Contrary to speculation that Internet gambling could hurt the brick-and-mortar casinos, a new survey indicates Web games will not cannibalize the Atlantic City market and may actually generate a slight increase in casino visits.

U.S. Gaming Survey, of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., conducted the independent poll, which found that 58 percent of the respondents from New Jersey have no plans to change their visits to Atlantic City’s casinos now that Internet gambling has been legalized in the state.

Eight percent of the New Jersey respondents said they would increase their casino trips, while 4 percent said they would not go to Atlantic City as often. Nearly 30 percent of those polled said they do not visit Atlantic City’s casinos at all.

“From the results of this poll, residents in New Jersey and other U.S. states do not indicate that the impending online gaming will cannibalize land-based casino interests or revenue and will possibly mildly increase it,” said Larry Gibbs, U.S. Gaming Survey’s vice president of marketing.

The online poll was conducted nationwide but concentrated on people in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, the top feeder markets for the Atlantic City casinos. All together, 585 people were surveyed, 308 of whom were from the tri-state area, including 245 from New Jersey.

Poll results were similar among all age groups, income levels, and for both men and women. So there were no deep demographic divisions in the way people feel about Internet gambling, U.S. Gaming Survey executives said.

However, the poll did find people view Internet gambling and visits to land-based casinos as two distinctly different experiences. Gibbs said those differences could be complementary, rather than competitive, which could drive even more customers to the casinos and their online wagering sites.

“It’s completely different experiences for both, but they could work side by side,” he said.

Jim Quigley, U.S. Gaming Survey’s CEO, said the poll found poker players and horseracing fans to be the two customer groups most likely to bet online as well as visit the casinos. Twenty-five percent of the horseracing customers who bet online said they plan to increase their visits to Atlantic City, while 4 percent will take fewer trips, the poll showed.

“Horseracing is slightly more social. Both guys are standing next to the TV screen and yelling at the same time,” Quigley said, describing the action at the casino simulcast parlors, where customers bet on races broadcast live from tracks across the country.

Nearly 20 percent of the online poker players said they plan to increase their visits to Atlantic City. Just 2 percent said they would cut back on the number of casino trips, according to the poll results.

“Poker is a more social game. People want to play with other poker players,” Quigley said of the live casino games.

While Internet gambling has been legalized in New Jersey, it is not expected to be ready until Nov. 26. Regulations still must be completed, and the casinos have to put the systems in place. Once it is ready, people will be able to play slot machines and table games online.

In terms of revenue, New Jersey’s Internet gambling operations are expected to provide a big boost for casinos, analysts say. One veteran casino analyst, Adam Steinberg of A.M. Steinberg Advisors, estimates Internet wagering will generate $500 million to $700 million in annual revenue.

Steinberg said he believes Internet wagering will be key to keeping gambling dollars in New Jersey, particularly among customers in the southwestern part of the state, who now find it more convenient to visit the Philadelphia-area casinos a short drive away. For them, trips to Atlantic City can take longer than hopping across the bridges to Philadelphia.

Steinberg said New Jersey wisely wrote the Internet gambling law to require patrons to appear in person at the Atlantic City casinos to redeem any rewards or comps they earn online.

“So they’re forcing people to come back,” Steinberg said last week during a panel discussion on Internet gambling at the Pennsylvania Gaming Congress in Philadelphia.

Another panelist, Matthew Levinson, chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, disputed speculation that Internet gambling will harm Atlantic City by cutting down on the number of casino trips.

“Everybody is saying that the brick-and-mortars will go away. I don’t see that happening,” Levinson said.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

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