Review of SugarHouse Online Casino in New Jersey
SugarHouse Casino was the first cross-border brand to launch in the online gambling market of New Jersey. The brand began in neighboring Pennsylvania, where the SugarHouse land-based casino opened on the Philadelphia waterfront in 2010. The curious name stems from the history of their location along the Delaware river, where a sugar refinery existed for more than a century beginning in 1881.
SugarHouse online casino, launched in September 2016, introduces several features that are new to the market and is already a strong presence in what has become a very competitive landscape. See the brief summary below and then read on for my full review...
The team behind this casino really seems to understand the online gambler, and it shows. They offer a very good slate of games, including several titles available nowhere else. But the real strength of SugarHouse is the way the casino integrates the games alongside rewards, promos, and social interaction to give the player an immersive experience.
First, the slots...
The large SugarHouse slot selection puts it among the top tier in NJ. The bread and butter of any online casino is the availability of both longtime favorite slot titles and fresh new games.
Here's a look at the most popular games at SugarHouse for the 30 days prior to my review: (As usual, you can click to enlarge on most devices)
Not surprisingly, you see some of the same games that our users have consistently picked among their favorites, such as Raging Rhino, Cash Spin, and Zeus. As for the fresh new games, I see the "Cirque du Soleil Kooza" game among the SugarHouse favorites as well.
Then there are games you probably haven't seen before, unless you are already a player at SugarHouse. That's because SH is the sole place you can play these titles by developer Konami. And players really like what they see here. Among the 16 top favorites pictured above, six of them can be found among the exclusive titles at SugarHouse.
After spending quite a bit of time test-driving these games, I'm not surprised by their popularity. These new titles are innovative and just plain fun. I think my favorite of the bunch is Imperial Wealth, which has an interesting feature called Lucky Frames.
It's a 30 line game, with a 45 coin minimum bet that funds several bonus features.
I won't go into detail about the bonus features here, but they can turn a seemingly ordinary spin into a big surprise winner. You can see my explanation of an exciting win on the game page for Imperial Wealth.
Another Konami title that I enjoyed was Golden Wolves, with an Extra Wolves feature that can happen anytime, but especially during free spins.
The game selection continues to expand. Since launching about 7 months ago, the game inventory has grown from under 250 to well over 300. Most of that action is in the slot selection.
Most of the online casinos in New Jersey have settled on a pretty standard group of table games, and even those properties that have tried to expand on the lineup have usually ended up going to back to a more modest selection. SugarHouse follows the same trend, and they offer only four types of table games: Blackjack, Roulette, Three Card Poker, and Let It Ride.
I will begin with the two outliers: Three Card Poker and Let It Ride are both the usual implementations from game developer SHFL. They feature the usual paytables and expected return to player. On the base bet, Three Card Poker returns 96.63%, while Let It Ride has an RTP (return to player) of 96.49%. Fans of these games will be well aware of the sidebets offered.
Blackjack, Five Varieties
For blackjack, the casino offers five varieties, including two exclusive to SugarHouse. All the games are quite well implemented, and with one exception they all feature a low house edge of less than half a percent (RTP is higher than 99.5%). The exception is the SugarHouse Single Deck Blackjack, where blackjack pays 6:5 instead of the normal 3:2. Even here the RTP is a decent 98.74%, thanks in part to the availability of late surrender.
Perhaps the most innovative of the blackjack offerings is one of the exclusives, developed by SugarHouse parent Rush Street Interactive. It's the SugarHouse Multi-Bet Blackjack, with optional side bets. You begin by selecting one of four betting limits, ranging from $0.10 to $10 at one end, to $100 to $1000 at the top end.
On the game table, you can bet up to three hands, along with three optional side bets per hand. That's a total of 12 bet opportunities per hand. The side bets are 21+3, Lucky Ladies, and Lucky Lucky. Here I've loaded up the table with all 12 bets, although at the minimum bet size of $0.10. (I'm a purist, and don't often play the sidebets!)
That hand turned out pretty well. I doubled the first hand, won several of the sidebets, and ended up with all three hands a winner...
The most intriguing aspect of this particular blackjack game is that, unlike almost all online blackjack games, they do NOT shuffle after every hand. Now hold on a minute, you card counters don't get too excited about this one because the deck penetration is set at 20%. That is, anytime the shoe is under 80% of the original 6 decks, it will be shuffled after the conclusion of this hand. In this screenshot, look at the upper right corner and you'll see that the shoe had 79% remaining as I played out the hands. Once the hand was over, the cards were shuffled.
While a blackjack game with 20% penetration isn't exactly the keys to the kingdom, it certainly helps to know when the remaining deck has more aces and faces left than usual! If you like to track the cards that have been played, there are precious few chances to utilize that skill when playing online. So here is a golden exception for you.
Roulette, also five varieties
There is no casino sound more unique than that of a roulette ball spinning around the wheel and finally dropping into a slot. Indeed, this sound is such a part of the game that it is always present even in the online versions. SugarHouse offers five versions of the casino classic, and all but one are worth a look. I'm leaving out the "American Roulette", aka "Classic Roulette" by NetEnt. In my opinion, there's no reason at all to play a game with double zeros, when other games are available for similar stakes.
Among the others, you have two choices that offer a basic single-zero game: Roulette (IGT), and Roulette Master (NextGen). Unless you are high roller who needs the higher limits available on the NextGen version, it really comes down to which game you prefer for the user interface.
Another viable choice is IGT's Double Bonus Spin Roulette, which actually has a slightly higher RTP at 98.06%. Rounding out the roulette options is Three Wheel Roulette, a variant which spins three concentric wheels for each bet.
Video Poker: Tricky, be careful!
SugarHouse offers video poker games from just two developers, IGT and Spin Games. In reviews for other casinos, I have often stated my opinion that the IGT "Game King" games are simply excellent. They behave just like their counterparts in the land-based casinos, and the ability to use the keyboard for play makes them blazingly fast to play. (Turn this on in options, and then use numbers 1 through 5 to hold, and the spacebar to deal/draw.)
The paytables are good on all of the IGT single line games: Jacks or Better (9/6) is the highest at RTP 99.54%. The other games offered are Bonus Poker (8/5 at 99.17%), Double Double Bonus (9/6 at 98.98%), and Double Bonus (9/7/5 at 99.11%).
Also available are the IGT multi-line games in Triple Play and Five Play varieties. There are a total of 12 different games available on each, so they really provide a lot of diversity. However, the paytables in the multi-line games are not as good. For example, the Jacks or Better game is a 9/5 variety, yielding 98.45%. The other games have similarly reduced paytables.
The games from developer Spin Games are another issue entirely. Be very careful with these games, as they all appear to short-pay the royal flush at only 250 times your bet, rather than the usual 800 times your bet. This payoff is common if you bet less than max coins on a machine in a land-based casino, but here it appears that your bet size does not matter. All bets seem to be subject to the reduced payoff. Look at the paytable in this screenshot:
With the royal flush paying only 250 times the 5 coin bet, a royal flush on this $1.25 bet would pay only $312.50 instead of the normal $1000! With that change, this "9/5" Jacks or Better paytable returns only 97.22% rather than the expected 98.45%. I don't know if this is an oversight or intentional, but you should stick to the IGT games until it changes. It would be very frustrating to hit a royal on a 5-coin bet and receive only 1250 coins instead of the expected 4000.
First Deposit Bonus
The promotional offer for new players at SugarHouse was recently increased, and it remains a particularly good one because the playthrough terms are exceptionally easy.
You get a 100% match on your first deposit of up to $250. What makes this special is that the wagering requirement is only 1X. That is, you need to play through your bonus money only one time on slots or video poker. After that, the money is released and is yours to use as you want. You can then play any games that you want, or withdraw the entire balance. With so many of the operators in NJ requiring 30X or more playthrough on bonuses, this is a welcome relief.
In addition, the entire bonus process seems really well thought out to prevent some of the confusion that often surrounds bonus offers. For example, once you have completed the bonus requirements, you will get a message to let you know.
As usual, I'll remind you that bonus offers and promotions can and do change regularly. Be sure to check the SugarHouse website for the latest details.
Where SugarHouse really shines
So far, I have described a very competent offering of an online casino, with only a few minor complaints. But while interacting with their site, I couldn't help but feel there was more to it than that. The SugarHouse team seems to really understand what players want, and go out of their way to provide it. For example, take a look at the options for searching the games at the casino:
Look in the yellow circle, and you will see that one of the options is to show games that are "> 100% Payback in Past Hour". In this case, players on the game 5 Dragons have had a lucky streak, and the game has returned 364% in the past hour. How cool is that?!
Would you like to know how big a win can happen on a particular game? Hover over a game, and you'll see something like this:
This shows that the game 88 Fortunes had a huge payout on April 24th, with a win of 955X the bet. That lets you know what kind of wins are possible on any given game.
Loyalty Program and Rewards
As you play at SugarHouse, there are several ways that the casino rewards your loyalty. First up is the loyalty program which rewards players based on their play each month. Each time that you reach a new tier level, you earn a spin on the prize wheel. Here is the wheel for me when I reached the first tier:
For this first level, the wheel tops out at just $10. But as you might expect, the higher tiers have higher prizes. Check out the list here:
And with each increase in tier, you have quite a few additional benefits for your loyalty. Check the website for the full list.
The casino also runs "Bonus Bingo" games throughout the day, and players are invited for a free chance to win bonus money. I was playing video poker when this one popped up:
All of these little extra touches really make a difference. The website of their management company Rush Street has a tagline that seems to sum up their attitude: "Respect the Game. Respect the Player." As they say in the British parliament, "Hear Hear".
Additional Month-Long Promotions
While I was playing, I was also earning scratchcards for this month's promotion King Cash's Treasure Hunt, where $50,000 in prize money will be split by players at the casino.
Each day that you play, you earn scratchcards based on how much you played. In my case, I earned three scratchcards on my first day. You scratch the cards, and earn prizes based on which token matches 3 of a kind on the card.
In addition to instant win prizes, at the end of the month, all players who have earned all 5 token types split $20,000, while those who have 4 of the 5 tokens will split $10,000.
It's just one more extra for your play. While this promotion will end on June 15, 2017, I feel sure that these kinds of competitions will be an ongoing feature at SugarHouse.
I end on a winner
Since I live in Texas, I make several trips a year to New Jersey to help me keep up to date on the NJ casinos. While here, I spend a lot of time playing online. In the case of SugarHouse, I played all day long to gather what I needed for this thorough review. Yeah, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it! :-)
Over the course of the day, I played virtually every kind of game they offer, spending roughly equal time on slots, video poker, and table games. Finally as the day wrapped up, and I felt like I had a good feel for everything they offer, I headed back to my personal favorite, video poker. My game of choice is Jacks or Better, since it has the best return over the long term.
A few minutes in, I hit the following hand:
It was a nice win at $125, but I sure wish I had hit that hand while playing Double Double Bonus earlier in the day. For the same $5 bet, that would have been a $2000 win. (If you aren't familiar with the game, Double Double Bonus pays off handsomely for four Aces, especially with a "kicker" small card. Jacks or Better pays the same for all four of a kind hands.)
Nonetheless, that was a great place to stop. I had turned my $100 deposit plus $100 bonus into a nice $251 withdrawal.
Give SugarHouse a try. I think you'll find them worth your attention.