Online poker hasn’t exactly broken the bank in New Jersey thus far. Of course, it hasn’t been a failure — it brings in millions of dollars of revenue to casinos each month, with some of that money coming back to the state in the form of tax revenue. But overall, online gambling sites aren’t bringing in the kind of money the state had hoped for — at least not so far.
But there might be some hidden benefits that many analysts haven’t yet considered. With only three states offering regulated online poker in the United States, New Jersey (along with Nevada and Delaware) is now an attractive destination for professional and semi-professional players. And being near one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, Atlantic City casinos may be able to capitalize on a huge potential player base located outside of the state that wants to play online.
The early numbers from operators seem to confirm this. Reportedly, 15 percent of the accounts at Party Poker’s New Jersey site have been opened by individuals who aren’t residents of the state. That’s because while you must be in New Jersey to play, you don’t have to live there — you just have to be within the state borders while you’re at the tables.
Not surprisingly, the biggest chunk of these out-of-state players comes from neighboring New York. A full 4.4 percent of Party Poker’s membership is from New York, with another 2.7 percent coming from Pennsylvania. Other states with significant numbers of players on the site include California, Florida, Texas and Connecticut — the first three likely because of their massive populations, and Connecticut because of its close proximity.
“Folks are going through the effort to sign up for this activity, either while visiting the Garden State or when they know they have future plans to be in the state and thus want to give themselves the option,” said Seth Palansky, a spokesperson for Caesars — another company that has seen significant interest for online poker from outside the state. “For Atlantic City to rebound, we need to attract players from outside the state to have reason to come visit again.”
And while it’s easy to imagine many poker tourists are staying with friends or playing from their cars, that’s not always the case. Some players have made it a habit to book hotel rooms for extended online poker stays, meaning they’re pumping even more money into the local economy in the same way that traditional tourists do.
It’s unclear just how much of the online poker action in New Jersey is coming from out-of-state grinders, since the sites aren’t required to report that sort of data. Overall, online poker brought in $3.2 million in revenue for Atlantic City casinos in March, up very slightly from the $3.1 million take in February. While online casinos have continued to increase their take for the state, poker rooms have seen their revenues remain basically flat, and traffic to the sites has actually dropped somewhat recently. However, some believe that the start of the traditional tourism season could reverse this trend — hopefully showing that poker and tourism have an unexpected synergy for the state.