Caesars Entertainment (CZR) and 11 other Atlantic City casinos have begun the process of getting Internet gaming permits ahead of a Sunday deadline set by New Jersey regulators.
They’re part of a rush to get in on the ground floor as online gambling gets ready to go mainstream nationwide.
New Jersey will in November be the third state to launch statewide online poker and other gaming, after Nevada and Delaware.
The new gaming outlet became possible when the federal government did an about-face in December 2011. After adamantly opposing online gambling for years, the government said states could issue licenses, but must limit gambling to residents who live within that state.
Sands, MGM and Wynn all have multibillion-dollar hotel casino complexes in Macau and rely on it for the bulk of their growth.
Former Portuguese colony Macau, on China’s southern coast across the straits from Hong Kong, is the world’s top gambling destination and fastest-growing.
Caesars, which missed the boat to Macau, hopes to rake in the chips online. Analysts project the online gambling revenue opportunity in New Jersey alone at $500 million to $1 billion annually.
Analysts speculate online companies such as leading social network Facebook (FB), which offers non-money games now, might join the party. Facebook rose 0.5% Wednesday.
Caesars fell 1.2% Wednesday in stock market trading.