Dreamstime/Everett Collection Inc. A new casino brand is about to throw its hat into the ring. Gaming Innovation Group (GIG) announced last week that it has a long-term agreement to provide the iGaming platform for PlayStar Casino in New Jersey. PlayStar is the brainchild of two veterans of the casino game development industry, Joel Wikell and Adam Noble. This will be their first foray into running a casino of their own, however. The deal with GIG will last a minimum of four years and is based on a revenue share model. The companies expect to launch the new casino in partnership with Ocean Resort in the final quarter of 2021. Other states will follow, probably in 2022. “Gaming Innovation Group has earned a reputation for being a very formidable and trusted technology partner in Europe,” said Noble. “So when we were assessing platforms for our market entry into New Jersey, we were very confident in selecting GiG as our platform partner. We are really excited to have them support our launch into New Jersey and also our future expansion into regulated states across the USA.” PlayStar won’t be the only online casino launching in Atlantic City this year, either. At least two, or perhaps three, should launch on the new Bally’s license. That longstanding casino, and its name, were purchased last year by the company formerly known as Twin River, which will now attempt to make its entry into the online space. An extremely crowded market At the moment, there are 25 online casinos operating in New Jersey. To say that is a lot would be an understatement. The more populous Pennsylvania online casino market has roughly half as many. Of course, the New Jersey market has been around longer, but it’s not at all clear that the total in PA will ever hit those levels. By the end of the year, there will be a ratio of about 3.25 online casinos per million population in New Jersey. Whether that’s a sustainable number isn’t clear, because we have no point of comparison in the US. It is, however, a lot compared to other states. Here’s where that ratio looks like today in each state with legal private sector iGaming: New Jersey: 2.8 West Virginia: 1.1 Pennsylvania: 1.0 Michigan: 1.0 For the moment, then, all the other states are in roughly the same ballpark in terms of brand saturation. The combination of a mature market, experienced and competent regulatory agency, and a generous five skins allowed per license has made New Jersey the obvious jumping off point for any company looking to enter the US. There are already signs that this is too many. The top three license holders – Golden Nugget, Borgata and Resorts – account for nearly 80% of NJ online casino revenue. Aside from DraftKings, which branched out into the casino space in 2019, these licensees comprise long-standing, recognizable brands. It’s hard, at this point, to imagine newcomers attracting attention amidst the crowd. PlayStars will be joining two other newcomers on the Ocean license – Ocean’s own casino, and Parx, which launched in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Together, these two earned just over $1 million in December, while Golden Nugget, Borgata and Resorts each earned over 20 times as much. Differentiation is difficult for online casinos Differentiate or die. That’s the usual advice for a crowded market. It’s hard to do for online casinos, however. The biggest issue is their reliance on third party software developers for most of their games. There are only so many of these white label suppliers out there. Moreover, the big ones like IGT, Scientific Games and Everi tend to have deals with almost everyone. Sometimes these include exclusivity over a certain game. However, it’s presumably only a minority of slots fans who know the difference between, say, Hot Spot 777 and Smokin’ 777, and factor that into their decisions. Even when something new comes along, if it comes from a third party supplier, it will tend to pop up everywhere. Live dealer games first appeared in 2016, when the market was three years old. Now, however, they’re so widespread that it’s hard to call them a point of differentiation. DraftKings stands out as a company investing in developing its own products. Even there, however, these have so far consisted of table games with custom themes and graphics but the same old gameplay. PlayStar claims to have plans to differentiate itself and be competitive, but only in vague, general terms. “PlayStar Casino is setting out to offer an online casino experience with a difference that will stand out from the current offerings in the market,” said Noble. “Our player experience focus, centered on a unique product offering, engaging front end concept and personalization will result in an immersive and entertaining experience for the player.” We will presumably find out in Q4 what these unique products and personalization look like. They may have to be very special indeed for PlayStar to get noticed, not only as a latecomer, but as a hitherto unknown brand.
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