NJ iGaming Weekly: Can WSOP or 888 Run Down Party Poker for NJ Market Share Lead?

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Since launching nearly two months ago, Party Poker has positioned itself at the forefront of the flourishing New Jersey iGaming market.

Preliminary data released by the DGE last week indicates that Party, together with its brick and mortar partner the Borgata, account for  approximately 45 percent of the total NJ iGaming share – an impressive feat considering that Caesars operates more gaming sites.

Yet, I’d argue that Party may be in danger of losing its stranglehold on the market, particularly in the online poker arena. Software maladies, poor customer service and an unappealing tournament schedule have some players up in arms.

Conversely, WSOP.com and 888poker.com have made a concerted effort to step up their game, reflected in better turnouts for both their MTT’s and cash games.

That’s not to say Party isn’t doing marvels for the iGaming industry – one needn’t look further than its partnership with the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers to see that.

It’s just that they may want to focus a bit more on the here and now.

Cash-game traffic: Party still leads, but gap is closing

Based on data collected by PokerScout.com, cash-game traffic on Party is at a four-week low.

And while the drop-off has been by no means significant, if the current trend continues Party could find itself in a three-way battle royale with WSOP.com and the suddenly emergent 888poker.

Current cash-game numbers (24-hour peaks, and 7-day averages) as follows:

  • Party Borgata: 484 24-hour peak (240 7-day average) – down 23 and 7 percent, respectively.
  • WSOP: 431 (180 average) – 7-day averages are up 12.5 percent over last week.
  • All American Network: 214 (110 average) – Volume has increased 10 percent on average.
  • Ultimate (New Jersey): 42 (14 average) – Cash-game volume has all but evaporated.

Average cash-player volume over the past 7 days has slightly increased (536 to 544), which indicates that Party, and to a lesser extent Ultimate, are either losing players to WSOP and 888 or Caesars’ online poker brands are attracting new ones via their stellar January promotions.

Tournament volume tells the real story

But PokerScout‘s numbers only paint a partial picture of NJ’s online poker landscape.

Digging a little bit deeper, tournament turnout numbers have turned decidedly in WSOP’s favor.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, Party’s 50k guarantee missed its guarantee by a scant ~$600. This week, that number swelled to $2,455, as only 257 runners signed up.

On the flip side, WSOP’s Sunday major – the $25,000 Weekly Sunday – exceeded its guarantee by $4,400. To my knowledge it was the single largest overlay the site has enjoyed to date.

Granted, the large turnout for this week’s Weekly Sunday could have been an anomaly, as WSOP was also hosting a $250,000 First Time Depositors freeroll.

The inaugural event of the WSOP Online Championships, the freeroll drew 3,661 runners – nearly 1,500 more than Party’s final New Jersey’s Next Poker Millionaire freeroll.

No big surprise there, considering the $250,000k freeroll boasted a top prize that dwarfed those of the Sunday majors.

888poker’s major also failed to hit the mark, coming up nearly $1,900 short of its 10k guarantee. This is to be somewhat expected, as right now the site is focusing primarily on attracting cash-game traffic – more on that later.

And Ultimate Poker’s major once again proved to be the “ultimate” loser, once again leaving over $10k in free prize money on the table. Still, it’s better than the $13k+ in free money it handed out three weeks ago.

Party’s software leaks, odd tournament scheduling confounds players

Clearly, WSOP.com was this week’s big winner, with 888 showing pronounced signs of improvement. But why the sudden change?

I concocted a few theories of my own as to why Party has been losing traction, and sure enough many of them were confirmed by posters on Two Plus Two’s dedicated nj.partypoker.com forum.

They are, in no particular order:

  • Buggy software: Since rolling out its overhauled UI last September, Party Poker has experienced a plethora of crippling software difficulties. Lag, disconnects and unresponsive navigation plague the otherwise sleek looking lobby, often forcing players to perform full restarts. Compounding matters, a fair percentage of players are still experiencing NJ-only issues, such as geo-targeting failures. More on this here.
  • Lousy customer support: Its improved over the past few weeks, but wait times are still exceedingly long. Furthermore, customer representatives are grossly under-informed, resulting in most inquiries being forwarded or escalated to a more authoritative source. Players can only be told to uninstall and re-install software so many times.
  • Sunday major: Players love deep-stacked tournaments, but Party’s 50k Guarantee is perhaps too deep – which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t start at 8 pm. This week’s foray ended at nearly 5:30 am, far too late for folks who have work the next day. Comparatively, WSOP’s $25,000 Weekly Sunday gets off two hours earlier, starts with half the chips and features 15 minute blind levels, as opposed to the 50k Guarantee’s 20.
  • Rake: It’s higher than WSOP’s and 888’s – not much else needs to be said.
  • 888’s rakeback promo and 50k weekly freerolls: 888 is offered an unprecedented 80 percent rakeback on all cash games from now until May. The tagline for the promo is “It doesn’t get much bigger than this,” – and they’re right, no other current rakeback schema even comes close. Furthermore, on Monday night the site was running $4,375 worth of freerolls – not bad for what is generally considered the slowest poker night of the week.

On a side note, the recent counterfeit chip scandal at the Borgata’s Winter Open Event #1 may have long-lasting ramifications on the company’s brand.

Considering that only 27 players were left when play was stopped, the casino could find itself in quite the quandary, especially if it fails to identify the culprit(s).

Already, online qualifier entries to Borgata tournament events have dropped. Whether or not Borgata’s brick and mortar troubles will have a long-term effect on its online poker community is yet to be determined.

Although, I’m guessing that it won’t.

Looking Ahead

WSOP.com and 888 both have a presence in Nevada, which could serve them well if the Silver State forms an interstate compact with New Jersey. The latter is also the sole iGaming operator in Delaware.

However, through its alignment with the Sixers, Party has already established its brand in Pennsylvania.

Should Pennsylvania pass an iGaming bill in the next year, exactly no one would be surprised if Party’s parent company, bwin.party, teamed up with a Keystone State casino. And Pennsylvania stands to support a significantly larger iGaming populace than Nevada and Delaware combined.

As for now, should WSOP.com and 888poker continue to throw free money around, it’s a near certainty that they will continue to gain ground on NJ’s market leader.

But just how much are they willing to give away to become number one? And even if they did, could they remain number one in NJ and the US if Pennsylvania gets involved?

So to answer the question posed in this week’s headline, my answer to you is “Maybe, but don’t count on it.”

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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