Philadelphia’s Parx Casino was never gung ho about the gambling expansion bill state lawmakers passed last year, particularly in regard to the legalization of online gambling. But facing that new reality, it has decided to bite the bullet and not only participate, but get involved in a major way.
Parx has now purchased licenses to spread a full slate of online casino games (including poker), bought its very own satellite casino permit, and dropped an additional $10 million to offer sports betting.
But the spending spree won’t stop there. In a recent interview with Penn Bets, Parx Senior Vice President of Sports and Interactive Matt Cullen revealed that the casino plans to open its own online gaming site and sportsbook in neighboring New Jersey as well.
“We intend to go into New Jersey,” he said. “I don’t want to get too terribly bullish on it, but we feel like, because a third of our database is patrons coming from New Jersey, that helps us a lot. We still think we can be late [to market] and be competitive there. And as far as Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, we expect to be the market leader in that space, just like we are on the land-based side of things.”
Twenty is a crowd
Parx’s decision to jump into Garden State iGaming is intriguing, considering that many believe the market has already become saturated.
To put it into perspective, the state is already home to 19 online casino sites, seven virtual poker rooms and eight online sportsbooks. Hard Rock Online Casino and Ocean Casino were the latest on the scene, debuting online casino sites just this summer.
What’s more, the number of online sportsbook apps is set to explode in the very near future, which will make it even harder for a novice sports operator like Parx to compete.
The Greenwood Gaming-owned casino, which boasts the most profitable live poker room in Pennsylvania, also plans to open its own online card room when PA iGaming goes live in the next few months. If it were to set up shop in New Jersey, it could potentially combine players between the two states, creating a larger pool and a more viable ecosystem.
However, there are many potential pitfalls. First of all, the casino’s software partner, GAN, doesn’t have any experience running an online poker site in New Jersey. In addition, iPoker has been on a downward spiral in the state, mostly due to the ring-fenced nature of the industry.
Connecting its offering in PA, a state with 13 million residents, with its NJ site, home to 9 million, could theoretically bear fruit for the company, but more entrenched brands, like PokerStars and 888poker, might easily turn the site into a ghost town.
A Parx online casino in NJ would probably have the best chance of success. As Cullen revealed, a third of the property’s customers come from New Jersey. With such a large percentage of players making the trip west from NJ, it stands to reason that the Parx brand name is relatively strong in the Garden State.
When the casino gets its New Jersey iGaming site up and running, it could easily market to those patrons with targeted promos in the hopes of sending them to its new virtual offering.
SugarHouse did it, can Parx?
Parx may have also found inspiration in Play SugarHouse Casino, an online gaming site powered by Rush Street Interactive, the iGaming arm of SugarHouse Philadelphia’s land-based casino parent company Rush Street Gaming.
SugarHouse was a late entry into the NJ market, launching some three years after the first wave of sites debuted in 2013. Not only that, but the company decided to build its own homegrown platform, rather than going with tried-and-tested software built by a reputable international brand.
But with a little out-of-the-box thinking and innovation, SugarHouse was able to build a unique product that quickly attracted the attention of NJ gamblers. The company also rethought the stale points for cash VIP programs that dominate the industry, creating a fun loyalty program that has kept players coming back for more.
It’s easy to see how Parx could look at SugarHouse as a model example of how it could carve out a niche for itself in the Garden State market.
It remains to be seen, though, whether Parx can match the innovation SugarHouse has brought to the table. Parx’s partner GAN is a well-established online gaming software company that powers top-earning Betfair Casino in New Jersey, along with the nascent Ocean Casino.
But working within the confines of GAN’s capabilities, it’s unclear whether Parx could stand out enough to cut out a profitable slice of the NJ market.
Parx needs a partner
If Parx plans on setting up shop in New Jersey, it will first need to secure a partnership with one of the state’s land-based casinos. Currently there are seven permit holders licensed to offer online gambling, with each allowed to host a total of five online “skins” run by third-party brands.
So where would Parx go for its license?
Borgata Hotel & Casino is currently home to five branded sites (plus the Scores Casino skin), while Caesars Entertainment seems keen on hosting only Caesars brands, along with 888, its main platform provider.
My guess is that Parx’s most likely partner would be Golden Nugget, the state’s premier online gambling licensee. GN is home to three total brands, and has already committed to hosting a Churchill Downs gaming site sometime in the future, leaving one slot free. What’s more, none of the sites under the Golden Nugget umbrella offer online poker, eliminating any potential internecine conflict.
When will Parx NJ iGaming go live?
In the interview, Cullen didn’t explicitly reveal when a Parx NJ online gambling site would open up shop. He did say that he expects the casino’s PA temporary sportsbook to open at the end of November, with its permanent book debuting in March or April 2019.
He added that he expects the PA online casino and online sportsbook to go live in either January or February 2019. Once the kinks have been worked out of its PA iGaming offering, we might see the site ported over for the New Jersey market in the following months.