phillipsburg resident, took down TropicanaCasino.com’s big jackpot. She recounted her tale on Tropicana’s blog, noting that the big win came via the Wonderland slot game. Seib said the winning spin came just 15 minutes after she considered logging off.

Here’s how she tells it:

“During my 15 minutes or so of playing Wonderland, I got the Rose Garden Bonus and only completed painting about five roses before the Queen popped up. Then I got it again. I was clicking my laptop buttons and completed 5, 6, and 7. All of a sudden they were all completed… JACKPOT!  I sat there in total shock, thinking, ‘This can’t be. No way!’”

A joyful ‘panic attack’

The reality of Seib’s big win swept over her quickly in a kind of “panic attack.”

Her husband, who was half asleep at the time, had a hard time understanding what his wife was trying to tell him. She was having trouble getting the words out, and he thought something was wrong.

Seib was eventually able to get across the good news: she’d won $197,139, the highest online jackpot win at a legal NJ gambling site this year.

“I couldn’t get the words out,” Seib said of the moment she tried to tell her husband. “I finally put my laptop on the bed and just told him to look. He was in shock. He watched as dollars were added to my balance in $5,000 increments.”

Seib’s NJ online casino win provokes interesting arguments

While the story itself is nothing short of a gambling fantasy, the real meat of Seib’s experience came later in the Trop post about her massive haul.

Seib said she and her husband gamble online in NJ because their schedules don’t always allow them to head to Atlantic City.

“With both our schedules, it makes it hard to visit like we want to,” Seib said. “So, I just decided to try Tropicana’s online casino, and here we are three years later.”

The Seibs are the exact kind of couple that concerns legislators in nearby Pennsylvania. The legislature is currently wringing its hands and dragging its feet worrying that video game terminals in taverns, as well as the launch of online gambling platforms, will keep people away from casinos.

Granted, land-based New Jersey casinos operate the online sites, as would be the case in Pennsylvania. However, certain land-based casinos in PA have been resistant to other forms of gambling expansion.

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Photo by Pat Guiney / CC BY 2.0

Sen. Lesniak’s New Legislation Serves As Final Farewell To NJ’s Gambling Champion

J.R. Duren August 22, 2017 0 comments
Sen Lesniak NJ gambling
Last week, New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak announced plans to introduce legislation that would “allow people outside of [New Jersey] to place bets at NJ online casinos and poker rooms.”

The proposal is a fitting way for Lesniak to end his career as a state senator. He’s planning to retire later this year, ending a 38-year run as a state legislator and a supporter of NJ casinos. This decision was further solidified when Lesniak failed to make it out of the primaries in a recent run for the governor’s office.

New bill would cement New Jersey as online gambling powerhouse

Unlike, say, video gambling terminals, welcoming gamblers from outside the state isn’t a controversial issue. New Jersey’s online casinos are operated by brick-and-mortar casinos. Therefore, gamblers from outside the state would be contributing to the revenue of in-state casinos.

If there is any controversy surrounding Lesniak’s idea, it would be from neighboring states. New York, for example, campaigned hard against last November’s casino expansion referendum, which would’ve situated casinos in the northern part of the state.

But here’s the beauty of the bill: It would also open up the possibility for pooling play with overseas gamblers.

Lesniak has never been one to err on the side of timidity when it comes to gambling legislation. This new bill is a perfect example of his ambition.

NJ internet gambling was a landmark win for Lesniak

In 2013, there was some doubt as to whether Gov. Chris Christie would sign the proposed New Jersey online gambling legislation.

Christie’s hesitations drew the ire of Lesniak, who blasted the governor in the weeks leading up to the bill’s passage.

“If he vetoes the bill for those reasons, that has to go down for stupidest reasons to veto a bill ever given,” the senator told PokerNews.com. “More importantly, it would just put another nail in the coffin for any hope of economic recovery and job creation in Atlantic City.”

As a primary sponsor of the bill, Lesniak had every right to be concerned about its future and the effect it would have on the state’s economy.

On Feb. 26, 2013, Christie signed the bill into law.

“I am confident that we are offering a responsible yet exciting option that will make Atlantic City more competitive while also bringing financial benefits to New Jersey as a whole,” Christie said in an article from NJ.com.

Lesniak characterized the legislation as “historic” and said he was certain it would prevent one to two casinos from closing that year. His prediction was correct; it wasn’t until 2014 that an Atlantic City casino shuttered its doors.

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Image via Sen. Lesniak

MGM Launches Its First Branded, Real-Money Online Gambling Site In NJ

J.R. Duren August 10, 2017 0 comments
playMGM New Jersey site
The banner on playMGM says it all: “Vegas is here. Real Vegas gambling. Online in Jersey.”

Last week, MGM Resorts International launched its first branded online gambling site in New Jersey. It marks a significant moment in the company’s history, said MGM Chief Operating Officer Corey Sanders in a press release.

“We are thrilled to be entering the online gaming landscape in New Jersey with the expansion of our playMGM.com platform to include both casino and poker games,” Sanders said. “The ability to effectively bring Las Vegas to New Jersey via an online experience is an exciting undertaking.”

New NJ online gambling site features slots and table games

At the time of this writing, MGM’s New Jersey online gambling site featured 202 slot games and 22 table games.

There were nine forms of poker, four types of blackjack (including single-deck), as well as two versions of roulette, craps, Jacks or Better, and Mega Ball Action.

The site also featured 11 new games, including Wheel of Fortune on Tour, Loot’EnKhamun, and Ghostbusters Triple Slime.

Industry observers also expect MGM to run an online poker room, which will be included in the existing Borgata/PartyPoker NJ network.

MGM wants to be at forefront of Atlantic City’s rebirth

The launch of this site is anything but a passive move.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City’s flagship casino and MGM’s crown jewel on the East Coast, was once the leader in New Jersey online gambling revenue. In the last few years, however, Golden Nugget has surged ahead to become the undisputed king of online gambling in the state.

Many see playMGM as an overt expansion of MGM’s territory and a push for more influence in a quickly expanding casino market.

Sanders was very clear on this fact in his press release:

“The ability to effectively bring Las Vegas to New Jersey via an online experience is an exciting undertaking, especially as we continue to develop our presence on the East Coast with the recent acquisition of Borgata, the opening of MGM National Harbor and the pending 2018 opening of MGM Springfield in Massachusetts.”

Exactly how much this new online gambling site will affect the New Jersey online casino market remains to be seen. The assumption is that MGM will garner a decent portion of the gambling crowd because it’s new and pushing a Las Vegas theme.

That said, online gambling can be a fickle proposition; MGM is hoping it’s found the formula for success.

Want to know what’s happening in NJ? Check out our NJ online gambling forum.

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Image by Denise Lafferty / Shutterstock.com

Atlantic City Reaches $80 Million Tax Settlement, Thanks To The State Of New Jersey

J.R. Duren August 7, 2017 0 comments
New Jersey casinos AC settlement
Atlantic City has 80 million reasons to be thankful for state takeovers.

While Atlantic City leaders and residents recoiled at the prospect of that takeover back in November, it looks like a saving grace now.

Last week, Gov. Chris Christie announced the state had reached an $80 million settlement regarding the city’s property tax debts to seven casinos, effectively ending the money drain that helped cripple its finances.

Christie says state rescued Atlantic City from ‘vexing’ circumstances

According to multiple reports, Christie’s financial team put together a series of bond ordinances to pay the tax debt. We don’t know exactly how much each casino will receive or how much was owed. We do know this is a huge step forward for Atlantic City’s finances.

Christie, never one to shy away from promoting his successes in AC, was quoted on NJ.com as saying the settlement was “the culmination of my administration’s successful efforts to address one of the most significant and vexing challenges that had been facing the city.”

“Because of the agreements announced today, casino property tax appeals no longer threaten the city’s financial future,” Christie added.

Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa, who helped lead the takeover, was quoted as saying his team has neutralized the threat of casino property taxes. Chiesa remarked that “residents can breathe easier” because the city is now in a much better financial position.

The state’s victories are impressive

While we don’t know the amounts that the state will pay to each casino, we do know there’s a good chance it will be less than what was owed.

Chiesa spearheaded the state’s $72 million tax settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa this past February. The deal was a bargain relative to the $165 million for which the casino was asking.

It’s tough to say exactly why Borgata’s owner, MGM Resorts International, agreed to the deal. But its official statement on the matter may reveal a deeper motivation to settling.

MGM International Executive Vice President John McManus said the company accepted the “reduced payment” because it is “committed to being a catalyst of Atlantic City’s strong and vibrant future.”

MGM may also have been hoping to get as much guaranteed money as possible from the settlement. McManus said as much in other parts of his statement.

However, it’s not hard to imagine NJ casino owners are well aware of the Atlantic City’s noticeable growth during the last eight months and are willing to forgive some debt to keep the momentum going.

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Our NJ online casino forum helps Garden State players keep up with NJ online gambling news, NJ online casino bonus codes, and more.

Image credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

Tropicana Casino AC Buys Chelsea Hotel, Expands 200,000-Square-Foot Empire

J.R. Duren July 20, 2017 0 comments
Tropicana NJ casino Chelsea Hotel
Ask the Tropicana Atlantic City Corp. why the chicken crossed the road: because the The Chelsea Hotel was on the other side.

Earlier this month, Tropicana Entertainment Inc. announced its Atlantic City division had purchased The Chelsea Hotel, a property right across the street from the Tropicana. According to a press release from Tropicana, the plan is to integrate the neighboring property into existing operations. It will be known as “The Chelsea Tower at Tropicana Atlantic City.”

“The Chelsea Tower is a great addition to our four existing hotel towers at Tropicana Atlantic City,” said Tropicana’s Tony Rodio in the press release. “Guests will be able to enjoy a boutique hotel feel while having full access to all resort options at Tropicana Atlantic City.”

Going boutique in a big-box world

“Smaller is better” has never really been Atlantic City’s motto.

The Boardwalk is laden with massive hotel towers standing shoulder to shoulder with the Trop, and the Borgata looms in the distance.

The Chelsea isn’t exactly small — it boasts 20 stories and 330 rooms. But it does have excellent ocean views and, according to the press release, “retro charm.”

Tropicana says the new acquisition will open next month. Future plans for the Chelsea include building a skyway that connects the property to the Trop’s main campus across the street.

Acquisition makes Tropicana Casino an even bigger oceanfront behemoth

Even without the Chelsea, the Trop has more than 2,300 rooms, 24 restaurants, 25 shops, 18 watering holes, and a pair of pools at its New Jersey casino resort.

In all, the Trop encompasses 200,000 square feet of entertainment.

A pre-emptive strike against Borgata and Harrah’s?

Last month, the Press of Atlantic City reported Borgata owner MGM and Harrah’s, owned by Caesars, filed paperwork to start development somewhere in Atlantic City.

The odds-on favorite of the development’s location is the open lot between Borgata and Harrah’s on Renaissance Point and Brigantine boulevards. However, it remains to be seen where the two casinos are going to do their work.

This may be the most interesting aspect of Tropicana’s acquisition. Is it trying to get the jump on its neighbors to the north by being the first casino to expand amid a new, more profitable Atlantic City era?

It’s speculation at this point, but with so much talk of Atlantic City experiencing a rebirth, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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Federal Appeals Court Denies Ivey’s $10 Million Borgata Casino Case Appeal … For Now

J.R. Duren July 6, 2017 0 comments
Borgata NJ casino Phil Ivey
It’s really difficult to take $10 million — legit or not — from a casino.

Phil Ivey is finding out just how difficult this year. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa paid the poker star $10 million in 2012, when he played four sessions of mini-baccarat. His success drew him one last card: a lawsuit from Borgata.

Earlier this month, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals said Ivey would have to wait until another Borgata lawsuit concludes before he can get a final decision on Borgata’s suit against him. While not a loss, it does mean Ivey has to sit tight before he receives a final verdict.

Here are the exact words of the decision, per USA Today:

“THEREFORE, IT IS on this 6th day of June, 2017

ORDERED that the MOTION for Entry of Judgment under Rule 54(b) by PHILLIP D. IVEY, JR. [120] be, and the same hereby is, DENIED; and it is further ORDERED that Plaintiff shall resume prosecution of its claims against Gemaco, Inc., by renewing its motion for summary judgment, or by seeking other relief, that would resolve the claims between Plaintiff and Gemaco, Inc. so that final judgment may be entered on Plaintiff’s claims against Ivey and Sun.”

“Sun” refers to Cheng Yin Sun, Ivey’s playing partner who was able to spot the card inconsistencies that resulted in the 2012 winnings.

When the final judgment is given, Ivey can start the appeals process against a district court judge’s earlier ruling that Ivey should repay the money he won.

Ivey took advantage of printing inconsistencies

At face value, a casino demanding a gambling savant return his winnings may seem like a petty response from a sore loser. However, as reports of the dispute show, there is serious doubt to Ivey’s claim he legitimately won his $10 million.

The case revolves around the possibility that Ivey gained an advantage by noticing a printing defect on the top and bottom edges of purple Gemaco cards. This is known as “edge sorting.”

Arguments for and against Ivey

Ivey’s argument is that using the discrepancy wasn’t fraud and that his competitive advantage was no different than casinos using beautiful women and strong drinks to distract card players.

However, Borgata pointed out that the use of a particular type of Gemaco card during Ivey’s mini-baccarat session wasn’t an accident.

In order to host the $50,000-per-hand game, Borgata had to meet a list of demands from Ivey, NorthJersey.com reported:

  • Purple Gemaco cards
  • An automatic shuffler
  • A dealer speaking Mandarin

Ivey supposedly asked for these conditions because Sun, his partner, spoke Mandarin and also had keen enough vision to spot card inconsistencies.

Ivey and Sun allegedly asked for telling card positioning

Several news outlets reported that, in addition to making what would turn out to be supremely advantageous requests, Ivey and his partner made multiple requests of the dealer to position certain cards certain ways.

While Ivey waits for his chance in the Third Circuit court, he will also be embroiled in a lawsuit with a UK casino at which he also won millions in mini-baccarat using purple Gemaco cards.

The cardmaker most likely won’t make it out of these situations unscathed, as Borgata’s lawsuit against the company will take center stage now that the Third Circuit has halted the Ivey suit.

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Image by World Poker Tour / CC BY-NC 2.0

Hard Rock’s Plans For Overhaul Of The Former Taj Mahal Casino Partially Revealed

J.R. Duren June 29, 2017 0 comments
Hard Rock NJ casino plans
A public records request for documents related to Hard Rock International’s recent acquisition of the Taj Mahal gives a sneak peek at future plans the Atlantic City casino.

Wayne Parry, an Associated Press reporter quite familiar with Atlantic City, wrote about the results of the records request, which amounted to a letter Hard Rock boss Jim Allen filed with the Division of Gaming Enforcement. That letter is a list of requests: features Hard Rock would like to include in its new hotel.

Here’s an excerpt from the AP article:

“A wish list the company submitted to New Jersey gambling regulators was obtained by The Associated Press. The partially blacked-out copy offers the first look at proposals the Florida-based company has for the shuttered Atlantic City casino that now-President Donald Trump built.”

Interesting nuances to the forthcoming New Jersey casino

While the details of Hard Rock’s plans are pretty sparse, Allen’s letter gives at least a partial picture of what the new hotel and New Jersey casino could look like.

Secret rooms

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the new casino may be its hidden VIP gambling rooms.

“We would like to ability to create private (VIP) gaming spaces that are not visible to the general public,” Allen’s letter reads. “We would like the ability to have these spaces on the casino floor.”

The letter includes requests, but that doesn’t mean the DGE will accept ideas or shoot them down. However, considering the pace at which Atlantic City is rebounding from its dismal financial past, the more new features and unique nuances, the better.

Daily fantasy sports

The Allen letter also includes a request for daily fantasy sports at the casino. This is an interesting twist; DFS is not currently available in New Jersey.

New slots

There’s also an indication Hard Rock plans to introduce slot machines that never before seen in New Jersey. We assume these machines will be some variation on video game gambling machines already in use at Tropicana.

Caesars was also home to several different VGMs. Granted, it pulled those games from its casino floor. But the company is still very much committed to them.

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