Turning channel to in-room gambling

Members of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement follow a demonstration in a room at the Borgata Hotel and Spa, which will allow in-room gambling starting Monday.
Members of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement follow a demonstration in a room at the Borgata Hotel and Spa, which will allow in-room gambling starting Monday. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

The Borgata on Monday will break new ground nationally.

Posted: February 18, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - Turn on the 46-inch LED flat-screen in a room at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, and an array of options will pop up on the TV.

Among the choices: Shopping. Movies.Nightclubs.

And starting Monday: In-room gaming. Borgata will become the first casino in the United States to offer E-Casino - gambling via television in the privacy of its guests' hotel accommodations.

"When you're just trying to relax, having a hard time sleeping, or have time to kill before dinner, it would be fine to do," mused Joanne Piccione of Danbury, Conn., who was working a $2 slot machine last week during a three-night stay at Borgata to celebrate her 66th birthday. "Also, when you don't want to get dressed again to go down to the gaming floor."

Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations at Borgata, said E-Casino "is meant for the customer really to start getting familiar with new types of E-gaming methods, be it wagering in room, on a smartphone, or on the Internet."

It's the Shore's first foray into the world of mobile gaming devices, the TV being a subset of sorts of mobile gaming, Borgata executives said.

A measure signed last year allows such devices outside the traditional casino floor, in spaces such as lobbies, restaurants, pool areas, and guest rooms, and in October, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement approved regulations to monitor the use of handhelds.

Internet gambling will be the real technological revolution, however. Wall Street analysts say it could generate up to $250 million in annual online-gaming revenue for the resort's struggling brick-and-mortar casinos.

Last week, the Legislature signaled that both chambers would give final approval to an amended bill Feb. 26. Gov. Christie has said he will sign I-gaming legislation that incorporates the revisions he wants, including placing online gaming on a 10-year trial, subject to annual review; establishing extensive controls to regulate it; and devoting additional resources to fighting gambling addiction.

Christie's signature would make New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware the only states to offer online wagering.

Borgata, the $1.9 billion Las Vegas-style mega-casino in Atlantic City's Marina District, has been a trendsetter from the start. When it opened in July 2003, it had the most advanced information technology of any casino here, and it is credited with attracting a younger, hipper generation.

E-Casino will keep Borgata at the technological forefront, said John Forelli, its vice president of IT: "We're subtly getting customers acclimated to electronic gaming, both handhelds and Internet."

Here's how E-Casino works: Check in at Borgata's hotel and show your My Borgata rewards card, which you'll need to play. Set up an E-Casino account to deposit money to wager, up to $2,500 per day.

Select "in-room gaming" through the TV's remote control. You'll have to log in using two forms of ID: a PIN number already attached to your rewards card, and a password given to you at check-in.

Once you're logged in, pick a game: either video slots (Rum Runner's Riches, at denominations starting from a nickel to a dollar), or video poker (Deuces Wild, Jacks or Both, Double Bonus, or Double Double Bonus). For now, those are the only games available, but more are being developed.

To start playing, you must first transfer funds from the e-wallet set up at check-in to your room. The balance continually updates on the screen.

"It's all predicated on having an electronic account," Forelli said. "With a TV, there's no method for accepting cash or swiping a credit card, so you have to use electronic credits."

Pennsylvania's casinos are watching closely: Internet-gaming legislation is about to be introduced there. And last week, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem - which targets customers from North Jersey and New York, two key feeder markets for A.C. - took a new mobile step, with an app offering turn-by-turn directions to the casino, as well as ways to make restaurant reservations, take virtual tours, and more.

"For the whole gaming industry, and most other ones, the tendency to focus on mobile is absolutely critical," Sands president Bob DeSalvio said Friday. "Anyone with a handheld device needs to be able to learn anything they can about your property."

In late 2011, Borgata partnered with Allin Interactive of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which provides the in-room gaming platform and games content.

The aim, Forelli said, was for Borgata to move the e-wallet concept to the traditional gaming floor in the future, for slot machines there, as well as for mobile applications.

Attorney Jeremy Frey, an online-gambling expert at Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton L.L.P., said that with New Jersey poised to green-light Internet gambling, "it means it will be legal to bet over computers, as well as mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and cellphones, as long as the devices are located within the state at the time the bet is placed."

For now, under the mobile-gaming law, Forelli said, Borgata customers will have to be on the property to use handheld devices.

Since late 2006, Nevada has allowed sports wagering and electronic games on mobile devices within casinos.

"Around the world, people are shifting their gambling from traditional slot machines and tables to online and mobile devices," said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling. E-Casino "is a step - albeit a small one - in that direction."

Lupo said E-Casino was part of management's decision in 2010 to undertake a $50 million renovation of Borgata's 2,000 rooms, begun in 2011 and completed last spring, which set in place "the TVs and infrastructure to support it."

Borgata has set no revenue goals for in-room gaming, instead seeing it as a way to begin working with the state and getting customers acclimated to it, he said. "We want to apply the same technology to our mobile technology, such as wagering on a smartphone, or playing slots while sitting at the pool, at dinner, or the event center."

E-Casino will differentiate Atlantic City from gambling meccas in other states that offer only "convenience gaming" but have cut deeply into the Shore's revenue, Lupo said. "We're ahead of the game," he added, "but for how long, we don't know."

After checking into his room last week, Lyndon Johnson, 22, of Vineland, said he was open to trying out E-Casino, but he clearly had his eye on the next step.

"Once we get I-gaming, it's a wrap," said Johnson, who regularly plays on the PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker websites, which are based offshore. "I'd do that at the casinos here at their websites."

As it happens, the company that owns PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker is in the process of acquiring the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel to set up its U.S. headquarters in Atlantic City.


Contact Suzette Parmley

at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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