Tag Archives: party poker

Garden State Super Series: A Strong Start is Offset by Main Event Cancellation

Party poker cancelled sunday tournament

Remember the Northeast blackout of 2003, when a small software bug set off a catastrophic chain reaction, ultimately resulting in New York City and other major locales losing power during one of the hottest stretches of the year?

Sunday night was regulated online poker’s equivalent.

During the early levels of Party / Borgata’s three scheduled Garden State Super Series (GSSS) main events (Event #11), early enough that late registration was still open, play was abruptly halted. A pop-up message would follow announcing that Party / Borgata was working through some technical difficulties.

Approximately 30 minutes before the main events began experiencing issues, another GSSS tournament (Event #12 Mid), scheduled to kick off at 6:30 PM, seated players but never began.

7:00PM’s Event #12 High $500 buy-in, $50k GTD never had a chance.

Fast-forward to just before 8:00 PM and the paused main events were terminated, and with it $370,000 of the series’ $1,000,000 guaranteed  prize money left in limbo. An expected bevy of outrage and damnation directed towards New Jersey’s iPoker market share leader ensued.

And thus concluded what was otherwise a modestly successful week for US regulated online tournament poker. Oh well.

Party / Borgata’s initial reaction

According to several player accounts, including my own, Party / Borgata’s customer service team offered few answers regarding the nature of the technical problems.

They did however, point players towards the network’s tournament cancellation policy, which states the following:

“Players still in the tournament will be refunded the amount that would have been awarded to the next player to be eliminated from the tournament. 50% of the remaining prize pool will be distributed equally between the remaining players, and 50% will be distributed on a percentage basis according to each player’s chip count. The remaining players will also be refunded their entry fee.”

The full breadth of Borgata’s cancellation policies can be found here.

Because the tournaments in question were not yet in the money, player refund calculations were a bit less involved than they would have been otherwise.

Following the cancellations, one of the most common player questions was whether or not Party was going to honor the guarantee for Event #12 Mid, which at the time of its closure, offered an approximately $66,000 overlay. Thankfully, they would, in turn dispelling notions that Party / Borgata sabotaged their own tournaments to dodge paying out house money.

Refunds began going out at around 8:45 PM, a mere fifty minutes after tournament tables were closed. This was prefaced by an a brief apology and explanation from Party’s representative on the Two Plus Two forums.

Party Group Poker Director Issues Apology

Roughly 24 hours after Sunday night’s debacle, Jeffrey Haas issued a formal apology and thorough explanation of what occurred on the company blog, along with the network’s plans going forward.

Using the phrase “unmitigated disaster” to describe the unfortunate turn of events, Haas went on to elaborate that the crash was tournament specific, which was why the network’s cash games, SNGs and casino offerings were unaffected.

He specified that a patch designed to resolve the issue has already been deployed, which in theory should prevent future calamities.

The apology concluded with a reiteration of Party / Borgata’s cancellation policy and a surprise gesture from the network which will see an additional $50,000 in prize money added to next Sunday’s GSSS events (Events #19 – #21). Unfortunately, Sunday’s tournaments will not be re-run.

What Haas failed to address is how edge cases, including refunds for satellite ticket holders will be handled. And while Party’s assurance that a crash of this magnitude will likely never occur again, this isn’t the first time such a malady has occurred during a Sunday Major, and there’s little faith that it will be the last.

Player reaction to Haas’ solution ranged from tepid to warm, with the majority of the network’s high profile players believing it a suitable solution to an unforgivable occurrence.

That being said, in the initial aftermath there was an outcropping of players who swore off Party / Borgata for good, with some stating that they will transferring funds off the network and onto WSOP.com and/or PokerStars NJ when it launches, presumably in October.

Otherwise, GSSS is a hit

Sunday’s travesty is made all the more unfortunate by the successes Party / Borgata’s previous GSSS were enjoying.

Here’s a quick look at how last week’s larger GSSS tournaments fared:

  • Event #4 High, $72 + $20 + $8 NLHE Bounty, $15,000 guaranteed: Drew 261 runners in creating an $18,792 prize pool.
  • Event #5 High, $91 + $9 NLHE, $20,000 guaranteed: Attracted 245 entrants, enough to surpass its guarantee by $2,295.
  • Event #6 High, $45 + $5 Rebuy + Add-on NLHE, $20,000 guaranteed: 239 players would rebuy and add-on 156 and 155 times, respectively, creating a $24,750 prize pool.
  • Event #9 High, $91 + $9 NLHE $20,000 guaranteed: Scraped by its guarantee by $2,568. Drew 248 participants.
  • Event #10 High, $45 + $5 Rebuy + Add-on NLHE, $20,000 guaranteed: 213 entrants ponied up 170 rebuys and 146 add-ons, in total creating a $23,805 prize pool.

It appeared that Event #11 Mid would have been the first major event on the GSSS schedule to not crush its minimum benchmark. This parallels the pattern exhibited by the network’s earlier attempt to host a prestigious cross-promotional online MTT series in April – the NJCOP.

Cash game traffic on Party / Borgata was also on the rise, albeit modestly. According to data collected from PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, 7-day averages are currently hovering at 146 – up 3.5 percent over the week prior.

Over the same time frame, Party / Borgata’s staunchest competitor WSOP.com would experience modest losses.

It’s just too bad the GSSS will ultimately be remembered for what it failed to accomplish, rather than Party’s prompt and serviceable solution to Sunday’s disaster and its prior successes.

New Jersey Traffic Report: Finally, the Market Shows Signs of Life…but Don’t Celebrate Just Yet

New Jersey online poker traffic up, hopefully for the long run.

It would take the changing of the season, the advent of one $1,000,000 guaranteed tournament series and a higher than usual proportion of poker players residing in the state, but online poker traffic in New Jersey has finally begun to trend upward.

The latest uptick follows a four week downturn which saw the Garden State’s iPoker operators forgo an alarming 16.6 percent of their already pithy cash game traffic. The industry’s bad run would culminate in 7-day cash averages falling below the 300 threshold since…well, its very first week.

But now that the industry has shown signs of life, several questions emerge. Most notably:

  • How much is the GSSS and Borgata Poker Open to thank for the increased volume?
  • Along similar lines, how much of NJ’s resurgence can be tied to the expected seasonal uptrend?
  • Is the latest trend a false positive?

The “Party” has started

According to data collected from PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, 7-day cash game averages across all New Jersey networks are as follows (two-week prior figures in parenthesis):

Notice that the recent traffic surge wasn’t powerful enough (at least not yet) to undo the damage of the past two weeks. During that time, the market is down 2.1 percent.

Compare this to the global market, which had an outstanding two week run (+4.9 percent).

However, over the course of just the past two days, volume in NJ has risen a healthy 8.4 percent, vastly exceeding the gains put up by International sites.

Remember though, that PokerScout’s numbers reflect weekly rolling averages. It’s therefore conceivable that the precipitous gains experienced by NJ’s iPoker industry were more a reflection of Labor Day’s figures (which were justifiably dismal) being removed from the tally than they were increased interest in NJ online poker.

But we’ll try to stay optimistic.

At +15.3 percent since September 8th, Party / Borgata has been far and away the biggest beneficiary of the recent gains. Volume on 888 is also up a modest 5.1 percent since last weekend.

On a less positive note, traffic on WSOP is sloping slightly downwards. However, with most of the site’s September promos having just kicked off or poised to do so next week, I do expect volume to pick up shortly.

Taken together, the data leads me towards two conclusions:

  • New Jersey’s iPoker industry is still being outperformed by the global market, although the gap is narrowing.
  • The GSSS is allowing Party / Borgata to keep pace with seasonal growth patterns, despite having not yet realized its full potential.

The Garden State Super Series so far

At the time of this writing, fifteen of the Series’ sixty scheduled events are in the books. I can proudly say that in addition to having a pronounced effect on cash game traffic, the GSSS is breathing new life into the state’s online tournament scene.

Here’s a look at the turnout figures for the GSSS’ high buy-in events:

  • Event #1 High – $200 buy-in, $75k guarantee NLHE: 417 runners, $77,145 prize pool
  • Event #2 High – $100 buy-in, $25k guarantee NLHE: 341 runners, $31,031 prize pool
  • Event #3 High – $50 buy-in, $20k guarantee PLO 6Max Rebuy: 167 entrants, 128 rebuys and 94 add-ons, $2,495 overlay
  • Event #4 High – $100 buy-in, $15k guarantee NLHE Bounty: 261 runners, $18,792 prize pool
  • Event #5 High – $100 buy-in, $20k guarantee NLHE: 245 runners, $22,295 prize pool

It looks like that overall, every single NLHE hosted thus far has at least met, if not smashed its preset guarantee. Party / Borgata’s accomplishment is made all the more remarkable considering that the network is hosting at least three GSSS events per day.

Even two of the three PLO events beat their minimum benchmark, boding well for the remaining alternative format events on the schedule.

While it’s impossible to measure the effect the Borgata Poker Open is having on GSSS turnouts, one thing is for certain: Party / Borgata’s latest cross-promotional foray is already proving more successful than April’s marriage between the NJCOP and the WPT World Championship.

Expect the action to ramp up as we head towards Sunday’s main event. Although after that point I do anticipate player attention gravitating more towards the live WPT Championship at the Borgata.

But the Party isn’t over yet.

Prediction: Winners and Losers of a Shared Liquidity Agreement Between NJ and NV

Impact of potential shared liquidity agreement between New Jersey and Nevada

As first reported by Howard Stutz of the Las Vegas Review-Journal via Twitter, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has allegedly spoken to Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval regarding the possibility of a shared liquidity agreement between the state’s two online poker industries.

Thus concluded a busy day in New Jersey’s gambling industry, one in which Christie issued a directive which effectively gave the green light to NJ-based horse racing venues and casinos to start accepting sports wagers, and where a closed door gaming summit was held to discuss the future of the rapidly crumbling Atlantic City.

Given AC’s recent struggles, compounded by the underachievement of NJ’s online gambling industry, the only surprise regarding Christie’s comment is that it took this long for him and Sandoval to discuss sharing player pools across state lines.

An interstate compact between Nevada and New Jersey would have far reaching ramifications on the US’s nascent iGaming industry, both on its short term sustainability and long term growth prospects. But as we’ll soon see, not everyone involved will make out like a thief in the night.

Winners of a shared liquidity agreement:

Delaware

Delaware and Nevada entered into the regulated iGaming industry’s first interstate compact last February. Although the arrangement was originally projected to go live sometime in Q4 2014, 888‘s soon-to-be former CEO Brian Mattingley has indicated that early-2015 is a more realistic timeline.

In the meantime, 888 plans to launch the All American Poker Network in Nevada, which will see 888′s newly self-branded room share liquidity with the industry’s market share leader in WSOP NV and a Treasure Island branded online poker room. It is presumed that Delaware’s three 888-powered poker rooms will join the AAPN when the compact comes to pass., accounting for six skins in total.

Should New Jersey join the multi-jurisdiction AAPN (us.888poker.com already belongs to the AAPN in New Jersey), players from Delaware would gain access to a substantially larger player pool, which should be enough to attract the attention of those who up until now, have refrained from creating an online poker account due to nearly non-existent traffic levels.

888 / WSOP

When WSOP.com  joins the AAPN in New Jersey, which barring intervention from the DGE appears to be the plan, the AAPN would almost undoubtedly usurp PartyPoker NJ in the state’s market share standings. Factor in access to players from Nevada and Delaware, and the AAPN may even be able to thrive amid the presence of PokerStars.

According to data collected from PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, 7-day cash game traffic averages across all 888-powered poker rooms operating in the United States is currently hovering around the 270 marker. That’s already more than double Party‘s numbers.

If one (correctly) assumes that 888′s poker rooms would draw more interest as a cohesive unit than as independently operating skins, then the prospect of average cash game liquidity figures that far exceed current totals aren’t out of the question.

And with greater turnouts come increased cash flow, marketing opportunities and brand awareness. Not to mention, the AAPN will be at the forefront of any future liquidity compacts between NJ/DE/NV and other smaller states that introduce legal online poker.

Professional players

While recreational players stand to gain some measurable benefits from a shared liquidity compact between NJ and NV, it’s the pros –who haven’t had the opportunity to record big scores since prior to Black Friday – that will truly benefit.

As per Chris Grove of Online Poker Report, New Jersey’s iPoker industry is only approximately twice the size of Nevada’s, despite the former boasting more than triple the population and convenient access to two major out-of-state cities in New York City and Philadelphia.

What this means is that should NV pool its players with NJ, liquidity on the Garden State’s sites will increase at a greater rate than what Nevada’s added population alone would indicate. And keeping in mind that liquidity begets more liquidity, it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see regular $100,000 tournament guarantees, better player loyalty programs, and a sustainable fast-fold community.

Losers of a shared liquidity agreement:

PokerStars

Although there is no bad actor clause in New Jersey and Delaware, Nevada law prohibits operators that “knowingly and intentionally offered interactive gaming in the US” after December 31, 2006 from licensure for a five year period beginning from the time online poker was legalized in the state (February 2013).

Long story short, that means PokerStars won’t be participating in the shared pooling agreement between Nevada and New Jersey.

And presuming the online gaming giant has little interest in setting up shop in Delaware, PokerStars will remain ring fenced to New Jersey – at least for the foreseeable future.

While this may not seem like a big deal initially, as more states join the iGaming mix, each state that invokes a bad actor clause is one more state where PokerStars will not have a measurable presence.

As a result, players may flock to sites that offer access to a larger potential player pool, lessening the chances of PokerStars asserting its dominance over the industry.

Opponents of online gambling from small states

The allure of joining the AAPN may coerce smaller states on the proverbial iGaming fence, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut, to enter the mix. That doesn’t bode well for Sheldon Adelson types who advocate against the legalization of online poker.

A legion of smaller states that share liquidity may also pose a threat to larger operations in Pennsylvania and California, eventually leading them to also enter into interstate compacts.

In other words, a compact between New Jersey and Nevada could very well set off a much needed domino effect that hastens the pace at which states pass legislation. Which is good news, as thus far, the industry has grown as something akin to a gimped snail’s pace.

Who is to Blame for Uninspiring Online Poker Software?

Who is at fault for low quality poker software?

Online poker players have been chirping about the quality of the software that is being used by online poker providers in regulated U.S. markets from Day 1.

The software online poker players had grown accustomed to pre-Black Friday (now over three years ago) was light years ahead of the current software being used. This regression has rankled many players, and created an audible longing for the return of PokerStars.

It’s not hard to understand where this disappointment and outrage is coming from; imagine if Apple’s latest iPhone release stripped out all of its features, and was little more than a 1995 Motorola Flip-Phone?

The idea that in 2014 this is the best these online poker companies can provide us with simply doesn’t seem possible. So why is this the product we are left to use?

Who, if anyone, is to blame for the lackluster online poker software in the U.S.?

The state of New Jersey

The first finger of blame should be pointed at New Jersey.

Before we start berating the sites and the regulators, let’s not forget the ultra-aggressive launch schedule (nine months) that would make Isildur1 blush and say, “wow, that’s pretty aggressive.”

The reality of the situation is that because of the accelerated launch schedule the sites were essentially forced by the state to get their product to market as fast as possible, and that meant stripping down their software to make sure the DGE was able to approve it.

One prominent casino CEO stated that ideally he would have liked a couple years to get ready for the launch, but the accelerated timeline forced them to work harder. What he left unsaid was whether or not this was a good thing or not, and how much better the product would have been if they were given more time.

To be fair, rushing hasn’t been an issue in Nevada, where regulators have chosen the slow and steady approach when it comes to online poker sites.

Ultimate Poker launched in April of 2013 with close to two years to get their product ready. They did so with a completely bare-bones platform (it’s since been upgraded but still well behind what players have available on the global market) that was underwhelming.

The January launch of South Point’s Real Gaming poker site was one of the worst products online poker has seen in recent memory. South Point has also upgraded their software to a certain level of respectability since.

So, while accelerated timelines may have played a role in New Jersey, Nevada has shown us they certainly aren’t the only factor.

Regulation Procedure

What many players who criticize the sites don’t understand is the sites do have better software available – I’ve seen it with my own eyes and so have you. They do have more features and more games, and waiting lists!

The problem is, in these new regulated markets the regulators must sign off on all software features, and this has caused the online operators to launch with a stripped-down software client in order to get their software approved and into the market in a timely fashion.

The DGE’s Technical Services Chief Eric Weiss recently told OnlinePokerReport.com:

“The Technical Services Bureau employs mathematicians, electrical engineers, programmers, and IT Security Specialists to evaluate the products that are submitted for approval… we assigned staff who are familiar with poker rules to evaluate the game play and fraud detection.”

Weiss went on to say, “We utilized volunteers from various Bureaus of the Division for game play evaluation and used specialists to conduct the technical evaluation.”

Of course, there is only so much money in the budget, and it’s likely that the regulators in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware are learning a lot of these things on the fly. As one industry source with knowledge of the process who wished to remain anonymous told me, the process is slow and there is a lot of red tape.

This certainly makes sense when we compare certain sites’  global and New Jersey product.

This slow process can be verified, since we have seen that updates approved in one state may not be approved in another, which seems to indicate there is a learning curve for regulators.

If some sites’ global products run better and have more features than their U.S. products, shouldn’t we start pointing the finger at the regulators as the reason the New Jersey online poker software is three, four, or possibly five releases behind their global product?

Fortunately, this seems like an area that has improved and will continue to improve exponentially as regulators get a better handle on online poker software, and as operators fall into rhythm with the regulators.

Online Poker Sites

Finally, the sites themselves have to take some culpability as well. Nobody forced them to launch with an inferior product, they decided they needed to do so in order to get the perceived first-mover advantage, or to avoid being left behind and playing catch-up with their peers.

However, they may have done so at the expense of their long-term prospects in the market.

As 888 CEO Brian Mattingley told me in an interview, “if a potential customer has their credit card rejected they probably won’t play again,” and this same logic can be applied to players who have bad experiences with a site’s software.

Some of the early software has been so bad that it has no doubt soured people to online poker.

I’m sure there were plenty of people who took to the online poker tables for the very first time when Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware launched their industries and experienced disconnect issues, or lag and choppy graphics, or features that would have been annoying the last time they played in 2004.

These players will probably shun online poker for another 10 years. In their mind, nothing has changed.

Solutions for Live and Online Poker Convergence

Solving online and live gambler convergence

Convergence, the joining together of their online and live players has been one of the key goals of the major casino corporations that have launched online poker sites in the three legal U.S. markets.

Thus far the creation of the fabled multi-channel customer has not come to fruition.

There are multiple reasons for this failure.

Operators have failed in their marketing efforts, particularly in cross-promotion of their online and brick & mortar brands, and online players and live players are rarely motivated by the same marketing and promotional efforts, with very little crossover between the two demographics.

Here are some thoughts on what mistakes have been made and what can be done to bring about these multi-channel customers.

Old habits die hard

The current model in place at most online poker sites around the globe is to reward the highest volume players at your site with progressively better rewards, and this is precisely the model legal online poker sites in the U.S. have decided to follow as well.

They are trying to attract players with a slow-clearing deposit bonus that is released in small increments, instead of free, up-front cash. What they are finding is they are attracting online players and not potential brick & mortar customers.

My biggest complaint isn’t the use of deposit bonuses though, that can be forgiven as it’s an attractive marketing tool. My biggest complaint is that the rewards programs and promotions offered are almost exclusively geared towards the best players, and almost without exception are paid in online currency.

Online poker sites are using the highly targeted marketing methods the online industry (and brick & mortar for that matter) has employed for several years now – namely, targeting high volume players with increasingly better rewards.

“Win a tournament or make a final table and receive this prize!”

“Finish atop our leaderboard and receive this amount of money in your online account!”

“The more you play the higher you’ll rank on our rewards program!”

This model, as I’ll now explain, is the absolute worst way to create a multi-channel customer.

Progressive Rewards

The idea that “the more you play the more valuable you are to us” is a great mantra to follow, but it can’t operate in a vacuum.

Oddly enough, brick & mortar poker rooms use flat rewards systems (for the most part, there is usually two tiers based on stakes) and this is certainly something online sites should explore as well. I’m not saying they need to do away with progressive rewards, but they might want to considering flattening them a bit, raising the rewards of the lower tiers and reducing those of the higher tiers.

If you don’t offset the rewards being handed out to your best players you will alienate potential new customers, and potential multi-channel customers.

Eventually, an overemphasis on your top players will slowly degrade your ecosystem, and create a player base continually taking bites out of your already small margins.

I certainly understand the benefit of rewarding your best and seemingly most loyal customers, but in the new world of online poker run by casino corporations this can lead to very bad long-term consequences – consequences online-only companies never had to worry about as they were more than happy to keep customers out of casinos and didn’t care one way or another.

These players, the online grinders, are there for one reason only, to make money.

Yes, they play more and possibly for higher stakes, but when you factor in what it takes to make them happy, rewarding these high-volume players can actually cost your company money. This is even more of a factor in regulated markets like New Jersey where a sizable chunk of your revenue goes straight to the state in the form of taxes so you have even smaller margins to work with.

Another problem with being focused on high volume players is you have to constantly do better to bring back players that have stopped gambling or were lured away by a better offer from a competitor. These players are constantly trying to increase their margins while decreasing yours and will not hesitate to jump ship if a better offer is presented to them from a competitor.

Yes, these players are the low-hanging fruit, and everyone should go after it. But, we also need some risk-takers in the online poker sphere. People willing to grow the player base by finding creative ways to collect the higher, untouched fruit, even if it means passing over some of the low-hanging fruit.

Right now it seems like we are simply watching a race to gobble up all the easy pickings.

Cross Promotions

So far, there is little being done in the way of cross-promotion between land-based and online poker rooms / casinos.

There are some examples of cross-over promotions:

But by and large, most of the rewards players earn online stay online and vice versa – another byproduct of progressive rewards where the top online grinders only want online-based rewards.

In order to turn land-based gamblers into online gamblers and online gamblers into brick & mortar customers the casinos will have to be more assertive, and essentially hold their hand and lead them straight to it.

What casual players want

Before I delve into some ideas to create this convergence I want to explain what the typical casual poker player’s motives are, because this seems to have been lost in the shuffle ever since the Poker Boom, when people started to realize poker was a game of skill.

First and foremost, in order to bring in these new players the current marketing campaigns will have to be adjusted, since unlike the money-hungry grinder, the reason the average person gambles is precisely that: To gamble and have fun.

Yes poker is a game of skill, and most of these players understand this, but it’s also fun and entertaining at the same time and that, not the skillfulness and competition, is what brings most of them to your tables.

Since they are not gambling to explicitly make money, the current rewards being offered are anything but fun or enticing to them. The current promotions are generally slow (with incremental payouts), highly structured with lots of fine print, and clearly benefit only a small group of players. A group that even most causal players know they have no shot of joining based on their skill and the amount they play.

The idea that they will ever finish atop a rake-chase leaderboard is preposterous, even to them.

If you were to ask the average casual poker player if he’d rather lose $100 and have a great time, or only lose $80 but have a blasé experience, I would bet most would choose option A.

Ask that same question to grinders: Would you rather win $100 and have a blasé time, or only win $80 but have a blast, and the overwhelming majority are going with Option A.

For the casual player it’s about the experience, and for the grinder it’s simply about the money. But all the rewards are geared towards the “money” players.

Marketing efforts are bringing in more Grinders

By exclusively rewarding the people who use online poker as a source of income (designing all your promotions and rewards around their motives), online poker sites are also rewarding the players who are least likely to visit their brick & mortar properties and give them the multi-channel customer they so desperately want.

Anecdotally, we have known this to be the case for many years; winning online players poo-poo live poker. They find it boring and surprise, surprise, less rewarding monetarily due to its lower rewards, higher rake, and other factors like tipping.

Online players look down on live poker as -EV.

It would seem to be a given that in order to create convergence an online poker site should seek out casual players, but data is now starting to show that the targeted marketing that is currently being used is attracting more of these grinders, and less casual players who might visit an online poker room’s corresponding casino.

In their Wave 2 study (page 25), Commercial Intelligence asked the question, what promotions have influenced you to register with an online site, and found that Registration Bonuses and Free Spins (online specific rewards) have increased by 8% since January, and Hotel Stays and Comp Dollars (convergent rewards) at the brick & mortar properties have decreased by 10%:

  Wave 1: January 2014 Wave 2: June 2014 Change %
Registration Bonus 28 32 +4%
Free Spins 19 23 +4%
Hotel Stays 25 19 -6%
Comp Dollars 23 19 -4%

 

Most people would say this simply demonstrates what online players want, but when I see that data I see it more as a byproduct of the current marketing.

What this indicates to me is the player base in New Jersey is becoming more online specific, and part of the reason is quite likely the targeting of online players over casual gamblers by the sites, as most promotions follow the “reward high volume players” dictate.

We know online and live customers start out differently, so if you don’t make your online site appealing to a non-online player they will never join, and vice versa. If the sites had pushed their Comp Dollars and Hotel Stays online (instead of deposit bonuses and free spins) would we have seen the appeal of those increase because the player pool would have more multi-channel customers?

Caesars has been quoted as saying 91% of their online players were not rated in their Total Rewards Program, and the Borgata has indicated that 80% of their online customers were also unrated for at least two years.

The fact of the matter is, offering gambling online does not automatically appeal to brick & mortar customers, and adding online to your list of products does not guarantee your new online customers will visit your brick & mortar property.

They need a push.

An idea for those empty hotel rooms

Earlier I stated that several sites have engaged in some cross-promoting of their online and brick & mortar products, but even in these isolated cases it’s more ancillary in nature. The online sites are not sending players to their Brick & Mortar properties so much as they are sending them to sporting events, or to a tournament with no guarantee of being a hotel guest or doing any further gambling.

My advice, especially in New Jersey but also in Nevada, is to give away those empty hotel rooms like they are, well… empty hotel rooms.

More importantly, give them away to virtually everyone, from the lowliest micro-stakes grinder to the whales. And give them away randomly.

The sites should randomly award a free night stay for every $x amount collected in tournament fees for every tournament.

For instance, if you determine the number to be a 1-night stay for every $200, and a tournament rakes $800, you hand out four free nights immediately. If another $200 is raked during late registration another night is given away when late registration closes.

Taking this even further, online tourneys could have mystery rewards based on “hidden objectives” players are unaware of until they accomplish them. We could balance rewarding grinders and casual players by having both good and bad objectives:

  • First to be knocked out
  • The bubble boy
  • Worst bad beat
  • The highest hand
  • Most knockouts

What could the rewards for these be?

  • Exclusive parties at the brick & mortar property
  • Free gifts that need to be picked up at the brick & mortar property (these can range from a six pack of Pepsi to mini kitchen appliances to cruise tickets)
  • Slot-play and match-play coupons
  • Personal host service, so even the micro-stakes people can know what it feels like

Imagine being eliminated on the first hand when your Aces are cracked and seeing a message that says, “Congratulations, you just won a free night stay at the Borgata!” Or, being eliminated in 18th place but seeing, “Congratulations you’ve won personal host service at Caesars for having the highest hand during the tournament!”

Yet another potential way to bring online players to your property is to run a bounty tournament where instead of money, each bounty is worth a random prize draw at the brick & mortar casino (again, these can range from a six pack of Pepsi to mini kitchen appliances to cruise tickets).

Keep the Grinders happy too

And not to leave the better players out, why not give the winner of the Sunday Major a two night stay with other special comps, such as a $200 food voucher and host service at your Brick & Mortar casino? And perhaps one month, award every tournament winner a free night stay?

In order to have a convergence of live and online play you need to get these online players to your properties, and giving away a free hotel stay and other land-based casino prizes to a player that has never considered spending a night in your hotel is a good start.

After a few months some players are likely to have banked five or six nights, which means five or six nights of gambling in your brick & mortar casino, which if I’m not mistaken, is one of the main reasons why these casinos wanted when they got into the online poker industry.

The same idea could be used for event and show tickets. Basically, give every player a chance at them, and then reward your high-volume players as well.

If they have a good experience at your property you probably have created a multi-channel customer on the cheap.

An idea to create new online players

On a similar note, why not give all hotel guests a scratch off card where they will receive either $10, $25, $50, or $100, deposited directly into their online account for each night’s stay?

Most of that money will never be cashed out so it would seem like a win-win. This would also be a great lure for online players who are on the fence about visiting your property.

You could have a designated person at the front desk help set up their online account with them, and bingo, you have a new online customer.

Final thoughts on convergence

The fact of the matter is, convergence isn’t going to simply “happen,” which seems to have been the thought process when these casino corporations launched their online gaming sites: If Player x likes to play blackjack at the Borgata, Player x will also like blackjack at BorgataCasino.com online.

What we’ve seen so far is Player x needs a serious push to play online in addition to his brick & mortar visits, and the best way to get him to play online is to reward him with promotions that he can use at your brick & mortar property.

Casinos could then track the amount of play these players give, and tweak their hotel giveaways and free online money giveaways accordingly.

Yes, players seem to prefer deposit bonuses, but let’s not only give them deposit bonuses, or tiered VIP Programs. In order to grab the fruit that it is out of reach we need a different plan and it’s this out of reach fruit that has the best chance to become the valuable multi-channel customer.

PartyPoker / Borgata’s Latest Software Patch

A Review of PartyPoker and Borgata's newest software

Following in the footsteps of their cash-game oriented patch in May, the partnership of borgatapoker.com and nj.partypoker.com has rolled out rather extensive changes to its software, this time with an emphasis on its tournament and sit and go lobby displays.

Other highlights include a new cashiering method, a bevy of miscellaneous in-game features and improved mobile geolocation technology. These updates are designed to augment the overall user experience.

Sounds good, but is Party / Borgata’s new patch the game changer players have been yearning for, or just another half-hearted attempt to rectify what is in the eyes of many, an aesthetically pretty and modern yet much maligned piece of online poker software?

The tournament side panel

Perhaps the most notable change to the tournament lobby is the inclusion of a side panel. Acting as sort of an informational hub, the panel displays pertinent information regarding the tournament in question, such as its status, prize pool, buy-in, the number of players enrolled and the maximum permitted.

From the panel, players can click on one or more icons to trigger a tabbed pop-up display. Here, additional information related to the tournament can be viewed, including detailed descriptions and any applicable satellites.

For the most part, the side panel serves merely to save players an extra mouse click. That being said, the ability to view all qualifying satellites to any given tournament from the pop-up display is an exceedingly useful feature that should cut down on the amount of time players are forced to scour the lobby.

Sit & go amendments

Remember how Party / Borgata’s last software patch allowed players the option to “de-group” cash-game tables? Well, the duo’s latest patch does the same thing for S&G’s, except in reverse.

Instead of viewing an encyclopedic like list of available single table tournaments, by checking “Group Sit & Go’s” players now have the option to group them by stake and format. In theory, it’s a solid change that effectively cleans up the S&G lobby. But the inability to view the names and number of registered players from the side panel is a major deterrent.

There’s perhaps nothing more frustrating than registering for a tournament only to find that every other seat is either occupied by an established regular or not occupied at all. It’s for this reason that I can’t see too many players taking full advantage of the new grouping feature.

Tournament ticket changes

Behind the addition of wait lists, an overhaul to the way players can find and sort through their tournament tickets was probably the most heavily requested change among members of New Jersey’s online poker community.

And for the most part, Party / Borgata delivered.

Now, players can readily access their tournament tickets from the main lobby. Unfortunately, the “My Tickets” icon, which resides in the lower right-hand portion of the lobby, can be a bit hard to identify.

As for the tournament tickets menu itself, the only major change is the ability to delineate between Sit & Go and MTT tickets.

Unfortunately, access to the filter requires an additional click, when it could have easily been on full display from the tournament tickets menu. It’s a small oversight, but one worth noting.

Should players possess a ticket to a tournament or MTT, a special icon will be displayed next to the event’s name from the corresponding lobby. Ironically, the icon is not displayed from the new grouped Sit & Go lobby, further limiting its usefulness.

In-game features stand out

Via a swatch of new user-friendly in-game features, Party / Borgata has boldly vaulted its software into the mid-2000′s era.

Better late than never.

Among the highlights of the software’s new table toys include the ability to:

  • Automatically rebuy or add-on in tournaments
  • Use tournament tickets for said add-ons and rebuys, as well as heads-up rematches
  • More readily view the current blind level from the tournament lobby
  • View fast-forward hand histories independently from standard format cash-game histories

Seeing as Party has been in the software business since around the time of my senior prom, I’m of the mind that most of these features should have been included in the launch product. Regardless, they’re welcome additions.

Mobile geolocation and cash at the cage

Finally, Party / Borgata has implemented two improvements that appear specifically targeted towards improving traffic during the Borgata Poker Open and upcoming Garden State Super Seriesimproved mobile geo-targeting and more varied cash at the cage options.

Due to an upgrade to its geolocation technology, logging on to Party / Borgata’s mobile software is no longer a rage-inducing experience.  From my HTC One M8 smartphone I was able to log-in and partake in real-money cash-games from just about any location, regardless if I was using wi-fi or 4g.

By implementing enhancements to its mobile app, Party / Borgata should be able to circumvent the location issues that plagued users during its first foray into the world of cross-promotional events back in April.

The second miscellaneous change has less to do with Party’s software than it does the means in which players stationed at the Borgata can load and withdraw funds onto their online account.

To elaborate, throughout the Borgata Poker Open, PartyPoker NJ is allowing players to perform basic cashiering functions straight from the Borgata’s casino cage.

Borgata Poker instituted similar changes several months earlier.

Together, these two new features should promote a traffic surge on the network throughout September.

On a side, I’m baffled that Party / Borgata’s mobile application has yet to allow players to register and participate in MTTs. Do they not want players to simultaneously grind out GSSS and Open events?

Conclusion: Party / Borgata’s patch a worthy, yet incomplete upgrade

Party / Borgata’s latest software overhaul is neither awe-inspiring nor forgettable. Although it lacks several practical features such as the much requested wait-lists and access to MTT’s from mobile devices, it does address several key, albeit minor, gripes.

Overall, the enhancements should sit well with players currently staying at the Borgata for the Open and GSSS. Although I do have to wonder why NJ’s leading iPoker network couldn’t do more these past three months.

Chalk it up to the DGE’s regulatory processes I suppose.

Report Card for My 7 ‘Can’t Miss’ iGaming Predictions

Steve updates his online poker predictions for NJ

As we enter the fourth quarter of 2014 I’ve decided to check in (for the second time) on my 7 “Can’t Miss” iGaming predictions for the U.S. market.

I made these predictions all the way back in January, so before you laugh at some of my prognostications, realize that the New Jersey online gambling industry was about six weeks old when I made them!

As I said, this is actually my second progress report (read the first one from March here) and if you’re unfamiliar with my original predictions you can read those here.

Here is a quick refresher on my predictions:

  1. Another state will pass an online gambling bill
  2. New Jersey will continue to be a three horse race
  3. More Nevada online poker rooms will launch and Ultimate Poker will falter
  4. Unlicensed online poker rooms will continue to fall into the abyss
  5. PokerStars will remain on the outside looking in
  6. Mobile will rise to prominence
  7. The US will move a step closer to online sportsbetting

Prediction #1: Another state will pass an online gambling bill

What a difference a few months makes eh? It seems I got a little too excited when my team jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, but now with two minutes to go we’re losing 45-21, and the fans of the other side are razzing me good.

Updated judgment: Throw the betting slips in the trash; we’ve been Mushed.

Prediction #2: New Jersey will continue to be a three horse race

To be entirely honest, I’m not really sure how to grade this one.

The PartyBorgata network and WSOP.com are competing for the top spot, but the All American Poker Network has certainly slipped, just not to the point where I’d say they’re not a factor in the market.

Of course, New Jersey is likely to see a huge shakeup if when PokerStars is licensed and launches in the Garden State.

Updated judgment: A three horse race still seems like a good classification for New Jersey, although the three horses may be changing in the near future.

Prediction #3: More Nevada online poker rooms will launch and Ultimate Poker will falter

I already hit on the first part of this prediction when Real Gaming launched back in February, but the Real Gaming product was so bad it has done little to affect the Nevada market.

Ultimate Poker continues to hang on with about a 1/3 market share in Nevada, but more competition (real competition) seems to be coming just around the corner as 888 has stated, they will be launching their 888-branded and TI (Treasure Island) poker rooms on the All American Poker Network, but more significantly, they will also be joining forces with WSOP.com, who will join the AAPN.

Updated judgment: Ultimate Poker still needs to upgrade their software, but the site seems to have a pretty loyal player base in Nevada, and they have by no means given up on online poker. Part 1 of my original prediction was a winner, but Part 2 looks like a lost cause. Bottom Line: It looks like we pushed on this one.

Prediction #4: Unlicensed online poker rooms will continue to fall into the abyss

When I issued my first progress report in March, the Merge Gaming Network had already withdrawn from New Jersey, and now they have been joined by virtually every other unlicensed online poker site/network.

Bovada has stopped accepting new players, and the Winning Poker Network and the Equity Poker Network have also left the market.

The takeaway here is, regulation works, and even in these smaller markets (where you would think global providers could thrive) unlicensed sites are finding themselves to be unwanted house guests.

Updated judgment: Expect this trend to continue.

Prediction #5: PokerStars will remain on the outside looking in

Sometimes circumstances are beyond your control and this is precisely what I learned with this prediction.

Prior to the sale of PokerStars to Amaya Gaming I would have doubled-down on this bet, but after the sale, chances are PokerStars will be up and running in New Jersey before the start of 2015.

Updated prediction: Course change alert! PokerStars will almost certainly have a U.S. license before 2015.

Prediction #6: Mobile will rise to prominence

I thought this was supposed to be the next big thing? Well, it is, but it just hasn’t come to fruition in the U.S. quite yet.

Updated prediction: In March I said, “I’m going to stick with my guns on this one,” but I know an underdog when I see one. Mobile will eventually rise to prominence, but it won’t be this year.

Prediction #7: The US will move a step closer to online sportsbetting

I was so close to hitting a 250-1 longshot in New Jersey, but my original prediction definitely has been realized: The U.S. is getting closer to legalized sports-betting.

Not only did New Jersey really push the envelope (they were a Governor’s signature away from having legal sports-betting) but Mississippi’s online gaming study (due at the end of the year) will also look into sports-betting.

Updated prediction: In March I moved this into the longshot category, so the fact that it has come to pass was a pleasant surprise.

Everything you Need to Know about partypoker NJ’s $1mm Online GSSS Series

Party NJ online poker tournament series

From September 7th through the 21st partypoker will be running the inaugural Garden State Super Series (GSSS) for online tournament players in New Jersey.

Online qualifiers for the GSSS begin today, August 18th.

About the GSSS

The GSSS will feature 20 separate events, with each event played at three distinct buy-in levels, for a total of 60 tournaments.

When all is said and done partypoker will have awarded at least $1,000,000 in prize-money over the course of the two-week-long tournament series which will run concurrently with the Borgata Poker Open at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The Borgata Poker Open (Main Event from September 14th through the 19th), one of the most popular stops on the WPT.

Following the partnership between partypoker and the Borgata in New Jersey’s online gambling market the duo have arranged for several WPT tournaments to take place at the Borgata, including the WPT Championship.

This marks the second time partypoker has arranged an online tournament series to run alongside a World Poker Tour (WPT) event in New Jersey.

The first was this year’s season ending tournament that took place in April (the tournament also marked the first time was not held at the Bellagio in Las Vegas) and during the WPT Championship at the Borgata partypoker hosted the New Jersey Championships of Online Poker (NJCOP) tournament series, where $600,000 in guaranteed prize-money was up for grabs.

The Garden State Super Series is a fantastic complement to the WPT Borgata Open offering players the chance to win big at both the live and online felt while in New Jersey in September,” said Team partypoker captain Mike Sexton. “There are so many ways to qualify, plus a great variety of tournament formats at three buy-in levels which give anyone a chance to take home their share of $1 million. If you love no limit hold’em stud, Omaha or fixed limit tournaments make a date in your calendar to log on to partypoker! We would also like to thank the community for their feedback on the draft schedule and hope you like what we think will be New Jersey’s best and most exciting online poker series yet.

Why GSSS will do better

The NJCOP has been be viewed as a moderate success for partypoker (there was some controversy) as traffic was up and most of the guarantees were met.

However, I fully expect the GSSS to have a much better turnout.

The reason I believe this is the WPT Championship is a $15,000 buy-in tournament that attracts the best of the best in poker. Most of these players are not going to go through the trouble of registering a New Jersey account simply to sit down in an online $1/$2 NLHE game, or to play in what amounts to a standard nightly guarantee (based on entrants and prize-pool) in the global online tournament world.

On the flipside, the Borgata Poker Open is a $3,500 buy-in tournament that is one of the best attended events on the WPT year in and year out. So, what you have at the Borgata Poker Open are hundreds and hundreds of circuit grinders, all looking for +EV spots both live and online.

Because of this different dynamic between the two tournament series I expect far more players at the Borgata Poker Open to create accounts and participate in the GSSS.

GSSS key events

Here is a look at the key events of the series. For the full schedule you can visit the partypoker website.

Tournament Name Buy-in Guarantee Date Time ET
GSSS #1 High – $75,000 NLH 6Max $200 $75,000 9/7 5:00PM
GSSS #3 High – $20,000 PLO 6Max Rebuy $50 $20,000 9/8 8:00PM
GSSS #5 High – $20,000 NLH $100 $20,000 9/10 8:00PM
GSSS #6 High – $20,000 NLH Rebuy $50 $20,000 9/11 8:00PM
GSSS #9 High – $20,000 NLH 6Max $100 $20,000 9/12 8:00PM
GSSS #10 High – $20,000 NLH Rebuy $50 $20,000 9/13 8:00PM
GSSS #11 Low – $25,000 NLH Main Event – Low $50 $25,000 9/14 4:30PM
GSSS #11 Mid – $200,000 NLH Main Event – Mid $200 $200,000 9/14 5:00PM
GSSS #11 High – $50,000 NLH Main Event – High $1,000 $50,000 9/14 5:30PM
GSSS #12 Mid – $30,000 NLH $100 $30,000 9/14 6:30PM
GSSS #12 High – $50,000 NLH $500 $50,000 9/14 7:00PM
GSSS #14 High – $20,000 NLH 6Max Rebuy $50 $20,000 9/16 8:00PM
GSSS #15 High – $20,000 NLH $100 $20,000 9/17 8:00PM
GSSS #16 High – $20,000 NLH Rebuy $50 $20,000 9/18 8:00PM
GSSS #18 High – $20,000 NLH 1 x Rebuy + 1 x Big Add-on $50 $20,000 9/20 8:00PM
GSSS #19 Med – $20,000 NLH $100 $20,000 9/21 4:30PM

Fortune Cookie Says: Now Is the Perfect Time for PokerStars in New Jersey

Ideal Time for PokerStars to Join NJ iGaming Market

PokerStars was initially shut out of the New Jersey market, but thanks to their recent sale to Amaya Gaming, the world’s largest online poker room is about to get a crack at the legal U.S. online poker market.

Whether you agree or disagree with PokerStars being excluded is a debate for a different day, as this column will focus exclusively on why right now is the perfect time for PokerStars to get involved in online poker in New Jersey.

The dichotomy that is PokerStars

Loved by players and feared by competitors, PokerStars is one of the very few entities who can answer “both” to the age old Machiavellian question, “Is it better to be loved or feared?”

It is the fear of PokerStars as a competitor that is keeping them out of Nevada, and this same fear could also determine their fate in future iGaming states such as California and Pennsylvania.

But this fear has had, and will have no impact on PokerStars in New Jersey, where no Bad Actor clause exists, and where regulators are expected to approve PokerStars’ license application sooner rather than later.

PokerStars should be up and running in New Jersey by the 4th Quarter of 2014 according to Jennifer Newell of NJPokerOnline.com.

While the company was previously shunned by New Jersey, (over some key individuals that were involved in the company) they now look poised to finally receive the go ahead.

This the perfect time for their arrival for the following reasons:

1. The impact of PokerStars on online poker in NJ

PokerStars will be coming into an already established, but stagnant New Jersey market, and should provide the shot in the arm the industry so desperately needs.

The addition of PokerStars is like adding a 30 Home Run / 120 RBI slugger at the trade deadline; even if you fail to make the playoffs, interest is renewed in your fan base.

Had PokerStars launched with all of the other sites, the overall New Jersey market would likely be right where it is now, and wouldn’t have that Red Bull waiting in the wings for a quick pick me up.

PokerStars should provide the antidote the market needs to counter the increasingly glum and cynical (and also erroneous)  headlines about failed expectations, and the failings of online gambling.

Don’t misunderstand me, PokerStars won’t be the silver bullet, but it will provide a much needed optimistic boost to the way the NJ online gambling market is covered.

Furthermore, it was beneficial for the other sites to not compete with PokerStars right out of the gate. Party / Borgata and Caesars / 888 have established themselves as the top dogs and the addition of PokerStars should cut the remainder of the flotsam and jetsam free.

Had the company launched along with all of the other sites back in November of 2013 it may have created a monopoly right from the start (which wouldn’t be PokerStars fault) as it’s doubtful Stars would have had the same software bugs and/or customer service issues that have hurt other sites.

If PokerStars launched in November we would have already settled into a similar rut, the only difference would have been who was sitting atop the iGaming heap.

Even showing up a year late to the party, I’m expecting PokerStars to quickly ascend to the #1 spot in New Jersey, but I still see at least one of, and perhaps both, WSOP.com / 888 and the combination of Party / Borgata being significant players in the market.

I also expect Caesars to combine all of their online poker rooms into one single network to combat PokerStars and maintain liquidity.

PokerStars will still be #1 in my mind, but the margin by which they hold the #1 spot over their competitors should be much smaller than if they all launched at the same time.

2. Can New Jersey support 3 poker rooms / networks?

No matter how the actual rankings shake out, what seems clear is that the New Jersey market cannot support three online poker rooms.

At its peak the industry boasted average cash-game traffic that sometimes hit 600 players according to PokerScout.com, and those players were divided mainly among three sites – Borgata / Party (roughly 260), WSOP.com (roughly 150), 888 (roughly 120).

While the numbers aren’t terrific, considering the market size they were working with, they were pretty good.

If PokerStars can bring traffic back up to this level and even beyond you would think three poker rooms wouldn’t be a problem (especially if WSOP.com and 888 merge player pools).

The problem with that thinking is that if PokerStars is the sole cause of a new traffic spike it will be the lone beneficiary.

So what you would have if the market surges back to average cash game traffic of 600 players is the current traffic numbers – Borgata / Party (140), WSOP.com + 888 (200) – with PokerStars filling in the remainder and almost certainly pulling at least 10% (a very conservative number) of the players from their competitors.

The numbers would look like this under this scenario:

  • PokerStars: 300
  • WSOP.com / 888: 180
  • Borgata / Party: 125

It’s unlikely both WSOP.com / 888 and Borgata / Party would both survive under this scenario.

It would be possible for both sites to maintain average traffic of 150+ players alongside PokerStars, but it will be very difficult.

However, if PokerStars will increase the size of the market (say another 50-100 players) it gets even more dire for the “three poker room solution,” especially if PokerStars poaches 20% of their players:

  • PokerStars: around 400
  • WSOP.com / 888: 160
  • Borgata / Party: 110

Under this scenario PokerStars would surely lure away many more players from both competitors as  time goes on, due to their sizable liquidity advantage.

My assumption is that one competitor will become the clear #2 to PokerStars while the third slips down into the second tier or perhaps joins Ultimate Poker on the irrelevant scrap pile in New Jersey.

If PokerStars launched in conjunction with the other rooms in New Jersey, we would be faced with the same situation we have in the global online poker market, where you have PokerStars, and a handful of operators with 1/10th PokerStars traffic.

3. Land-Based implications

In addition to shaking up the online poker market, PokerStars could also provide an exciting boost to land-based poker in Atlantic City.

The city’s casino industry is currently undergoing severe, but much needed contraction, and you can be certain that PokerStars is going to pump money into Resorts land-based offerings, likely building a state of the art poker room for the property.

Furthermore, PokerStars branded poker tours will surely hit Atlantic City. Consider the turnout for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA)  and just imagine that type of influx of players into the New Jersey online and land-based market for two to three weeks.

Resorts Casino could suddenly become the home of high stakes poker action in New Jersey and play host to anything and everything including televised cash games and Super-High-Roller events.

New Jersey Traffic Report: Trends in NJ Mimic Global Market

NJ numbers steady this week for iGaming

Thus far in August, traffic patterns in New Jersey have been largely predictable, steadily rising at a pace that parallels the growth of the global market.

Outside of one high value flash-promo, there was very little going on online that would have resulted in an immediate liquidity swing one way or the other.

Instead, this week’s biggest headlines, namely PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker’s nearly guaranteed entry into NJ on October 1st and Paypal’s emergent interest in entering the regulated market, will likely have a profound effect on the market’s mid-term future.

Although it is conceivable that the hype surrounding Stars reemergence in the United States may propel New Jersey traffic upwards in the weeks to follow, for now, we’ll have to content ourselves with the fact that the market appears to be a relatively stable state.

Cash-Game Liquidity Boasts Incremental Gains

Since August 1st, 7-day average cash-game liquidity in NJ has grown by a relatively modest 4.3 %. This follows in a wake of a disastrous last week of July, which saw levels sputter off some 9.1 %.

Broken down by network, cash-game averages (as of August 11th) look like this:

  • PartyPoker NJ143 (up 4.4 % since August 1st, but trending downward)
  • WSOP.com131 (down 3 % and trending level)
  • AAPN (us.888poker.com): 74 (up 23.3 % and trending all over the place)

888 stands out as the only anomaly here, but its divergence from the pack is largely explainable. After its Double Points and Summer Slam! promos ended on July 31, liquidity on NJ’s perennial third-place network began spiraling downward at an alarming rate. Why in just four days, volume had dropped nearly 25 %.

The network had been down this road before, as back in early May, the conclusion of its 80% Rakeback promo caused nearly half its patrons to abandon the site. This, despite 888 rolling out its long awaited Player Loyalty Program.

Suffice to say, player retention has become a glaring issue on 888 – although, I’d argue that for the most part it’s a problem of their own making.

In order to stop the bleeding from its most recent panic, 888 launched a one day version of their 80% Rakeback promo, with the additional caveat that casino players who made a deposit using a special promotional code would receive 80 % cashback on their losses.  And look, they even got a cute girl to pose for the advert.

The promotion, which ran on 8/8 (I’m assuming this was on purpose) caused liquidity to shoot up past its July levels. Although in the absence of any other notable promos and big tournament events, I would suspect that these recent gains will be quickly offset.

The global market continued to trend upward, leading me to believe that the worst seasonal downtrend in recent history is finally coming to a close. Since August 1st, international volume is up another 2.5 %. Which means that overall, New Jersey’s iGaming industry outperformed the market, but only by a slight margin.

Thanks to PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout for the data.

Tournament Volume Sways Slightly Downward

In my last traffic report, I reasoned that major tournament volume in New Jersey should continue to trend upwards as the summer wears on. Well, apparently the state’s market hasn’t fully hit its stride just yet, as MTTs exhibited minor losses compared to weeks prior.

My theory is that many of the state’s grinders were at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania for this weekend’s Big Stax 500 event.  This at least was the general consensus among poker players I’ve talked to from the area.

Below is a listing of major tournament activity in New Jersey for the weekend ending Sunday, August 10:

  • Party / Borgata $50k guaranteed: 254 runners, $3,010 overlay – up one runner over August 3, but down 37 from July 27
  • Party / Borgata $10k guaranteed (8/9): 80 runners, $2,720 overlay – down from 103 runners the prior Saturday
  • WSOP.com $25k guaranteed: 114 runners, $2,200 overlay – last’s week version only featured a $400 overlay
  • WSOP.com $10k guaranteed (8/9): 126 entries, 149 re-buys and 87 add-ons created a $950 overlay – the August 2nd iteration performed slightly better.
  • 888 $10k guaranteed: 60 runners, creating a prize pool of $11,100 – up six entrants over last week but down three from July 27

Future Outlooks

Expect volume to continue trickling upwards over the next several weeks.

Once September hits, things should start becoming more interesting. The Borgata Poker Open kicks off on September 2 and its complimentary online series – the Garden State Super Series – on September 7.

Depending on how well the partnership of Party Poker and the Borgata cross-promotes these events, we could see both cash-game and tournament volume on the network rise more than 50 %.

Even if they don’t utter a peep, there will be enough out-of-state in what remains of Atlantic City this September to justify a substantial online liquidity boost.

Shortly after the Open concludes, expect a very short calm followed by the full on hurricane that will be PokerStars entry into the market. I know there are some that say PokerStars will take some time to adjust to the regulated market, and that traffic will only receive a minor boost.

However, based on talks I’ve had with members of the community, the general consensus is as long as Stars offers a similar level of excellence in New Jersey that it does abroad, that they’ll be spending significantly more time playing online.

The real wildcard here is whether PokerStars will have enough traction to attract players from neighboring states to spend more of their time grinding on NJ’s online poker sites. Given the strength of their marketing campaigns out in Europe, I have to believe they will – but it may take a little time for them to get going.

Guess we’ll find out soon enough.