NJ iGaming Weekly: New Jersey Could Become International Gambling Hub; WSOP.com Guns for First

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Last week, I proposed that Partypoker’s position at the forefront of the now two month old New Jersey iGaming market was more susceptible than its 45% market share would initially suggest.

But never would I have fathomed that the gap between NJ’s current market share leader and second place WSOP.com would shrink at such an accelerated rate.

While an argument can be made that last week’s traffic numbers were an anomaly, February could prove to be the month in which WSOP.com stakes its claim as the Garden State’s online poker champion.

And now that a new bill calling for rapid Internet gambling expansion in New Jersey has been introduced, being number one in the state could take on an entirely new meaning.

State Senators Ray Lesniak and Jim Whelan call for iGaming expansion

As of mid-January, approximately 155,000 accounts were created with New Jersey gambling sites.

And in its first five weeks in the iGaming landscape, the Garden State’s vast array of virtual poker and casino offerings brought in over $8.4 million. Impressive numbers, by most accounts.

But ask State Senators Ray Lesniak (D-Union) and Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City), and they’ll likely tell you that New Jersey is squandering its potential, at least until it expands into global markets.

Last Thursday, the Press of Atlantic City announced that the duo have introduced a bill which would allow New Jersey “to enter into reciprocal agreements with other states or countries where Internet gambling is legal.”

Notice the emphasis on “countries.”

To date, the only other states that have approved iGaming operations are Delaware and Nevada, which combined boast less than half the population of New Jersey. Suffice to say, they need New Jersey more than the Garden State needs them.

European countries, on the other hand, tout tens of millions of residents.

Access to these nations could very well prove to be the catalyst that propels New Jersey from ring-fenced to an international iGaming hub.

Of course if states on the precipice of launching Internet gambling, such as Pennsylvania and Illinois, enter the fray, the potential revenue wrought from reciprocal agreements would reach even greater heights.

WSOP.com knocking on Partypoker’s door…

Should Lesniak’s and Whelan’s new bill pass, it follows logically that the number one poker site in NJ would reap the most substantial gains.

But who will that be? Several weeks ago the answer seemed clear. Now, not so much.

According to online cash-game traffic authority PokerScout.com, the once broad gap between WSOP.com and Party Borgata (NJ) has shrunk considerably.

This, despite PartyPoker boasting modest gains over last week’s low point.

Cash-game traffic (24-hour peaks, followed by 7-day averages in parenthesis) as follows:

  • Party Borgata: 563 24-peak (260 7-day average) – Up 16 and 8 percent, respectively.
  • WSOP.com: 439 (220 average) – Average cash-game volume is up a staggering 22.2%. WSOP.com now ranks only 2 spots behind Party in worldwide cash-game volume (Party is 30, WSOP is 32).
  • All American (888): 322 (120 average) – Peak numbers are up 50%, averages up 9.1.%
  • Ultimate (NJ): 50 (16) – No notable change.

Average week-over-week cash volume has increased moderately (544 to 616), with WSOP.com responsible for over 55% of the gains.

…but it might be a fluke

Ask the average live tournament grinder when cash games are at their juiciest, and he’ll likely tell you that it’s during a major tournament event.

Following the same logic, it’s very well possible that the ongoing WSOP.com Online Championship is having an advantageous effect on the site’s cash-game volume.

But I’m inclined to think that there’s more to it than that. Here’s why:

To date, the WSOP Online Championship tournament series drew a decent, but by no means overwhelming, turnout. Case in point: five of the seven tournaments failed to hit their guarantee, with the Main Event missing the mark by $86,000.

If anything, the prior week’s inaugural $250k Invitational Freeroll was by far the biggest draw, garnering more entrants than the other seven Online Championships events combined.

Compounding matters, the popularity of PartyPoker’s 50k Guarantee is once again on the rise (up 9 entries to 266 over last week), while WSOP’s $25,000 Weekly Sunday Guarantee featured 25 less entrants.

And yet, despite WSOP’s rather pedestrian tournament turnouts and Party’s modest gains, WSOP.com has made up significant ground in terms of overall cash-game traffic.

But why?

Maybe the cash-games are just better on WSOP.com

888Poker‘s gains are easily explained via its stellar 80% rakeback and $50,000 24/7 freeroll promos.

Conversely, besides the inception of a leaderboard promo in early-January, WSOP.com hasn’t done all that much to drive players to their various cash-game offerings.

So with WSOP, one can only guess as to why they’re gaining traction.

But my inner poker player tells me it’s because they’re consistently doing more to attract dedicated players who either make a living playing poker or aspire to. Such as:

  • VIP Program: WSOP’s higher VIP tiers reward players with up to 30% rakeback.
  • Table stats: WSOP’s cash game lobby displays pertinent stats such as average pot size and the percentage of players to a flop; Party’s does not. Also, players on WSOP can view who is currently seated at a table and their chip stacks.
  • Rake: The max rake is lower on WSOP than it is on Party.

Really, what it comes down to is whether Party’s casual poker offering can ultimately win over enough hardcore fans to overcompensate for its less than alluring incentive programs.

If not, WSOP.com appears poised to take over the market top spot.

Other quips

  • Last week, VirginCasino.com became New Jersey’s 15th Internet gaming site. Virgin’s casino offering is the result of the company’s partnership with Tropicana Atlantic City. Its software is powered by Gamesys, the same online gaming provider that powers TropicanaCasino.com.
  • During my three-day stay at the Borgata last week, I noticed over two dozen patrons playing poker online from the casino’s lounge – a very positive sign indeed. On what site were the majority playing on – WSOP.com.

That does it for another NJ iGaming Weekly.

Stay tuned for next week when I take a look at a few new depositing methods and at the impact the Big Game had on the Sunday Majors.

- 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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