It’s back to politics as usual in New Jersey, where the state’s pro-online gaming politicians have begun pointing fingers at one another — if somewhat gently — over the new business’s failure to meet revenue projections over the programs first few months.
A recent feature authored by NewJersey.com’s Ryan Hutchins highlights the issue and the political war that’s been erupting, with the state’s Democratic leaders pointing at Republican Governor Chris Christie, Chris Christie’s office pointing at the state’s casino lobbyists for pitching over-aggressive numbers, all amid the greater battles which have emerged surrounding Christie, including the still-simmering “Bridgegate” scandal with its strong ties to Christie’s office, and Christie’s own thinly veiled national political aspirations.
In all that, a few tens of millions of dollars in unrealized gaming revenue represents a political football just ripe for the kicking.
As Hutchins note, New Jersey’s online-gambling revenue (including online poker) has fallen far short of expectations. Part of the problem is the state was delayed several months from the initial rollout and revenue projections as created by State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, whose $200 million estimate for the program’s first fiscal year was widely optimistic, even in the eyes of online gaming’s supporters.
Sidamon-Eristoff appears to be the fall guy for the shortfall from the original sales pitch… err, projections; according to NJ.com, he was forced to consider that even an original downward revision to $160 million was far too high. The number for fiscal 2014, which ends on June 30, is now being pegged at a much more realistic $34 million.
Ray Lesniak, a Democratic state senator who followers of political online-poker news should remember as the most ardent backer of New Jersey’s online poker laws, took his free swipe at Christie. According to Hutchins, Lesniak really thought that the state would bring in about $60 million in its first fiscal year, but it was Christie who jacked up the numbers, to squelch complaints from gaming opponents. “The governor just ignored those sensible economic thoughts,” Lesniak told NJ.com. “He totally threw them out the window.”
Had the politicians planned better and understood the nature of online poker and player-pool liquidity, the original outrageous projections need never have been created in the first place. Nevada and Delaware, the two other US states that have also legalized online poker, have also struggled to generate revenue from the new sites in the programs’ earliest months; Delaware, in particular, has yet to hit the $150,000 mark in monthly revenue in any of its first three months of operation.
That’s the nature of online poker, which succeeds and steamrolls as a market force when lots of players are available to play lots of other players… and that process doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s why Nevada and Delaware had plenty of extra incentive to sign their landmark interstate online-poker deal earlier this week, as it’s the easiest way to ramp up that liquidity that both states desperately desire.
As for New Jersey, even if its pols didn’t have hard numbers from Nevada or Delaware from which to work, they did have some secondary examples from Europe, where France, Italy and Spain have all opted to close their borders to the rest of Europe’s online players, with similarly disappointing results. The three countries’ online=poker tax revenues continue to sag, and the countries’ various officials have quietly explored international deals that would allow player pooling, similar to what Nevada and Delaware just agreed to.
The examples have already been there, but none of New Jersey’s politicians paid heed.
It isn’t necessarily bad news for online poker. Given proper marketing and brand awareness and publicity, the state’s regulated online poker sites will grow and prosper, and eventually reach some of those lofty projections that Christie’s office issued. In the meantime, a small dose of reality is good for everyone involved.
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