If any Atlantic City casino has had a roller coaster summer with sports betting, and still come out on top, it’s the Golden Nugget.
In July, Golden Nugget won four prizes at the Oscars of the gaming world, the eGaming Review (EGR) Awards, which celebrate excellence in the North American online gaming industry. During July 1’s ceremony at Le Meridien Philadelphia, Golden Nugget took home four EGRs, including two they also won last year (Operator of the Year, Casino Operator), one for Acquisition Strategy, and one for Best Product Innovation. The latter is for America’s first real money Online Live Casino Floor Roulette where live video feed, captured on Golden Nugget AC’s casino floor, is streamed directly onto computers and smartphones, allowing online patrons to play roulette from anywhere in New Jersey, just as they would in the casino (see sidebar).
Then there is June’s circumstance, when the New Jersey state legislature voted positively on the bill to authorize casinos to offer live betting on sports games, online and in person. The hitch, here, was in the Nugget being owned by Tilman Fertitta — billionaire/owner of Landry's, Inc., one of America’s biggest restaurant corporations — who also owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
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Under the initial NJ ruling, those owning 10 percent or more of a sports team can’t own a facility operating a sports book in the Garden State. Golden Nugget Atlantic City could offer sports betting as long as Fertitta sold the Rockets within a year. If he did not, he would forfeit that sports-betting license, and all moneys made by Golden Nugget on sports betting during that time period must be repaid to the state.
Enter Thomas Winter, Golden Nugget’s GM and Senior VP of Online Gaming. With the Nugget now, for five years, Parisian-born Winter has impeccable cred as he was CEO of Betclic, the European online sports betting giant. “We were the smallest casino in town when we launched, with but a 4.5 percent share of the market,” said Winter of the hotel, casino and marina space opened in 1985 as Trump's Castle, renamed Trump Marina in 1997, then changed to Golden Nugget when Landry's purchased the casino from Trump Entertainment Resorts in 2011. “Currently, however, Golden Nugget increased its market share to between 35 and 38 percent by continually innovating,” noted Winter.
The largest part success is due to its online wagering operations. “It’s something to be built from scratch as, five years ago, we were at the initial stages of regulating online gaming in the US,” Winter said.
Golden Nugget started, three years ago, with online baccarat, blackjack and roulette for eight hours a day. Now they are 24/7 with nearly 600 games including slots and Hold 'Em Poker — all topped by the aforementioned live, casino-floor-in-real-time roulette. ”This is extremely positive and successful, and pushes our brand to one where we are THE choice for online gaming.”
That’s how Golden Nugget became the toast of the EGR Awards; an enviable position that makes Winter proud. “It means a lot that we are heralded by our customer base AND the casino business community,” he said. “You want to stay innovative, but hungry and willing to take risks. We are a bold new casino now.”
One bump in the road, however, came when the New Jersey state legislature found potential conflict in Golden Nugget’s up-and-coming sports book operation set to open this autumn (“in time for the NFL’s upcoming season”), and, with the rumored aid of Kentucky Derby’s ownership, the Churchill Downs organization, in partnership with SBTech for an integrated technology platform. Winters would not confirm or deny the affiliation with the SBTech-based enterprise, but hinted that it looked very good — all this despite Golden Nugget owner Fertitta's take of the NBA’s Rockets
According to the gaming industry experts at Legal Sports Report.com, the legislation regarding owning a sports team and owning a casino with a bourgeoning sports betting operation may be relaxing its stance, despite previous NJ government protestations.
The innovation of sports betting
Developing America’s first real money, real time Online Live Casino Floor Roulette — where live video feed, captured on Golden Nugget AC’s casino floor, streams onto computers and smartphones to anyone in NJ — started from the want of its brick-and-mortar base.
“Three years ago, we started asking our most active land-based players who were not playing online WHY they weren’t playing online,” claimed Winter. “The major reason as to ‘why not’ was that they didn’t trust it and thought the online games could be rigged, and that there was no interaction; not with fellow players or with dealers. They wanted that feel where they could look at other people in the gaming space.” As live, real-time gaming had been part of online gambling in Europe for over a decade, Winter sought to utilize large-scale EU video gaming operators who understood the market. “We spoke with a number of reputable vendors to come to U.S., and build a studio/gaming operation, but, they all said that our market wasn’t big enough; that it was too expensive to operate, and too cost prohibitive for a casino the size of Golden Nugget.”
So, Winter did what every enterprising entrepreneur does and build it himself with Golden Nugget. “We decided to work with a smaller more nimble up-and-coming technology vendor, got out own video equipment, and built a studio ourselves inside Golden Nugget. As the game unfolds on the casino floor, it unfolds live on video where you can see and feel it all. We fiilled a gap... and are now enjoying a great audience.”