Ask any owner of an Atlantic City casino, and you’ll hear that the sole bright spot amid all the misery of 2020 was online gambling.
As physical casinos shut down for nearly three months, many new players turned to online casino sites for their gambling entertainment.
Online gambling filled a lot of revenue holes for New Jersey casinos, but the upside for online gamblers was a new way to enjoy slot games, table games, poker and more, playing on mobile phones and other devices. Even as casinos reopened, it became clear that iGaming is here to stay. In fact, you can expect the online casino business to only grow from this point on.
With that in mind, here are five trends to look for in the world of the online casinos in 2021.
More States, More Online Casinos
The number of states where you can gamble online is rapidly growing. The states of New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada launched within a year after a 2012 opinion by the U.S. Justice Department held that online gaming did not violate the federal Wire Act (Nevada offers online poker only, so far). Those states were followed with iGaming in Pennsylvania in 2017 and West Virginia in 2019.
Michigan is expected to join the party early in 2021. There are bills to authorize online gambling in New York, Massachusetts, Nebraska and elsewhere. The list is expected to grow more as state legislative sessions get under way.
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More Online Sportsbooks
The number of iGaming sites offering sports betting is expanding even faster than online casino gambling. Mobile sports bets with real-time, in-game wagers have accounted for the vast majority of online sports bets since the U.S. Supreme Court repealed the federal ban on sports wagering in 2018.
Legal sports betting is now available in 20 states, with 28 more considering various forms of sports betting legislation. The trend to look for here is how the availability of online sports betting will affect the spread of online casino gambling. As most of you know, the two genres fit together perfectly.
More gambling sites means more perks in store for people who join one of them. Sign-up bonuses—such as Golden Nugget doubling your first deposit up to $1,000, Borgata’s “risk-free” first bet up to $300, and numerous free-play offers—are going to get juicier as the field of competing online casinos gets larger.
As the iGaming business expands in 2021, expect some good bonus-shopping.
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As the iGaming business grows, so does the number of slot manufacturers linking up to servers to spread their game content across the internet casino world. Game brands like IGT, Scientific Games, AGS, Konami, Everi, Ainsworth and others are being joined by Aruze, Novomatic and other casino slot machine suppliers. All are eager to get their games in front of you, the online player.
Consequently, the styles of games available online are more varied than ever. Among other things, Everi specializes in translating classic reel-spinning games into simple online versions. Ainsworth specializes in high-denomination video-style games. All of the manufacturers have had great success importing their most popular casino games to the online space. It’s only a matter of time before players go online with for-money games from most of the casino suppliers—eventually including Aristocrat, which has social casino games but as yet, no for-money iGaming offerings.
Speaking of content, expect the same kinds of features that are popular in casino games to be reprised online—and repeatedly. Just as features like multiplying wild symbols and multiple “7” combinations eventually covered the slot floors of physical casinos, the newest features that are most popular in casinos are going to keep popping up online. Features like hold-and-re-spin.
The “hold-and-re-spin” game mechanic is ubiquitous in the game libraries of just about every supplier of slot machines. Manufacturer after manufacturer has followed the recipe first established by Aristocrat’s “Lightning Link” series, with a variety of games including some form of this feature.
In this type of feature, also known in the trade as “persistent-style,” coins or other icons with credit values land on the reels and hold in place for a set number of free re-spins, usually three. When another coin lands, the free-spin meter goes back to the beginning, and the feature continues until no spins remain or the entire reel array is filled up for a jackpot. This feature is still gaining popularity, so as more manufacturers import their best games online, expect a lot more of it.
Another feature of the newest slot games appearing online that seems to be shared regardless of the game brand is the inclusion of progressive jackpots. Multiple progressive jackpot meters at the top of each game, usually with a couple of static jackpots and one or two linked progressive prizes (“Major,” “Grand,” “Mega,” etc.), are everywhere these days.
More and more, the collection of progressive and static jackpots is being worked into a bonus feature—a pick bonus, a wheel spin, etc. In the latest incarnations, many games feature multiple spins or picks that can award two or more jackpots in one feature. Many of today’s progressives are won by filling up all those reel spots in one of the “hold-and-re-spin” games we noted earlier.
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GameCo LLC, the manufacturer of “Video Game Gambling Machines” designed for younger players, will soon launch the first-ever mobile esports sportsbook in Colorado, in conjunction with the Sky Ute Casino. The site and app will offer wagering on some 30,000 public esports matches annually. Matches will be available for wagering 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The wagers, centered around competitions involving often complicated multi-level video games, include a wealth of possible in-game wagers. For instance, in a game like Counter-Strike, in which the contestants take on the roles of terrorists and counter-terrorists, in-game wagers include props like first blood, which team is the first to hit the other team, first to 10 kills, the total duration in minutes of a specific match, and who’s the one to capture the first tower.
The Colorado book will go live in the first quarter of 2021, and GameCo plans to expand its esports sportsbook to all sports betting jurisdictions, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Stay tuned.
The variety of games available online will continue to grow in 2021, so be sure to look for your favorites. Happy New Year!