ATLANTIC CITY — Sports betting remains federally banned here and nearly everywhere else in the U.S. But “virtual sports,” which looks a lot like sports betting, is expanding in New Jersey.
Gamblers betting on virtual sports don’t wager on real matches. They bet on the outcomes of simulated games such as soccer, greyhound races and cycling competitions.
Golden Nugget recently inked a deal to become North America’s first online virtual sports provider.
On the brick and mortar side, Tropicana Atlantic City and Resorts Casino Hotel in April fired up Royal Derby, a virtual sports variant that asks gamblers to bet on the outcome of animatronic horse races.
Like other virtual racing products, Royal Derby, developed by Slovenia-based Alfastreet, aims to mimic traditional race forms by displaying material about horses’ strengths, weaknesses and past performances.
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But that material is largely window dressing. Virtual sports products, including the ones to be offered by Golden Nugget, are algorithmically controlled, with outcomes determined through the same random-number generation model used in slot machines.
Inspired Gaming Group, the UK firm partnering with Golden Nugget, has deals to bring virtual racing and soccer to GoldenNuggetCasino.com.
The company broadcasts matches in cinematic graphics on par with modern video games such as FIFA 16.
The matches are short. “For all of them, it’s between 30 seconds and two minutes,” said Thomas Winter, Golden Nugget’s vice president of online gaming. Soccer games don’t play out in total; the match is depicted via highlight reel.
Virtual sports, a common offering of European casinos and sports-betting parlors, is not skill-based gambling.
Like slots, Inspired’s products are subject to state law requiring payout, at a minimum, of 83 percent of bets made over the long run, Winter said. The products still need approval from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“We hope to launch end (of) July or early August,” Winter said.
Steve Rogers, Inspired’s CCO of digital games, said in a statement: “This is a hugely exciting moment for Inspired, as we become the first-ever supplier to deliver virtual sports online to the US market.”
Inspired says it has virtual sports products in more than 50,000 land-based venues worldwide.
In the U.K., “what is extremely popular is virtual racing,” said Eamonn Toland, who heads the North American division of Paddy Power, one of Europe’s largest bookmakers and Internet gambling providers.
The company runs nearly 600 real-event sports betting parlors in Ireland and the U.K., where sports betting is legal. “All of them have virtual horse racing.”
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Virtual racing is a revenue driver for operators of retail sports books, allowing them to “fill in the gaps between actual races,” he said.
But again, outcomes, over the long run, are statistically predetermined. So it’s safe to assume, said Toland, that “if you’re backing a 20-to-1 shot you’re not going to win as often as an even-money favorite.”