With two live online poker sites and three more to come shortly, Nevada needs interstate gaming compacts more than ever now

Now that Nevada officially has two online poker sites – Stations Casinos-owned UltimatePoker and the newly launched Caesars Interactive WSOP site – the big question on everyone’s mind is, how is a state with the relatively small population of Nevada going to support not only these two, but likely three more – 888 Poker, Treasure Island and South Point – that are expected to come online for real money play by the end of the year?

Nevada’s Small Population Base

Although anyone who happens to be within the state’s borders is allowed to play on the Silver State’s Internet gambling sites, Nevada’s base population is only 2,758,931, based on the latest census figures, making it the 35th largest state in the nation based on populace, and less than a third of soon-to-be competitor New Jersey’s estimated 9 million in residents. The challenge – given that Nevada’s online games are poker, and poker only, meaning customers must have each other to participate, not just the house – is how to keep enough of a player base going online, 24/7/365, to make these sites appealing to most poker players.

To that end, Governor Brian Sandoval is trying to position Nevada to be able to take advantage of interstate gambling compacts that would allow U.S. states to effectively share their player pools for the purposes of online gambling. That’s if Congress passes federal legislation this year that legalizes and regulates Internet poker on a national basis, something that seems about as likely to happen right now as world peace.

Last May, Sandoval struck up discussions with other states’ governors about mutually beneficial compacts; of course, Nevada being the little kid, population-wise, and also with only its poker online offerings, the main benefit it brings to the party is a long history of a regulated casino environment on land and plenty of brand names eager to get sites up and running.

“I’m introducing the concept of compacting,” Sandoval said of the talks. “We have the infrastructure and other states have the players. I’m hopeful we’ll continue to talk.”

New Jersey Is the Focus

Clearly, the main focus of any interstate talks will be New Jersey, which is expected to launch a full spectrum of Internet casino games by late November. New Jersey brings to the table not only its own 9 million residents, but perhaps millions more weekend warriors who could cross the state’s borders to play online from major metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia. With all those eager players raring to go, analysts anticipate that New Jersey’s gaming revenues could hit between $500 million to $1 billion annually, so expect Gov. Chris Christie to be everyone’s favorite date choice for the interstate homecoming dance. And getting their ducks in line, both Caesars (via its own four Atlantic City-based properties) and Ultimate Poker (under the auspices of parent Ultimate Gaming and the Trump Taj Mahal) are ready to launch when New Jersey goes live.

“We’re very big supporters of shared liquidity,” Caesars Interactive Entertainment CEO Mitch Garber said as the company’s online WSOP site prepared to come on board out West. “Nevada will have a healthy business on its own. I think it’s in everybody’s interest at the end of the day that there be compacts among states and that there be shared liquidity.”