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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

New Jersey Butcher Cleaves Path Through The Colossus To Win $1 Million In WSOP Event

June 28, 2017
WSOP New Jersey Colossus butcher

He turned his competition into minced meat.

Thomas Pomponio, a butcher from Stafford, New Jersey, won the World Series of Poker Colossus III $565-buy-in event in Las Vegas earlier this month. He beat out more than 18,000 others for the $1 million first-place prize.

When Pomponio spoke with the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the tournament, he was still in a victor’s daze.

“I’m just waiting to wake up from the dream, but I don’t think I’m going to, so it’s pretty good,” he told the paper. “I come to every tournament thinking I can win. I know as a poker player it’s not a reality, but I play the best I can, make all the right moves and try to give myself the best chance.”

Californian Taylor Black finished second, while Texan John Hanna finished third.

Pomponio’s road to the final table of the WSOP Colossus III

WSOP’s official article about the tournament noted Pomponio entered the final table with the fifth-most chips.

The butcher knocked out two players on the way to his heads-up battle with Black. At that point, he had half as many chips as Black.

However, he was able to turn the tables pretty quickly on the fourth hand of heads-up, dealing a decisive blow to Black’s A-10 with A-K. From there, several accounts say Pomponio was able to wear Black down until he won the tourney with an ace-high hand against Black’s J-6.

Pomponio told WSOP he planned on heading home to New Jersey for his regular shift and that he’d put some of his earnings toward some bills and give some of it to his parents.

Pomponio’s WSOP background

While the butcher’s $1 million purse was certainly his biggest, it wasn’t his first.

Pomponio’s WSOP profile reveals he’s won cash prizes at four WSOP events and two circuit events. His winnings before Colossus III totaled $13,628.

The butcher says he is a regular on New Jersey gambling websites.

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Stay up to date with New Jersey gaming news via our dedicated online gambling in NJ forum.

CRDA Places Lien On Former Revel Casino As Latest Reopening Date Flies By

June 27, 2017
lien TEN Casino Atlantic City

Glenn Straub, you’ve been had.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) announced this month it placed a $62,000 lien on TEN Atlantic City (formerly Revel) for unpaid 2015 CRDA Special Improvement District fees. This is one of the only instances in the past two years in which the CRDA has slapped a tangible punishment on Straub’s Polo North development company.

The news broke on Press of Atlantic City, who said Judge Julio J. Mendez gave Polo North 90 days to pay off the balance or all court fees associated with the judgement would be placed on the development company.

The total amount due is $62,641.

Chris Howard, executive director of the CRDA, told the paper what we’ve heard many times from Atlantic City’s leaders: Straub wouldn’t comply with the governing body’s demands.

“While the authority would prefer to resolve such claims amicably, Polo North refused to pay its SID Assessment and, ultimately, failed to comply with a court order compelling payment,” Howard was quoted as saying.

Issue goes back to 2016

Straub’s battles with the CRDA are numerous and well-publicized. Among his many contentions is that he shouldn’t have to pay for the fees, a case he made via a lawsuit filed in 2016, the Press of Atlantic City noted.

The CRDA disagreed with Straub, as has often been the case. Judge Mendez validated the CRDA’s position. It remains to be seen if Straub will pay the nominal fee.

Another reopening date missed by the NJ casino

The news about the CRDA’s court victory came just a few days before Straub was supposed to open TEN.

Straub announced earlier this year that TEN would open on June 15. The irony was not lost on many industry experts. June 15 was exactly one year after the former Revel’s 2016 failed opening date.

The opening, as many expected, never happened. Straub is still mired in a court battle with the Casino Control Commission (CCC).

The CCC told Straub he needed a casino license to operate TEN’s casino. Straub’s contention is that he’s merely a landlord. He maintains that the third-party he hired should be required to get the license.

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Image credit: John Arehart / Shutterstock.com

A Horse Is A Horse…NJ Lawmakers Unsure How To Classify Historical Race Betting

June 26, 2017
horse shoe being applied

Last week, we wrote about the resurgence of historical racing, a horse-racing betting platform where gamblers place bets on races that have already happened. Bettors use Racing Form-esque data to inform them about a given race’s horses and jockeys.

Alongside talk that historical racing could be coming to New Jersey is a conversation about how exactly these slots would be treated based on the state’s constitution. These games have already proven successful for racetracks in other states.

Assemblyman Chris Brown said there is no confusion: Slots are gambling, and they aren’t allowed outside Atlantic City. Brown, a staunch opponent of New Jersey casino expansion, waxed poetic in an Asbury Park Press interview about the historical slots “controversy.”

“The question to me remains, is this an expansion of gambling?” Brown said. “Shakespeare said a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. A slot machine by any other name can do just as much damage to not only the region I come from, but throughout the state.”

The constitutional question for NJ gambling expansion

NJ’s constitution doesn’t allow new forms of gambling to hit the state’s casinos or racetracks without citizen approval via a statewide referendum.

“Referendum” carries bad connotations among those who want yes votes. The 2016 referendum to expand casinos to North Jersey received embarrassingly little support.

However, track owners and the state’s horsemen group argue that historical racing isn’t a new form of gambling. Racetrack betting already exists. And supporters argue their customers would be placing bets based on data about each horse and jockey, same as they would for a forthcoming race.

‘Skill-based’ not flying with gambling growth detractors

Those against expanding gambling beyond Atlantic City will be quick to point out historical racing is just another form of slot play. The game does provide data about horses and jockeys. But the game doesn’t force bettors to view that data; they can bet purely on chance.

It’s also likely some lawmakers will argue historical racing is just a backdoor way of racetracks creating gambling on their premises.

Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural was an outspoken supporter of the failed November referendum, and historical racing machines give him and and his fellow racetrack owners a way to soften that loss with slots-style income.

That said, Gural hasn’t given up hope on a new casino in North Jersey. He has gone so far as to guarantee one will be built in the future.

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Betting On the Past: Instant, Historical Horse Racing Coming To NJ?

June 14, 2017
historical horse racings bets NJ

As New Jersey racetracks struggle through tough economic times, track owners are considering fighting for instant racing. The slot-based racing game uses basic Racing Form-type data for players to bet on races that already took place.

The instant racing debate is nothing new, but it was an AP report by Wayne Parry earlier this month in U.S. News & World Report that brought the issue back into readers’ minds.

“It’s called historical racing,” Parry wrote. “The date and place of the pre-recorded races and the names of horses and jockeys remain secret until after the money is plunked down and the videotape starts. New Jersey, whose horse racing industry is struggling, is considering legalizing such betting. The wagers would offer horse tracks, which don’t have slot machines or other casino games, a new product and a potential lifeline.”

Instant racing has worked at other tracks

Also known as “historical racing,” instant racing has helped tracks across the country boost their revenue.

Parry referenced a track in Arkansas that brought in $400 million from 500 instant racing terminals during the 2005-06 fiscal year.

New Jersey track owners see this as an opportunity to revitalize their bottom line. One NJ track owner said the instant racing terminals give patrons something to do in the time between real races.

Proponents also argue that in historical racing, the races are skill-based. This sets them apart from normal slot games.

Each race includes data about the horses and jockeys. Therefore, bettors can make educated choices about which horses could finish first, second, or third.

The argument is similar to the one made about daily fantasy sports. In DFS, managers can use existing data and past performance to choose players who may play well in a given game.

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Not the first time instant racing has come up in New Jersey

New Jersey lawmakers should be familiar with instant racing. An instant racing bill was proposed in 2014 but failed.

A 2013 article from the Press of Atlantic City discussed the merits of instant racing and many of the sources in that article were used in Parry’s new article.

What’s interesting about the PoAC piece is that it alludes to one of the main arguments against instant racing: its similarity to slots could encroach on NJ casino slot revenue.

That said, former Atlantic City Mayor Jim Whelan commented he didn’t believe instant racing would hurt casino slot revenue.

Another argument against instant racing is that it would require complex regulation. This is because, while the object of betting is a series of real horse races, those races already happened.

While there is no current bill on the table, it’s interesting to point out that racetrack owners like Jeff Gural (who were hoping to see North Jersey casinos become a reality) may view instant racing as a method of back-dooring their way into bigger profits.

“As competition mounts on all borders, instant racing will help us to compete with our neighbors whose purses and breeding programs are enhanced by slots,” Gural was quoted as saying.

Trump Investigation Spotlights Taj Mahal’s Fines For Money Laundering

June 2, 2017
Taj Mahal Money Laundering

Talk about airing some dirty laundry.

As federal investigators look into ties between Donald Trump’s administration and presidential campaign and Russia, they’ve brought the dubious opening 18 months of the Trump Taj Mahal to new light.

CNN wrote up a story about the fiscal wrongdoings. It pointed out that the feds fined the Atlantic City resort casino in $477,000 in the ’90s. At the time, this was the biggest fine levied against a casino for violating the Bank Secrecy Act.

“The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement,” CNN wrote.

Big same-day cash-outs not reported

The Taj tangled with the IRS over a law that required the casino to report any gamblers who cash out at least $10,000 in one day. The IRS’ logic is simple: Casinos can be money-laundering havens if high-dollar transactions without reporting.

The fine was certainly more than a slap on the wrist; however, the casino didn’t have to admit guilt when it paid the penalty.

Furthermore, the names of the men and women from the unreported transactions were protected by the Treasury Department’s FinCEN investigative unit.

Investigators’ interest in possible Russian ties

Amid the pervasive suspicions that Trump has had dealings with Russia, CNN is reporting investigators want the details of the person-by-person transactions. That is being done to get a sense of who is involved in Trump’s financial network.

“Congressional investigators say they are interested in the global network of Trump’s finances to determine if FinCEN’s data shows connections between Trump associates and Russia,” CNN reported.

The story does not mention how possible or probable it might be for investigators to link the Taj transactions to some sort of Russian connection. Nor does it provide a sense of scope. Are investigators banking on finding something here, or is this just normal investigative procedure?

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Yet another nail in the Taj’s never-quite-closed coffin

In many ways, Hard Rock‘s purchase of the Taj was a relief for Atlantic City diehards who endured the depressing end of the casino Trump once called “the eighth wonder of the world.” (Hard Rock hopes to return it to glory with hundreds of millions in investment.)

The Taj was one of four properties that closed in the 2014 casino contraction. Billionaire developer Carl Icahn bought the property, but a seemingly never-ending dispute with UNITE HERE Local 54 resulted in a July 2016 strike that crippled the casino.

After losing tens of millions of dollars due to the strike and the resulting bad press, Icahn and his associates decided to close the casino and hotel in October 2016.

Legal NJ Sports Betting Hopes Take A Blow, Despite Assist From Congressman Pallone

May 25, 2017
NJ sports betting hopes

New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone is continuing his fight to bring sports betting to the Garden State, in more ways than one.

The US Solicitor General’s office told the US Supreme Court not to hear New Jersey’s case in its quest to legalize sports betting. That happened despite Pallone’s earlier plea to the SG to do the opposite in the ongoing federal court case.

A day after that setback for NJ sports betting, Pallone introduced a new bill in Congress on gaming laws, including sports betting.

The topic of sports betting has been one of Pallone’s signature issues for a couple of years now.

Pallone tries to assist NJ sports betting

With the state’s sports betting appeal awaiting a decision to take the case from the US Supreme Court, Pallone reasserted his intentions by sending a 14-page letter to Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall. His message? Take the case.

“The U.S. Supreme Court should take up the question of law that this case presents and answer it definitively in order to promote uniformity and consistency among the federal judiciary and state courts of last resort in properly applying the anti-commandeering doctrine under the Tenth Amendment.”

The beef: Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act

Pallone and many supporters of sports betting are hoping for the day when states aren’t bound under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

Passed in 1992, the law prohibited sports gambling in all but a handful of grandfathered states. Nevada is the only place where single-game wagering takes place.

Pallone contends New Jersey should have the right to pass laws that allow sports gambling, which the state has done in the past only to be shot down in court.

Pallone’s argument: It’s already happening, $400 billion times over

The misconception with a law that prohibits sports betting is that the law prevents sports betting.

However, that’s not the case. We’re all aware that illegal sports betting occurs all across the country, and New Jersey is no exception. How big is the illegal sports betting industry?

Pallone brought the heavy artillery to answer that question:

“Despite being illegal in most states, traditional and Internet sports betting is widespread, and function almost exclusively through organized crime,” Pallone wrote in his letter. “Of the estimated $400 billion that is spent annually in the U.S. on sports betting, 99 percent is illegal.”

With all that under-the-table betting going on, states miss out on regulation and revenue from various taxes and licenses.

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New Jersey residents want legal sports betting

In 2011, citizens launched a referendum to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks in the state.

The referendum passed with 64 percent support, Pallone points out in his letter, and the state passed the Sports Wagering Act.

This, of course, didn’t sit well with professional sports leagues or with the NCAA, who have successfully blocked NJ’s sports laws in court.

What’s next: A decision, and Congressional action?

New Jersey’s case is not quite before the Supreme Court; it’s deciding whether to hear the case.

For a time, that seemed impossible, but New Jersey gained some momentum earlier this year when SCOTUS asked for the solicitor general’s opinion on the case. Of course, the negative SG opinion was bad news for New Jersey’s chances, although it’s not “game over” quite yet.

The highest court in the land should have a decision on whether to hear the case by this summer. Should it decide to allow the appeal, oral arguments will be sometime in the next year.

In the meantime, Pallone will try to change the law via a new bill he floated on Thursday:

The bill’s central component would be a full repeal of PASPA.

Will the legislation have a better chance at success than the NJ sports betting case? Only time will tell.

New Jersey Online Gambling Has Another Big Month, Surpasses $20 Million In Revenue

May 22, 2017
NJ online casinos april 2017

The $20 million era is officially here for New Jersey gambling websites.

The New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement reported that the state’s online casinos earned more than $20 million in revenue in each of the past two months. This makes April and March the most profitable months in the industry’s history.

The DGE’s numbers for online gambling include revenue from online slot machines and table games (like blackjack and roulette), as well as online poker sites (like PokerStars).

A closer look at the April numbers

Before getting into the specific casino earnings, let’s point out that not only have Atlantic City’s online casinos raked in record revenue the last two months, but the city’s online gambling industry experienced tremendous growth over 2016.

Year-over-year growth numbers were best for Golden Nugget, with a take of 62.7 percent more than last year. Resorts had 29.6 percent growth, and the Tropicana saw growth of 28.9 percent.

NJ online casino revenue numbers

Golden Nugget, Tropicana and Borgata led the way in April’s revenue numbers:

  • Golden Nugget: $5.4 million
  • Trop: $3.9 million
  • Borgata: $3.6 million
  • Resorts: $2.9 million
  • Caesars: $2.9 million

Tropicana celebrated a bump of five percent in online casino revenue, while Borgata’s growth from March hovered around one percent.

Resorts saw a drop in casino revenue, experiencing a 6.37 percent decrease.

Meanwhile, Caesars led the way in March-to-April growth with a 23.5 percent increase in casino revenue — $2.4 million to $2.9 million.

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NJ online poker revenue numbers

While casino revenue looked very strong for the second month in a row, online poker revenue continued to stagnate.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each casino’s revenue for April and their change percentage over April 2016.

  • Resorts: $793,638 | -9.77 percent
  • Borgata: $597,571 | -5.10 percent
  • Caesars: $577,168 | -13.94 percent

While the poker numbers for this year are looking pretty abysmal, they’re nothing compared to the drop-off these three casinos experienced since April 2016:

  • Resorts: -32.62 percent
  • Borgata: -19.88 percent
  • Caesars -13.10 percent

Don’t expect poker numbers to get better anytime soon, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue considering the hot streak online casinos are riding.

New Jersey’s Casino Revenue Much Lower Than Neighboring States According To AGA Report

May 15, 2017
New Jersey revenue casinos gambling

A report released by the American Gaming Association indicates that New Jersey casinos are living the good life.

The report, titled “State of the States,” reviewed the 2016 revenue and tax numbers for all states with legal gambling.

One of the most telling stats for Atlantic City came on page 10 of the report. A table of commercial casino tax revenues indicated that New Jersey’s casinos are paying far less in taxes than New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Jeff Gural, the vocal owner of the Meadowlands racino, spoke to the Press of Atlantic City, saying the low tax revenue is an indication that casino owners are using New Jersey as a tax haven to fund competing casinos in other states.

“You guys have been ripped off by the casino industry for 30 years,” Gural was quoted as saying. “I wrote the casino laws in New York. The tax rate here is a fiasco. Basically what has happened in Atlantic City is that operators have taken profits from here and built competition for Atlantic City.”

The numbers behind the news: PA leads the way in gambling tax

We’ve known for a long time that Pennsylvania’s casinos pay the highest tax rate in the nation. But studies from the AGA and others like it really put in context the disparity between states.

Here is a quick breakdown of what New Jersey, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania casinos paid in taxes in 2015:

  • New Jersey: $237 million
  • Ohio: $545 million
  • New York: $888 million
  • Pennsylvania: $1.379 billion

Ohio’s tax revenue is nearly double that of New Jersey’s, New York’s is triple, and Pennsylvania’s is an incredible 421 percent higher than its neighbor to the east.

What’s even more fascinating is that the AGA ranks Atlantic City as the second biggest commercial casino and racetrack market in the entire country, with a 2015 revenue total of $2.426 billion.

Ohio’s Cincinnati and Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh/Meadowlands ranked 19th and 20th. Each notched nearly $600 million in revenue, or only a third of what Atlantic City pulled in.

Why is New Jersey’s casino tax revenue so low?

The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. New Jersey doesn’t tax its casinos like other states do. Here’s a listing of what each state’s casinos pay in base taxes, according to the AGA:

  • New Jersey: 8% on gross gaming revenue
  • New York: 31-41%, depending on the casino
  • Ohio: 33% for land-based casinos, racinos/VLT operators get 66.5% of revenue
  • Pennsylvania: 55% on slots, 16% on table games

As you can see, the tax burden carried by Atlantic City casinos is significantly lighter than its neighbors.

Do low revenue numbers in Atlantic City create a haven for groups like Hard Rock, Caesars, and MGM to save money they can use to fund casinos in other states?

That’s a hard sell for some. The city is, in a numbers sense, still reeling from its 2014 contraction when four casinos closed in one calendar year.

Hard Rock is the only group to put forth legitimate plans to open a casino, and if the tax-haven theory were true, we’d expect to see a lot more development than we have.

Keep up with what’s happening in the New Jersey casino industry, both online and off, by checking into this online casino forum in NJ.

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NJ Casino Control Commission Approves Caesars Plan For Bankruptcy Restructuring

May 15, 2017
Caesars Casino bankruptcy

Lost amid the last few months of big news in Atlantic City is the continued Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization of Caesars Entertainment Operating Co., the group who runs Bally’s and Caesars Atlantic City.

This past week, according to the Press of Atlantic City, the Casino Control Commission approved the casino group’s plans to lease out operation of their properties to a third-party company.

“As part of the reorganization, Caesars split the company into a real estate trust and an operating company,” the paper wrote. “Under the plan, the real estate company would then lease operations to a newly created company.”

Caesars bankruptcy required $5 billion settlement

Caesars will emerge from its Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, wrapping up a two year process that resulted in a $5 billion settlement and complicated restructuring, planning, and big shifts in debt holding.

The company’s casino arm, Caesars Entertainment, was bleeding badly before bankruptcy, the New York Times reported. However, through the process the company was able to buoy its finances when its biggest stakeholders sold off their stakes to appease creditors.

When the bankruptcy completed, the Times reported, creditors owned 70 percent of Caesars Entertainment Corporation. The parent corporation, Caesars Entertainment Operating Company, remained relatively intact throughout the bankruptcy proceedings.

Massive bankruptcy an “achievement”

A Reuters report indicated that the breadth of the Caesars bankruptcy case meant that finding a solution that pleased all parties would be a gargantuan task.

US bankruptcy judge Benjamin Goldgar, who oversaw the Chapter 11 proceedings, was quoted as saying, “It is a monumental achievement.”

John DeCree, an analyst at Gaming Union, told Reuters that Caesars was a pioneer because of how it managed the bankruptcy. He noted that all that was left was for Caesars to get “the new structure under control.”

Caesars took a huge step in that direction when New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission approved the company’s restructuring plan.

Keep up with what’s going on in the world of NJ gambling with our NJ casino forum.

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Image by Jason MrachinaCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GameCo Launches Two New VGMs At The Tropicana Casino In New Jersey

May 14, 2017
GameCo NJ casino games

GameCo is at it again.

Recently the game developer announced it had launched a pair of new video game gambling machines (VGMs) in Atlantic City: two at Tropicana Casino & Resort and one at Harrah’s Resort.

The new releases are additions to two other GameCo VGMs at Tropicana, Atlantic City Weekly said.

Basketball and roulette at Tropicana NJ casino

Gamblers at the Trop now have the option of playing GameCo’s Nothin’ But Net and Spread-Bet Roulette.

Nothin’ but Net

Details on Nothin’ but Net are sparse. But what we gathered from the GameCo website indicates that each round of betting involves 16 shots and can take wagers between $2 and $20.

Gamblers can choose between a male or female shooter, and all shots take place on an urban basketball court. These shots are a combination of lay-ups and jump shots from various places on the court and, like the NBA’s three-point contest, include a money ball that’s worth more points.

“Your skills will be challenged as you test your range from down-low to downtown,” GameCo’s description of the game reads. “Just don’t miss the money ball!​”

Spread-Bet Roulette

A press release from Tropicana provided further details about Spread-Bet Roulette, a game that has yet to have its own page on the GameCo site.

The roulette game is basically a spread bet with payouts as big as 400-to-1. Balls are dropped on an inner and outer wheel which spin simultaneously. Before they’re dropped, though, a spread number is displayed and bet on.

When the balls stop, their corresponding numbers are added up and bettors win or lose based on their original spread bet.

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Two newbies add to pair of VGMs at Trop

As we mentioned earlier, Nothin’ but Net and Spread-Bet Roulette will be added to the Trop’s pair of GameCo VGMs: Danger Arena and Pharaoh’s Secret Temple.

Danger Arena started the Atlantic City VGM craze when it debuted earlier this year. It was the first skill-based gambling terminal to appear in a United States casino.

GameCo uses the term “skill-based” to describe its games because their VGMs incorporate gaming skill into their platforms.

For example, gamblers who bet on Nothin’ but Net win their round by racking up the most points from made baskets. Those who play Danger Arena can win by shooting the most aliens during the game’s 45-60 second rounds of play.

Pharaoh’s Secret Temple works the same way, using gameplay similar to Candy Crush’s timer-based sequence challenge.

According to GameCo, the company’s VGMs offer a new sector of gaming that appeals to millennials who are tired of chance-based games like slots.

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