Dave Yanni, a guest at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, was tempted to give it a try when an intriguing message came on his television screen Tuesday touting “eCasino.”

eCasino is not a new casino somewhere in Atlantic City, but rather a new type of mobile gambling that promises to bring the excitement of the slot machines and video poker directly to Borgata guests in the privacy of their hotel rooms — over their TVs. It debuted this week.

However, interviews with Borgata guests Tuesday suggested that it will take a while for mobile gambling to become popular. The Press of Atlantic City spoke to more than 50 customers and not one had tried it. Yanni was one of the few who seemed enthusiastic.

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“I think it’s great,” Yanni said. “This is something that someone could do while waiting for their wife to get ready or perhaps they could play it if they’re not feeling well and they want to stay in their room.”

Yanni, 59, of Watervliet, N.Y., promised that he and his 46-year-old wife, Janelle, would experiment with mobile gambling sometime during their stay this week at Borgata. Other customers weren’t so sure or said outright they had no interest.

“I like to gamble, but I would rather do it at a table game than on a TV,” said Marie Toner, 66, of Staten Island, N.Y.

Carolyn DiStefano, 64, of Eldersburg, Md., said she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to gamble electronically when live gambling was close by.

“I don’t like virtual gambling, so that’s why I wouldn’t want to do it,” DiStefano said.

“Who wants to stay in your hotel room? You have the real thing down here,” added DiStefano’s friend, Theresa Hafele, 67, also of Eldersburg, while standing just steps from the casino floor.

Galen Norwood, 57, of Erial, Camden County, said he was curious when he turned on the TV in his room on Monday and was invited to try eCasino.

“It was a great message. It gives people the opportunity to gamble if they can’t get out of their rooms,” said Norwood, who stressed that he is on a business trip at Borgata and does not plan to try mobile gambling.

Also known as in-room gambling, it is the first of its kind in Atlantic City and regarded as the first step in a broader foray into electronic wagering using hand-held devices such as smartphones and iPads.

“For customers, it’s a way to get them acquainted with e-gaming,” said Joe Lupo, Borgata’s senior vice president of operations.

Borgata began a 90-day trial period Monday that currently limits mobile gambling to the TV sets in its hotel rooms. Guests use their TVs to place bets on slots and video poker games.

To play, customers must have a My Borgata rewards card. They also must set up an “eWallet” account by making a cash deposit on the casino floor. New Jersey casino regulations limit mobile gambling to $2,500 per day.

In their hotel rooms, guests select “in-room gaming” using the TV’s remote control. They are asked to input the PIN number from their My Borgata card and are also given a password for their room. Then, by using the remote control, they can starting gambling on the TV.

John Forelli, Borgata’s vice president of information technology, acknowledged that mobile gambling will start slowly this week, building to a bigger test this weekend, when the casino hotel is expected to be busier.

Forelli explained that in-room gambling is a platform for electronic wagering in the future on smartphones and other hand-held devices. Borgata plans to expand to hand-held devices after the initial trial period with the TVs.

“I look at this as like having a movie in your room or a plush robe. It’s another amenity. But it’s not something that we’re going to stuff in your face,” Forelli said.

Mobile gambling was approved by the state Legislature last year. It is seen as another way to help pull the Atlantic City casinos out of a six-year revenue slump by giving them an attraction that competitors in surrounding states currently don’t have.

Once fully developed, mobile gambling will allow guests to use hand-held devices to bet on casino games while they are lounging at the pool, eating at restaurants or relaxing in their hotel rooms. So far, Borgata is the only Atlantic City casino to try a variation of mobile gambling.

“We think that this type of gaming is the wave of the future and opens up other possibilities,” Lupo said.

Lupo maintained that the early experiment with mobile gambling solidifies Borgata’s reputation as an industry trendsetter. He noted, for instance, that Borgata was the first casino to introduce cashless slot machines to the Atlantic City market.

Mobile gambling is separate from Internet gambling, another high-tech amenity being pushed by New Jersey lawmakers as a game-changer for the Atlantic City market.

Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed New Jersey’s Internet gambling law, saying he wants to restrict it to a 10-year trial period. The Legislature is expected to amend the bill next week to comply with the governor’s wishes. If Christie signs the amended bill into law, people in New Jersey will be able to use their home computers and hand-held devices to bet on casino slot machines and table games over the Internet.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:


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