This week, Pennsylvania will introduce a bill that would legalize online gambling. Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have passed similar laws, trying to increase tax revenues and close budget gaps.
Already, one casino in Atlantic City is trying to prepare players for online gaming.
In the center of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, there’s a desk where hotel guests can put money in an electronic account, which allows them to leave the floor — but not the gaming action. Guests can now gamble in their hotel rooms through the television.
On the fourteenth floor, John Forelli, who works in IT for the Borgata, holds a TV remote control. He enters two different passwords and selects a slots game from a menu screen.
“I’m going to do ‘start play,'” he says, over pirate-themed music followed by the sound of coins falling. “We did not rig this,” he laughs. “We just won!”
But why would someone come to Atlantic City just to sit and gamble in their room?
Forelli admits that most people will still come to gamble in the casino. But he sees in-room gambling as an extra that might give the Borgata a slight edge over other hotels.
Borgata regular Lenore Natanni says she’ll likely stick with her beloved penny slot machines down on the floor.
“I could sit here all night, which I have before,” she says. “At the same machine. All night. I wasn’t even a bit tired.”
But Natanni says her husband does head up to the room and maybe he’d play a bit more up there, if he hadn’t lost too much downstairs.
Those extra rounds would be extra dollars for the casino.
“Casinos are not in the gambling business,” says I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School.
Rather, it’s a volume business, he says. Moreover, gambling through the TV is a step toward gambling online. The Borgata wants guests to get comfortable with the technology so they’ll consider trying it from home when the casino launches an online site.
But like the newspaper business, casinos need to make sure they don’t simply move their existing customers online.
“On the Las Vegas strip, there are a many casinos that now make a majority of their revenues from non-gaming activities — expensive restaurants, shows, and shopping,” said Rose.
To quote a wise man from New Jersey: “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”