Delaware's plans to launch the first regulated, real-money online casino in the U.S. took a big step forward on Wednesday. The state's three casinos introduced a free-to-play online gambling site which offers poker, slots, blackjack and roulette games.
The free-play site, available on Facebook via the DoubleDown Casino platform, will serve as the foundation for the real-money operation set to take off at the end of October. Double Down is owned by IGT, one of Delaware's selected slot vendors.
Full-scale online gambling was legalized in Delaware last year.
"This first phase will allow us to really get the players acclimated to the virtual world in a legalized environment," said Tom Cook, Delaware's secretary of finance, according to DelawareOnline.com.
The free games are available to anyone in the world, but the real-money operation will be available only to those located within Delaware's borders. Said Dover Downs Hotel & Casino CEO Ed Sutor, “We are going to try to the best of our ability to get those people from the free-to-play to come play here."
While this is exciting news for the gaming industry, Delaware still faces a potential liquidity issue with its online gambling operation, particularly poker. It is the sixth-least populous state in the nation, though that could change if there is an influx of poker players looking to live in an online poker-friendly state.
Nevada, another poker-friendly state, legalized online poker in February, and two months later Ultimate Gaming launched the first regulated real-money online poker room in the nation. Ultimate Poker remains the only regulated RMG poker room in Nevada, but others are expected to follow in the coming months.
New Jersey, Delaware's neighbor to the northeast, plans to launch its online gaming market by the end of November. Like Delaware, New Jersey's legislation allows for a comprehensive selection of games.
Delaware Rep. John Viola, who introduced the legislation that passed last year, said Delaware may be interested in joining an interstate compact with other states, possibly even New Jersey, to create a larger pool of players.