Last updated: September 09, 2016.
Below you’ll find recent news, a comprehensive PokerStars NJ review, and answers to some commonly asked questions about PokerStars’ New Jersey return.
Review via Robert DellaFave, updated August 31, 2016.
When we last saw PokerStars in the U.S. back in April 2011, it was embroiled in a heated battle with then competitor Full Tilt for online poker supremacy.
My how times have changed.
These days, PokerStars is the sole dominant force in the global market, offering by far the best platform and game variety, the biggest tournament prize pools and the lowest pricing. It’s maybe not the ATM for pro players that it once was, but lucrative opportunities still abound.
So it stands to reason that expectations for PokerStars’ return to New Jersey after a nearly five year hiatus from the United States online poker market were running hot – somewhat unjustifiably so, considering the severe population cap of the market.
Yet, for the most part PokerStars NJ delivers, blowing away the competition in many respects and lacking in just a select few – not bad for a site that launched some 2.5 years after online poker first went live in the Garden State.
From Day One, PokerStars NJ was nearly, if not already, the most populated online poker site in New Jersey.
Based on figures recorded by PokerScout.com, PokerStars NJ controls approximately 42 percent of the cash game market (170 players on average, roughly 420 during peak hours), compared to 35 percent for WSOP/888 and a mere 23 percent for Party/Borgata.
This level of dominance would be impressive six months after launch, let alone one week. And the differential between PokerStars NJ and its competitors keeps on growing, firmly suggesting that it may not be long before the operator accounts for half (or more) of the industry’s cash game liquidity.
Going further, alternative game formats such as 8-game, 2-7 Triple Draw and Stud run with some regularly on Stars NJ. Not only do these games not get off on other NJ based sites, but most of them aren’t even listed in the cash game lobbies.
That being said, NL Hold’em is still the go-to format for most players, accounting for roughly 60 to 70 percent of the 65 or so active cash game tables during peak hours. Pot Limit Omaha games account for a pleasantly high 20 to 25 percent, with the rest distributed among the site’s alt formats.
Although stakes run the gamut from $0.01/$0.02 to $5/$10, the $.25/$.50 and $1/$2 levels appear to be the most popular. Generally speaking, games play a bit bigger on Stars than they do elsewhere, although I suspect that has something to do with the influx of net depositing players initially drawn to the site for its Spin & Go’s.
Practically nonexistent. Spin & Go’s have killed the sit & go market abroad, and they’re doing the same in New Jersey.
The only sit & go format that runs on occasion are heads-up games. Otherwise, in the first week of launch, I’ve seen exactly one 6-max turbo sng go off.
It’s impossible to tell with certainty how many Spin & Go’s run per hour, but it’s more than a few – way more.
During peak hours, approximately six games are played at the 10x multiplier or higher (~1 percent chance) per hour. Expanding that estimate across all games reveals a total of 600 games played in 60 minutes. That’s otherworldly.
But why not? The shorthanded hyper turbo format is ideally suited for closed liquidity markets, especially ones where many players are either new to online poker or were forced into a multi-year hiatus. And that’s forgetting about the slot machine aspect of the format, which is a huge draw in just about every market.
I suspect that the popularity of Spin & Go’s will compel PokerStars to focus much of its marketing muscle on the format, and to prompt expansion beyond the $10 buy-in cap.
Combine this increased attention with the fact that New Jersey residents love to gamble – online casinos in NJ comprise 81 percent of industry revenue to date – and there’s strong reason to believe that Spin & Go mania will soon reach a fever pitch.
Although PokerStars NJ launched with a significantly toned-down version of its daily and weekend MTT schedule, it’s still more robust than what’s found elsewhere in New Jersey.
In total, 16 featured tournaments run on weekdays, all of them between the hours of 3:30 p.m. and midnight. Turnouts for these tournaments average between 40 for non-hold’em events to 150 for the low buy-in turbos.
At the lower buy-in end PokerStars is roughing up the competition, yet big buy-in majors on Party/Borgata and WSOP/888 are attracting more players and generating bigger prize pools. To wit, the Nightly Stars ($10k guarantee) is having trouble meeting its minimum benchmark, while both the $10k GTD Nightly on WSOP/888 and the Daily $10k on Party/Borgata are both cruising along, regularly exceeding their guarantees by 10 to 25 percent.
These figures lead me to believe (once again) that PokerStars is finding favor with net depositing and budget players who are more interested in a quick Spin & Go and maybe a turbo MTT than grinding out $50 and $100 buy-in MTTs.
Or maybe, it’s just spreading itself too thin at the higher buy-in levels. Time will tell.
For more on PokerStars NJ’s game library, I highly recommend colleague Steve Ruddock’s comprehensive analysis.
Thanks to a well-conceived welcome package, there’s plenty of promotional value to be had on PokerStars NJ, at least in the short term.
And providing the operator doesn’t raise the price of poker – again – there’s good long term value as well.
Allowing patrons to choose between two welcome offers, one tailored toward grinders and the other to recreational players, was a shrewd move.
The standard package is a 100% match bonus up to $600 – which isn’t all that remarkable on its own, until one considers that it pays out at an unparalleled 50 percent rakeback rate. The other awards players who make a $20 deposit or more with $30 in free play. This works out to a 150 percent increase in value – also unheard of in New Jersey.
And that’s forgetting about the 1 million in free play money chips and more importantly, the $5,000 Depositors Freeroll ticket.
In addition, PokerStars now boasts a “no deposit” bonus, where players who sign up for the site using the promotional code FREE10 will be automatically credited with seven Spin & Go tickets, with a total value of $10.
Of course all of this is not to say that PokerStars will continue its promotional fire sale. Keep in mind that both PartyPoker and 888 offered even more in the way of promotional value at launch, only to significantly scale back their efforts a few months later. It wouldn’t shock if PokerStars NJ traversed a similar path.
The good news is that PokerStars’ entry has prompted at least one existing operator (888) to reopen the promotional floodgates – let’s hope that trend lasts for as long as the fight for market dominance remains up for grabs.
Players who have been beaten up by the rake on other NJ sites will receive a modest reprieve playing on Stars NJ.
Rake percentage for no limit and pot limit games are 5 percent (4.5 percent for $.01/$.02 – $.05/$.10), as compared to 5.56 percent on both WSOP/888 and Party/Borgata.
The rake cap is a closer contest. Here’s a detailed breakdown of one popular stake where the cap is actually reached with some frequency – $1/$2 NLHE:
It’s pretty clear that at this level, PokerStars’ rake cap walks the middle line between its two competitors.
However, at stakes below $1/$2, PokerStars offers the most competitive rake caps – not that it really matters, considering pots at the micros and small stakes uncommonly swell to a size where the rake cap is reached. At these stakes, it’s the lower rake percentage that will save players money.
PokerStars offers the best rake schedule for small time players, and holds a slight edge at middle limit full-ring games. Short-handed, higher limit games are raked lower on WSOP/888.
Before we begin our brief discussion, let’s take a moment to lament the loss of 70 percent rakeback on Stars.
The reality is that the new VIP Steps program isn’t all that bad, especially when matched up against loyalty programs offered by other NJ operators.
On the other hand, the requirements for SuperNova (50,000 annual VPPs – ~$9,100 in rake/fees) are rather modest – just half that of what they are abroad. Also, the entry level rakeback of 8 to 9 percent is hands down the best in New Jersey.
PokerStars also offers more flexibility with regards to how loyalty points (StarsCoin) can be spent. The VIP Store sells everything from cash rebates, to PokerStars branded gear and online tournament tickets – all at the same conversion rate.
This stands in stark contrast to WSOP/888, which only awards cashback, and Party/Borgata, which has an equally comprehensive store but offers rather atrocious conversion rates on anything but tournament tickets.
Not to mention, there’s something gratifying about watching a VIP Steps bar fill up, if only because each step is incremental enough so that the next step is always within reach.
Still, I’ll miss my chance to purchase a Lamborghini.
There are few words that adequately sing the praises of the PokerStars 7 client – stellar, all-inclusive and unmatched come to mind. But that’s not to say the NJ client isn’t without its quirks, as minor as they are.
The PokerStars client largely parallels the often copied but never outdone platform offered internationally.
From the masterfully designed tabular interface, players can readily access their preferred game format and vital information pertaining to that format. Take for instance the cash game lobby, where clicking on a table grants players access to a bevy of useful stats such as player names and statuses, stack sizes, average pot size and hands per hour.
By spending just one additional click, players can either join the wait list (full tables only) or select their seat.
Individual tournament lobbies are equally user-friendly and information rich, packing in everything from blind and payout structures to miscellaneous “fun” features such as chip graphs and table stats.
But all this pales in comparison to the actual gameplay experience. Somehow, the design and programming teams at PokerStars successfully managed to strike a delicate balance between aesthetic beauty and high-level customization, all without ever sacrificing performance.
From hand histories, to table info, player notes, layouts and advanced rebuy settings, individual tables sport every feature a player could ever dare to dream of – and all these features are neatly tucked away in creatively designed menus so that they never interfere with the poker playing experience. If this weren’t enough, even more in-depth customization tools can be found from the Settings sidebar.
Suffice it to say, in an industry where logins and geo-verification can take upwards of 30 seconds, nearly every user action on PokerStars NJ is handled gracefully and effortlessly.
Well, almost. The PokerStars NJ client is such a beast that if run concurrently with streaming video, it can tie up a player’s computer. It also appears somewhat prone to full crashes. Generally speaking, for me this hasn’t been a persistent issue, but it’s difficult not to notice players being frequently disconnected from tournaments.
I’m going to give PokerStars the benefit of the doubt and say that the crash/disconnect issues are growing pains associated with the launch, and will be addressed in short order – for now.
Two side notes:
Players have ready access to a slew of account management features. Just to name a few:
And that’s just scratching the surface. Other sites can’t hold a candle to the sheer number of options available from the PokerStars NJ client.
But what’s perhaps most impressive are the site’s responsible gaming functions. Whereas other NJ poker operators only allow players to set deposit, spend and time limits – as mandated by NJ iGaming regulations – PokerStars goes a step further by permitting players to set limits and/or bans on individual game variants.
This feature will come in exceedingly handy for players who wish to still play, say, cash games, but desire to stay away from tournaments or slot machines.
Going further, players can also request responsible gaming history audits for select time periods, and can also impose restrictions that will forbid them from processing cashout cancellations.
If PokerStars NJ had launched six months ago, I’d be inclined to call the cashiering process problematic. But considering the newness of the product, let’s say it’s a work in progress.
At present, players can deposit via:
Soon to be available are:
This is by no means a poor initial roll-out, but compared to Party/Borgata and WSOP/888, the number of cashiering options is a bit lacking.
Unfortunately, in other areas the cashier is trailing several lengths behind the pack.
For one, daily and monthly transactions limits for recommended depositing methods tend toward the low side – $750 daily/$5,000 monthly for instant eChecks and $640 daily/$2,000 monthly for MasterCard.
More problematic, is that PokerStars will not issue an eCheck withdrawal until 10 days after a deposit – even if the funds have cleared a player’s banking account long before that. By contrast, other NJ poker operators impose no such waiting periods on verified accounts.
Finally, all cashouts up to the amount deposited are first credited back to the deposit method used, in so long as that deposit method is eligible for withdrawals. This is just yet another inconvenience in what is a growing list of annoyances.
Holding up payments is one surefire way to lose customers – hopefully PokerStars changes some of its odd policies shortly.
So far my experience with customer service has been a hodgepodge of highlights and lowlights.
Support on the dedicated PokerStars NJ forum on Two Plus Two has been exceptional. Representative Dylan Coady has gone out of his way to respond to just about every player inquiry and problem – in most cases providing useful answers.
Another positive – responses from the email support team are lightning fast, as are follow-ups.
Now the downside.
Email inquiries are often misunderstood, and depending on the agent, the quality of the response can range from marginally helpful to canned. All too often, players will have better luck finding answers on the very detailed FAQ page listed on the PokerStars NJ web page.
Also, players who wish to contact support by any other means except email will be disappointed to know that there is no live chat option, and furthermore, players cannot initiate phone contact. Instead, they’ll have to fill out a form from the client requesting a callback.
What’s more, is that callbacks can only be requested between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. That’s far too restrictive for my liking.
Customer service is (or was) the cornerstone of PokerStars’ global operation. There are flashes of excellence in New Jersey, but they’re too sporadic to warrant an excellent grade.
Although the launch of PokerStars in New Jersey is ultimately more of a symbolic victory and stepping stone for the operator, there’s little denying the immediate impact it’s having on the state’s online poker industry.
The minute PokerStars flipped over the open sign, a new industry standard was set – liquidity was up, competitors began trying harder, and for a moment, even the most demanding grinders seemed content.
Will it last? To an extent, yes – but the only true path to expansion is by passing iGaming legislation in other states. Until then, PokerStars can make a strong name for itself in NJ by adhering to the same standards that it does abroad.
Granted, the operator still has some kinks to work out – admittedly, more than I initially anticipated – but if its early performance is any indicator, the PokerStars brand is still revered in the U.S.
Only land-based casinos can receive the Internet Gaming Permit required to operate an online poker or casino site in New Jersey. That means companies like PartyPoker and PokerStars must partner with a land-based casino to participate in the market.
Each IGP can operate multiple platforms and is good for up to five distinct brands.
PokerStars’ partner is Resorts AC. Resorts is also partnered with NYX Gaming. That partnership is behind the Resorts online casino that launched in February. Mohegan Sun – who operate the Resorts land-based property – launched a parallel online effort a few months later with the same basic platform and games.
It’s possible that PokerStars might offer casino games in New Jersey, but if they do so it will be a separate effort from the Resorts-branded online casino from a consumer’s point of view.
Resorts has no announced plans to launch a Resorts-branded online poker site. We believe that PokerStars will be the only online poker sites operating under the IGP for the foreseeable future.
PokerStars announced plans to construct a $10mm live poker room at Resorts in October of 2013.
To the best of my knowledge, there’s been no official update from either company since the initial announcement, and no word on the subject from new owner Amaya.
But sources tell OPR that the Resorts property has been prepped to begin the process of creating the PokerStars-branded live poker room at Resorts AC. And PokerStars has been generally aggressive about using a branded live poker room as a way to elevate the brand in new or highly competitive markets.
And Resorts owner Morris Bailey recently indicated that Stars was still planning to build a live poker room at Resorts in NJ.
Both suggest the live poker room is still very much in play. The decision by Resort to offer an iGaming lounge on property also suggests a willingness by the company to aggressively incorporate the land-based and online realms.
This is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of PokerStars’ return to New Jersey.
PokerStars NJ will be completely separate from the global PokerStars.com player pool. PokerStars NJ players will only be playing against players located within New Jersey.
Side note: I believe this misunderstanding accounts for much of the (anecdotally-reported) high levels of interest in PokerStars’ return among casual online poker players, as many appear to believe they’ll be regaining access to the global player pool once PokerStars returns.
That’s certainly the company’s intention, but the reality is that it will be quite some time before any significant part of the United States offers regulated online poker.
And, once that does happen, all of the individual states involved will have to agree to link up players, which is far from a guarantee.
So it’s entirely possible that PokerStars’ USA room could actually be a collection of independent poker rooms, some serving only a single state, some serving multiple states (such as the recently launched cooperation between Delaware and Nevada).
Some of the states with a better-than-average chance of regulating online poker in the next few years include:
It’s worth further noting that New Jersey’s situation is unusually complex. The state constitution requires that gambling can take place only in Atlantic City.
Squaring that requirement with an online poker game that stretches across multiple jurisdictions is an extra hurdle that New Jersey will have to surmount before taking part in any interstate player pooling.
Furthermore, Nevada iGaming regulations deem covered assets that operated interactive gaming in the United States after December 31, 2006 unsuitable for a license within five years of February 21, 2013.
Based on conversations I’ve had with Mehaffey, Nevada legislatures will meet in Febraury 2017 to discuss repealing covered assets. So, in theory, PokerStars’ entry in Nevada could come a bit sooner.
Opinions vary, but the general consensus is that an international compact linking PokerStars NJ to the operator’s ROW pool is at best, a long ways off.
On one hand, a bevy of regulatory challenges must be overcome before PokerStars can even think to join its NJ and ROW player bases. And even then, from a business and financial point of view, Amaya may not see an immediate upside to linking a very big player base with a very small one.
Then again, if New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak is successful in his bid for governor, he will lobby hard for PokerStars NJ to share liquidity, both on the interstate and international levels.
Should Lesniak win and should enough states pass iGaming legislation, deem PokerStars suitable for entry and share liquidity with NJ, the advantages of linking Amaya’s U.S.-based online poker operations with the international pool become that much more appealing.
But that’s asking a lot.
No. The way that regulated online gambling works in New Jersey is that anyone who is within the state borders can play.
New Jersey online casinos and poker sites utilize geolocation technology that constantly verifies the location of a customer. Once you approach the borders of the state, you’ll lose the ability to play.
So, you don’t need to be a resident – you just need to be in the state of New Jersey (and 21 or older) in order to play at PokerStars NJ or any of the state’s regulated online poker sites.
No. You will be able to create a PokerStars NJ account from anywhere in the United States. You can also access the cashier and your funds from anywhere in the United States.
The only restriction is on actual gameplay. To take part in the real-money games, you’ll need to be in New Jersey (and have the geolocation software verify your location).
New Jersey regulators paused PokerStars’ application in December of 2013, citing concerns about management’s outstanding issues with the DoJ.
Those regulatory concerns were addressed when PokerStars was sold to Amaya, a publicly-traded Canadian gaming company already licensed to do business in the NJ regulated online gambling market (and in a number of other jurisdictions, both domestically and internationally) and the executives in question exited the company.
In October 2015, the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement released its report on the investigation into the suitability of Amaya for offering online gambling in the state.
The report itself is 89 pages. You can read the full investigation here.
The result of the investigation was already known, as Amaya announced that it had received approval to operate online poker and online gambling via PokerStars and Full Tilt last week.
The suitability appears to hinge largely on the fact that Amaya had purchased is now operating PokerStars, and that it had distanced itself from the old ownership. The report notes that PokerStars and Full Tilt “conducted significant Internet gaming in the United States after the federal government made such gaming illegal.” More from the investigation:
As a result of the civil sanctions against the PokerStars Entities and criminal sanctions against their former executives associated with the companies that formerly owned these assets, the licensure of any entity associated with these assets required careful regulatory scrutiny by the Division. Simply put, these assets were associated with unlawful and criminal activity; absent a compelling demonstration that the owners, management, and practices associated with that activity have been purged, licensure of companies presently associated with those assets would be inconsistent with the New Jersey licensure standards.
And then, almost immediately, it launches into the findings of the report:
That investigation leads the Division to conclude that Amaya has demonstrated its suitability for a Transactional Waiver Order. While the PokerStars entities operated in violation of the law between 2006 and 2011, a number of considerations – including the severe criminal and civil sanctions imposed by the federal government, the complete and irrevocable separation of the previous owners and almost all of the former executives, the acquisition of the assets by Amaya and their incorporation into a robust compliance and control environment, as well as significant changes in the Internet gaming market since 2011– lead to a finding of suitability.
Much of the beginning of the investigation details Amaya’s purchase of PokerStars’ parent company, as well as PokerStars’ history — including operations leading up to and including Black Friday and its attempts to enter the New Jersey market.
Here are some of findings and interesting points from the investigation:
The report mentions the investigation of the “Autorité des marchés financiers” in Quebec that looked into activity around trading of Amaya’s stock after the company acquired PokerStars. The report offers nothing in the way of new information:
As of July 1, 2015, the AMF Investigation has not resulted in any proceedings and no charges have been filed. Amaya management has issued several public statements stating that the company is confident that at the end of the investigation the AMF will come to the same conclusion as Amaya: that if there were violations of Canadian securities laws, they were not committed by Amaya, its officers or directors.
The Division will continue to monitor the AMF investigation.
As one of the conditions of granting Amaya approval, four employees apparently must be terminated:
After careful review of all the evidence and the application of those facts to the postUIGEA suitability standard discussed above, the Division determined that four senior executives who remain with an Amaya subsidiary after the acquisition are not able to establish their good character, honesty and integrity as required by the Act because they were involved in the management or control of companies that violated UIGEA, or had responsibilities related to payment processing, providing legal advice, marketing, compliance, audit or operations at those companies. Consequently, each of those individuals must be separated from any employment relationship with Amaya and its subsidiaries if transactional waivers are to be issued.
From the report:
Based upon the lack of material derogatory information revealed during the Division’s investigation and the strength of the integrated compliance plan, the Division concludes that Amaya and Amaya Holdings (IOM) have established the requisite good character, honesty, and integrity required for qualification as a qualifier of a CSIE.
You can read the Transactional Waiver Order granting Amaya the ability to offer online gambling here.
From the order:
I further ORDER, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 5:12-92a(1) and N.J.A.C. 13:69J-1.2B, and for good cause shown, the Amaya applicants are GRANTED a Transactional Waiver Order authorizing them to conduct Internet gaming related business in New Jersey with Resorts pursuant to N.J.S.A. 5:12-92a(1), subject to the following conditions:
Among those conditions:
Amaya and any of its subsidiaries and affiliated entities shall not permit Isai Scheinberg, Mark Scheinberg, Pinhas Schapira, Yehuda Nir, Paul Telford, Paul Tate, Nelson Burtnick, Ray Bitar, Rafael Furst, or Chris Ferguson to serve or act as an owner, director, officer, shareholder, security holder, financial source, lender, employee, consultant, lobbyist, intermediary, independent contractor, advisor, agent, or representative of Amaya or its subsidiaries and affiliated entities, in any capacity, whether directly or indirectly, whether by formal contract or by informal arrangement, without prior written approval of the Division.
Of interest to some is that former Full Tilt executive Howard Lederer is not included on this list.
The slot machine/poker hybrid has proven a massive success in other markets, and may help spark a resurgence in NJ online poker popularity, if handled properly.
Despite leaving the U.S. in 2011, PokerStars has easily maintained its status as the world’s most popular poker room. And with Amaya Gaming’s acquisition of the Rational Group, the stage has been set for the online gaming giant to make its long awaited return to giant to New Jersey.
PokerStars NJ Review And FAQ Chris Grove