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The New Jersey surge: Sports betting success in the Garden State

Insight | Analysis

New Jersey is arguably the most mature and lucrative online sports betting market in the US – though also the most competitive. Cole Rush talks to some of the challenger brands that are fighting for a piece of the action. 

In the years following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to declare the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) unconstitutional, the US has spawned nearly two dozen sports betting markets, each with its own regulatory framework. The evolution of US sports betting is still undeniably underway, but key states have emerged as early leaders in the space. Chief among them is New Jersey.

New Jersey kickstarted legal sports betting in 2018, mere days after Governor Phil Murphy signed a law authorizing sports wagering in the Garden State. Now the market is seen as a pioneer, and legislatures across the country look to New Jersey as a prime example of top-tier sports betting legislation. 

The state’s progressive stance toward sports betting–both retail and online–has created what is arguably the most competitive sportsbook landscape in the US. And since New Jersey’s legislation went into effect, operators have pushed to build loyal audiences in a crowded but eager market. As the market matures, operators are zeroing in on what it takes to succeed in New Jersey. 

New Jersey’s nationwide importance
From an operator standpoint, New Jersey is a crucial sports betting market that can both drive important revenue and springboard sportsbooks to success in other states.

German operator Tipico, for example, is planning to enter the market in fall 2020. Adrian Vella managing director of the operator’s US business, cites three driving factors that led Tipico to set up shop in the Garden State: “The sophisticated mobile sports betting audience, a mature regulatory and licensing environment, and access to amazing talent. 

“There is a lot to be learned about the US market from New Jersey players and by completing the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement process.”

Other operators seem to agree with Vella’s reasons for homing in on New Jersey as a particularly influential US jurisdiction. Kindred brought its Unibet sports betting brand to New Jersey in September 2019.

“New Jersey pioneered the online gaming regulation – sports and casino – in the US in a positive way, Kindred’s senior vice president for the US Manuel Stan explains. 

“Inclusive product scope, sustainable tax levels, good process overall. That resulted in the majority of operators (both US and international) starting their US journey via New Jersey. [This was the] case for Kindred Group as New Jersey was our first step in the US…As a multiproduct operator, New Jersey is a very attractive market for us.”

Australian operator PointsBet, meanwhile, joined the New Jersey fray in January 2019, and director of Communications Patrick Eichner says the level of competition creates an innovative environment. 

“New Jersey isn’t a market where you can just launch and rest on your laurels,” he says, “It’s a market that brings out the best in sports betting operators. You need to bring your A-game every single day to succeed in New Jersey.”

Making a mark 
New Jersey is a cornerstone of the US sports betting industry. It’s a highly competitive region and an influential force in the country’s growing sportsbook landscape. As a result, operators have to go the extra mile to carve out market share in the state.

TheScore Founder and CEO John Levy emphasizes the need for a unique product offering in New Jersey. TheScore Bet launched in New Jersey in fall of 2019, combining sports media and sports betting onto a single platform. 

The marriage of these concepts, Levy says, is what sets theScore Bet apart from the competition in New Jersey: “While other gaming operators are trying to layer content into transactional-focused sports betting apps, we have flipped the model on its head. We were already providing millions of sports fans across North America with the latest scores, stats, and news, helping to inform them around their betting decisions.”

From there, Levy says, it’s about bringing users to the bet with a smooth transition. “They consume, follow, and research within theScore and, at the point of intent, we transition them to theScore Bet to place their wager – oftentimes in mere seconds. It’s a truly innovative approach that combines media with gaming in a seamless and intuitive way.”

TheScore’s one-two punch of sports media and sports betting is just one example of how New Jersey operators are engaging players in the market. For some, technology is the underlying driver that creates a successful New Jersey sportsbook. 

This is certainly the case for Tipico as the company prepares for a New Jersey launch, according to Vella, “Tipico is one of the few [operators] on the B2C side of the industry using our own proprietary technology. We are very excited to debut the new product our hardworking developers have put together for the US market, and we’ll continue to add new features in 2020 and beyond.”

Technology is top-of-mind for other operators, too, with PointsBet’s Eichner claiming it is one of the operator’s biggest differentiating factors. 

“It all boils down to tech,” Eichner says, “We control everything you see on our site. We can respond in the moment. We can make price adjustments in minutes.”

Full technological control leads to quickfire innovations and more interaction with the player, according to Eichner. He references some of PointsBet’s features as key examples. 

“We control our roadmap, so we can eliminate lag time when it comes to customer requests. If you don’t see something on PointsBet and you’d like to bet on it, tweet, DM us, message us, just get in touch. As long as it’s a legal market where we can offer that bet, we can price it and have it on our site within minutes.”

Kindred’s Stan understands that New Jersey’s growing market sparks a need for player trust and brand recognition. Though it’s a crowded space, New Jersey’s openness to igaming and sports betting makes it an enticing region for multi-product operators: “The product scope is a key reason why New Jersey is such an attractive market. One would expect more states to replicate New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s successful multi-product regulation.”

While New Jersey has definitely embraced online gaming in all its forms, newcomers still have obstacles to overcome before they can be successful in the market. The state’s adoption of online gambling has led to a marketplace replete with operators looking to snag meaningful market share. 

Stan says that the New Jersey landscape presents unique challenges for new entrants: “Successfully entering a new market with 10+ active operators with high brand equity and user bases is not an easy task. 

“A new brand like Unibet has to build the user base while earning the players’ trust – there is no room for error there. We are confident we have a good product and by offering a leading customer experience we can continue to grow our market share in New Jersey.”

Building audience with promotions
Sportsbooks that entered New Jersey in 2019 and into 2020 have no shortage of competition. Many of those competitors are some of the biggest names in the business–the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM. And though sports betting juggernauts can take over large percentages of the market, new operators are able to garner audiences with smart, accessible promotions.

Undoubtedly, promotions go a long way in drawing new players to one sportsbook over another. New sports bettors can select from any number of lucrative sign-up bonuses, making promotions a foundation of any operator’s strategy. This is especially true in New Jersey, where bettors can choose from more than a dozen sportsbooks. Simply put, operators in New Jersey are hyper aware of the impact promotions can have on market share and building an audience.

Levy of theScore explains that the company’s focus remains on building and maintaining a loyal audience. “We have no intention of getting into the arms race of heavy above-the-line advertising and big-ticket sponsorships. Our focus is first-and-foremost on our large, engaged, and highly loyal addressable audience of millions of sports fans on our media app. This provides for a differentiated strategy in engaging users and driving betting behavior. Concentrating on our owned audience, paired with some smart performance marketing, we can deliver highly compelling and strategic promotional offers that provide substantial value to bettors.”

One example, Levy says, is the recently launched ‘Sports Are Back’ offer. The promotion avoids typical terms and restrictions set forth by many competing bonus offers, instead opting for a simple, straightforward approach that appeals to the everyday sports betting enthusiast.

“Users can unlock real cash as they play – 5% up to $2,500 cashback – win, lose or draw. It’s been very well received so far, and we’re excited to take the momentum we’re building around the NBA, MLB, and NHL into the upcoming NFL season.”

Tipico, too, understands the need for a distinct promotional offer, and Adrian Vella promises such an offer when the company launches in New Jersey: “We’re excited to bring the same Tipico passion and reverence for the sports fan to our US brand positioning through a new campaign which we’ll debut at launch, which will include a competitive consumer offer.”

In essence, New Jersey sportsbooks can compete with other operators by tailoring promotions to their audience. The player experience–including promotions and bonuses– should come first, crafting an environment in which bettors feel catered to and welcomed. 

Kindred’s Manuel Stan offers advice to New Jersey operators looking to build an audience in the packed marketplace: “The big upside of the promotions [from] the leading operators is the absolute prize pool – a new entrant with a smaller user base cannot compete in absolute terms.

“What a new entrant can do is focus on better tailoring the marketing efforts to each individual customer and offer a better, more relevant reward mechanism.”

Competition pushes NJ forward
One through line emerges when you take stock of New Jersey’s sports betting scene: competition begets innovation. And many operators have already seen their offerings evolve in light of constant pressure from competing sportsbook providers.

PointsBet’s Eichner says the continuous influx of new sports betting sites ups the ante when it comes to product innovation. “These new brands joining the market, they’re not unknown startups. A lot of the time they’re established gaming brands with proven, successful products. As more come in, it fuels the fire and forces everyone to up their game. You can’t be asleep at the wheel and or take your customer base for granted. When your bettors have options, you need to be sure your product is the best choice. You need to have clear cut and understandable value for your customers.”

In a market where small operators account for a significant market share, providers can evolve their products to bring more players into the fold. Kindred’s Manuel Stan cites this trend as one reason operators might be eager to join a highly competitive market like New Jersey.

“What we see in other markets is that in the medium-long term the market leaders will stabilize around the 20-30% mark, very rarely higher than that,” Stan says. “I wouldn’t think that New Jersey or the US in general has any reason to be different if the challengers continue to innovate and improve their offerings.”

Continued Garden State growth
The competitive nature of New Jersey is inextricably intertwined with the market’s success. New operators join the state’s sports betting market constantly, and every sportsbook has to go the extra mile to keep its offering fresh, engaging, and relevant.

Solid long-term performance in the Garden State, in many ways, is a harbinger of success in nascent US markets. And for sportsbook operators right now, it looks like New Jersey will serve as a revenue-driving market and a launchpad to the larger US sports betting world for some time to come.