Over the years, I’ve been promoting digital engagement and mobile marketing solutions for casinos knowing that, someday, the way gaming operators think about online and mobile would change.
Well, thanks in part to COVID-19, I believe that day has finally arrived. States that have already embraced online gaming are experiencing dramatic upticks in revenue during the pandemic. For example, New Jersey has seen a 74 percent increase in online poker revenue, according to stats from the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania experienced a 208 percent increase in overall online gaming revenue during the same period, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. A recent report, Game Account Network (GAN) reported that monthly year-over-year internet win increased 84 percent for both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Simply stated, these coronavirus times have opened up a world of opportunity for operators in states that adopted online gaming early, and will set the stage for casinos in the U.S. to invest in their online and mobile infrastructure.
In addition, these revenue figures are getting noticed by jurisdictions throughout the U.S. and the next 12 months will see explosive growth in online gaming and sports betting, especially as these states look for new tax revenue. Indeed, California, which is facing a $54 million budget deficit, is eyeing sports betting and online gaming to help fill this gap. And California is not alone in this approach—it is apparent that most states will accelerate their timelines for allowing online gaming and sports betting to make up for lost tax revenue and many tribal and commercial enterprises need to be ready to embrace it.
There have been other recent signs that players and gaming operators are more fully adapting to online wagering opportunities.
“Most of our apps have doubled in revenue, with some significantly higher,” said Michael Carpenter, CEO of Ruby Seven which has developed social casinos for major operators like Delaware North’s Lucky North Casino. Meanwhile, a large casino operator with casino locations in Nevada and Colorado has been seeing increases in “online and sports” since March 2020.
While live events in poker have been delayed or cancelled altogether due to the pandemic, operators are turning to online venues to recapture some of this business. For example, The World Series of Poker has been delayed until the fall and is instead running 85 bracelet events online from July through September in order to give fans the opportunity to participate from home until the live tournaments start up again. The popularity of online poker since the start of the pandemic has driven online poker tournament play up drastically, likely due to the new work from home culture.
Up and coming social gaming provider Cafrino—itself formerly an online poker brand—is currently the parent company of National League of Poker (NLOP) since acquiring it in 2017. Cafrino has reported staggering increases in active users and other key metrics at its online poker product NLOP.com. So far in 2020, monthly active users (MAUs) at NLOP.com are up 74 percent from 2019, while the company’s revenue is up an impressive 166 percent compared to the same period in 2019. New active users had a 242 percent increase over pre-pandemic user acquisition numbers. NLOP’s VIP subscriptions are also up 101 percent this year, while 64 percent more hands of poker are being played—a figure critical to National League of Poker’s ads-for-revenue model, which allows the company to maintain its nationwide legal status as a non-gambling online poker site.
The COVID-19 period of isolation has also seen Cafrino adapt to the increased demand by improving the options of gameplay available to NLOP.com users. “We’ve added games across the board, including everything from more free-rolls, daytime games and larger events,” said Cafrino CEO Michael Murphy. “While our main focus was to provide a fun and engaging experience for anyone stuck at home during the pandemic, we’re seeing growth continue while much of the U.S. continues to open. Our recent surge in growth has been primarily organic. We’ve been holding the majority of our marketing budget for the release of our new mobile platforms, to be released over the next few months.”
Now that casinos across the country have reopened their doors, most with limited capacity, online and social gaming is a must-have strategy for casino operators. The revenue potential and the new customer acquisition opportunity are much too good to pass up. While online and social casinos tend to focus on slots, there is a large amount of growth in poker, which attracts a much younger male player.
With shelter at home orders still in place and likely surges in COVID-19 going forward, casino operators need to have a well-rounded social and/or online gaming strategy to successfully weather this ongoing crisis.