ATLANTIC CITY — For 35 years, analysts, reporters and curious gamblers scouring monthly casino revenue reports have been able to scrutinize the performance of more than two dozen table games and 10 denominations of slot machines at each property.
That decades-long standard ended unexpectedly Tuesday as the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement moved toward providing a heavily redacted report — by New Jersey’s standards — calling the results of individual slot types and table games “confidential.”
Lawmakers, including state Sens. Jim Whelan and Ray Lesniak, said they were caught by surprise, unaware that the state that has traditionally provided more detailed data than other major gambling hubs was making any changes. Meanwhile, gambling economists who have long reported on the statistics suggested that without them, there will be more misinformation and greater speculation about New Jersey’s industry.
The breakdowns also allowed the public to spot trends, such as an unusually high loss at a specific game, which could indicate either fraud or a high-roller who had taken the property for millions.
“Honestly, I don’t know why they’re doing this,” Whelan, D-Atlantic, said. “More transparency is obviously better, so I don’t know what would have prompted this. I’ll reserve any other comment until I know more.”
The impetus, according to the DGE, was a months-long review of New Jersey’s reporting standards undertaken by regulators in light of the pending Internet gambling launch in November. The casinos did not lobby for the changes, DGE spokeswoman Lisa Spengler said.
The review focused on what information the state is required to make public by law and what other major gambling jurisdictions make public. A temporary regulation adopted by the division on Monday redefines what will be released to the public.
The result: Less information will be publicly available because regulators believe New Jersey’s now $2.86 billion market has been at a disadvantage compared to other states where more gambling data remains undisclosed.
“When you compare New Jersey to other jurisdictions ... we believe that the New Jersey casinos are at competitive disadvantage given the level of detail that was being provided,” Spengler said. “Significantly, even with the change to brick and mortar reporting, New Jersey remains one of the most transparent gaming jurisdictions.”
New Jersey, already in the midst of a transparency crisis related to lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, will now only report table game win and slot machine win by property along with the drop or handle, which indicates the volume of play. Poker is still broken out into a separate category. Online gambling revenue is reported separately by property, broken down in poker win versus other online casino win.
The two larger jurisdictions — Nevada with an $11 billion market and Pennsylvania with a $3.2 billion market — make less information public. Nevada breaks down win by slot denomination and table game but reports that information only by region rather than individual property. Nevada will not break out online poker revenues into a separate category until there are three operators in the state; there are currently two.
Pennsylvania reports by property but only breaks down data into overall slot win and broad categories of table games. Drop, or the dollar amount of chips purchased, on table games isn’t reported.
David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said he frequently used New Jersey’s reports to study the fluctuation of individual games. In one case, he was able to study how baccarat, a volatile game attracting high-rollers, performs in the market.
The research helps others in the business understand the risks and payoffs of individual games.
Asked whether the data could provide a competitive advantage, Schwartz said, “It could, but it’s been this way since 1978. Anyone who gets into the casino industry in New Jersey knows that’s how it’s worked.”
Kahlil Philander, director of research at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said the loss of the information comes at a particularly crucial time for the New Jersey industry given the launch of Internet gambling. Further research could have shown which games are most impacted by online gambling.
“We won’t be able to tease out smaller relationships like that,” Philander said. “Having that richness of data for the different games allows us to find more precise relationships between those different forms of gaming.”
The regulation adopted by the DGE is temporary, meaning that it can remain in effect for 270 days or roughly nine months. Within that time frame, the DGE intends to publish the regulation with the state for final adoption. There will be a 60-day public comment period that will commence once the regulation is submitted for publication, Spengler said.
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