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The Delaware Online Poker Diddle: States Racinos Link to IGT Play-Gaming App as Live-Money Rollout Delayed

delaware lottery games logoThis week’s rollout of play-money online gaming by Delaware’s three licensed state “racinos” picked up plenty of news coverage.  It’s being heralded as the next big thing, the precursor to the first fully regulated, real-money online casino gaming in the United States.

And all that is technically true. While Nevada was the first to authorize and allow live state-approved online poker – where the Fertitta-tied Ultimate Poker brand remains the only active site, as it has been for nearly four months – it’s in Delaware where the first licensed real-money online casino gaming is expected to occur. That was supposed to go live sometime next month… and it actually won’t.

That’s a good part of this week’s story as well.

What has officially happened is that the three Delaware racinos – Dover Downs, Delaware Park and Harrington Raceway – now have online links on their sites to DoubleDown Interactive’s DoubleDown Casino, one of the largest play-money casino game apps on Facebook.

The DoubleDown Casino, which bills itself as “The best and biggest free online casino on the internet,” is part of a subsidiary owned by IGT (International Game Technologies). DoubleDown also describes itself as being “considered the largest casino in the world.” Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; Zynga might have a say in that virtual play-chip category as well.

What is for sure is that this story isn’t really the way the mainstream outlets and prominent poker portals have spun it. Instead, it appears as though it’s a move by Delaware officials designed to plug a gap and cover up some delays, since the real-money Delaware online gaming can now be confirmed as delayed in its launch by something nearing two months.

Under the original schedule, Delaware’s live online gaming was supposed to begin generating real revenue for the state on or about September 1st, 2013, which would be Saturday. For months, the industry consensus has been that Delaware wouldn’t be able to meet that date, and hidden in the details of various stories published this week is the confirmation that that’s exactly what happened.

Let’s check out this USA Today piece, in which Delaware’s Secretary of Finance, Tom Cook, says:

The October launch date for real online gambling is a month later than state officials were shooting for when they awarded a contract for designing and operating the system earlier this year.

The winning bidder, a joint venture of current Delaware slots system manager Scientific Games and European online betting company 888 Holdings, will not be on the hook for the delay, Cook said.

“We set forth what I would call an aggressive goal of September,” Cook said. “I said from the beginning this is something that, when it’s ready, it’s ready.”

Actually, earlier in the piece it now says that the launch is scheduled for the “end of October,” meaning it’s really a two-month delay, not one. And then there’s the story behind this DoubleDown Casino, because that’s almost certainly not the software Delaware will be using once the live-cash games go live.

DoubleDown, as mentioned above, is a subsidiary of IGT, and IGT is not a part of the three-firm troika that submitted the winning application when Delaware opened its online scheme to vendors earlier this year. That winning bid came from Scientific Games, 888 Holdings and Williams Interactive.

This consortium was the favorite to win all along, since Sci Games already had a major, long-term deal in place with the Delaware Lottery, the overseer of this new online gaming process. And if one looks at what Facebook play games are offered by DoubleDown, one finds: poker, online slots, blackjack, roulette, video poker and bingo. 888 alone offers software for all of these games, although some of the other offerings approved by the state may require further integration.

What it means is that there was really no pressing need to use IGT for any of this, except for the obvious – the real Delaware site ain’t close to being ready. IGT has a strategic-alliance relationship with Scientific Games; SciGames has also previously purchased a UK-based IGT division in the past.

So this week’s Delaware news? It really seems like a major case of spin. What the story really seems to be is that with the original live date at hand, and no site ready to go, primary vendor Sci Games and the Delaware Lottery itself agreed to bring in IGT, just to use their Facebook site as a placeholder.

All that’s really going on here, if one looks carefully, is that the three racinos’ online sites now have large banners linking to the DoubleDown Casino site and its Facebook-linked signup page, and that’s the type of thing that a graphic designer could whip up in an hour. This is all much ado about not very much at all.

There’s also plenty of fluff in the various reports about how these new Delaware play-money sites are open to everyone, even though the real-money sites are open only to the state’s residents. More fluff: The Facebook app from DoubleDown doesn’t care whether you’re from Dover of Dakar.

What does IGT get out of the deal? The answer: Some Delaware-driven signups and maybe a bit of cash for the bother. Delaware gets to pretend it’s closer to going live, and it gets to scrape contact information for any Delaware players that sign up for play-money action. And that’s about it. Maybe real-money Delaware online poker goes live in October, or December, or early 2014. It’ll happen soon enough. Just not this week.


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