With a seemingly never ending supply of competition from Delaware’s neighbors, casinos in the First State are looking to attract a new crop of younger gamblers who will make bets online.
It’s a weekday afternoon at Dover Downs, and there are plenty of empty seats at the slot machines and poker tables on the casino floor. It’s no secret Delaware casinos are feeling the financial pain of new casinos popping up across the border in both Maryland and Pennsylvania. “Maryland really hit us hard,” says Dover Downs CEO Ed Sutor. “And us in particular with Maryland Live down near Annapolis. That has taken well over 20 percent of our revenues away. When we fall to that level, the model that currently exists doesn’t work.”
Sutor wants the state to lower its take of casino revenue which stands at 43.5 percent. That debate will likely play out in 2014. For now, the state’s three casinos are counting on online gaming to bring new customers.
“It will be hopefully a brand new market to come here,” says Sutor. “Young people who don’t frequent the casinos, but do a lot of business with tablets and smart phones.”
He hopes to convert those younger, online gamblers at DoverDowns.com into visitors at DoverDowns the physical casino. “We want them to have an opportunity to have some excitement, but also to gain points that you have to come back here to redeem it. So it’s part acquisition program in my mind.”
First in the nation
Delaware is the first state in the nation to offer a full slate of casino games from poker to slots, blackjack and roulette to online gamblers within the state’s borders. New Jersey’s online games are expected later this month, and Nevada launched its poker-only games earlier this year.
Delaware State Lottery director Vernon Kirk expects the number of online gamblers to gradually build. “It’s a little difficult to project. We’re in unknown territory here, at the very beginning of the unknown territory. So I don’t think we have anything of significant nature that we expect this number of customers or this amount of money, we just don’t know right now.”
Even after a month of free-trial play in the online casinos, it’s not clear what the real wagering action will be like.
“The free play sites that are offered on the casinos website have hundreds if not thousands of players registered and signed up for those, so there’s an interest there, we’re just not sure how much of an interest,” said Kirk.
There are some concerned that the legal extension of gambling to the home computer will create a new crop of problem gamblers. Susan Edgar of the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems isn’t opposed to online gambling, but says it will likely create more gamblers.
“It’s the technology, and that’s the thing that’s going to bring people in. Not bring them in to get them into addiction, but just to have them being entertained.”
She expects the creation of new gamblers will lead to some of those gamblers discovering an addiction. “The more people who gamble, the more problem gamblers we’re going to have. But I don’t necessarily believe that it’s going to create problem gamblers. These are people who have that make-up anyway, and they just haven’t been exposed to anything that’s caught them yet.”
The DCGP offers help for people struggling with a gambling addiction. They also have a 24 hour hotline for those who may need to talk about their problem that can be reached at 1-888-850-8888.
Now that the virtual casinos are online, the possibilities for new types of games are endless. Ed Sutor says new games could include arcade-style play or even social networking games. “There are slot machines now where you spin the reels, once you get to a bonus, you actually have to get a pistol and shoot the ducks…Perhaps we even get into social gaming like Farmville, maybe there’s even games like that.”
In the more immediate future, Delaware could reach a compact deal with New Jersey or Nevada to link online poker tables. Because of Delaware’s small size it’s difficult to get enough players on a table for games around the clock. Linking with another state, or even possibly another country that offers online gaming would greatly increase the pool of potential players.