NJ iGaming Weekly: Big Game Puts Big Dent in Sunday Majors; WSOP, Party Award Massive Prizes

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Over the past seven days, New Jersey poker sites knowingly gave away more free cash and prizes than in the prior nine weeks combined.

I say “knowingly” because several big money promotions, including the culmination of Borgata / Party Poker’s New Jersey’s Next Poker Millionaire, were slated for last week.

That, and I have to believe most poker operators were prepared to cover some pretty hefty overlays, given the presence of football’s own Sunday Major – the Super Bowl.

Overall, cash-game and tournament turnouts were down across the board, leading me to wonder just how long NJ’s iGaming market can sustain its philanthropic ways before the well begins to run dry.

Party / Borgata crowns a millionaire; WSOP rewards its faithful

In terms of monetary rewards, the two biggest stories of the week were WSOP’s $250k Player’s Freeroll and New Jersey’s Next Poker Millionaire.

As the name implies, the former granted anyone who participated in a WSOP Online Championship event an entry into an exclusive freeroll event.

The ultimate winner, a player who goes by the handle “T1mB3y_B33F” received $51,250 for besting the 814 player field, merely $12,500 less than the first prize payout of the $530 NLH $250k Guarantee Main Event. The top six runners would all receive five-figure paydays.

But that was small potatoes compared to the $1 million prize won by Myroslaw Woroch (“onetime99”) of Cedar Knolls.

Woroch’s journey began some six weeks ago when he won entry to one of eight Next Poker Millionaire semi-finals via a 1 point tournament qualifier. Then, he bested a field of nearly 2,200 runners to reach the live finale, held at Borgata‘s brick and mortar casino on Saturday.

Woroch would compete against the seven other finalists in a single table SNG. Featuring 30-minute levels and 100 starting blinds the tournament structure resembled that of the $70 Midnight Madness at the Taj more than one carrying a $1 million top prize.

But I digress.

In what amounted to the biggest pay bubble in poker history (at least to my knowledge) Woroch would best second-place finisher Steven Edwards, bestowing him with $1 million in cash and prestigious tournament entries as well as the title of New Jersey’s Next Poker Millionaire.

Edwards would receive a comparatively paltry $25k for his commendable runner-up finish.

Full details of the tournament, including hand highlights and payouts can be found here.

Super Bowl draws attention away from Sunday Majors

As expected, the first Garden State-hosted Super Bowl caused a dramatic decrease in Sunday Major entries.

After last week’s noticeable increase, Borgata / PartyPoker’s 50k Guarantee drew a near record low 205 runners, resulting in an $8,400 overlay.

On a side, two Team PartyPoker pros – Jamie Kerstetter and WPT Champion Bobby Oboodi – would make deep runs, with Kerstetter finishing in the top 18 and Oboodi runner-up.

WSOP’s $25k Weekly Sunday Guarantee wouldn’t fare much better, missing the mark by $5,600.

888‘s Sunday “Minor” would fall only $1,860 short of its $10k guarantee, largely due to the site’s diminished turnout expectations.

And Ultimate Poker‘s $20,000 Sundays once again failed to cover half of its guarantee, giving away nearly $12,500 in added cash. All this despite a vigorous email marketing campaign that all but spelled out just how much added value can be had by playing in its Major.

Given its relatively small stature, at least compared to New Jersey’s iGaming giants, one has to wonder just how long Ultimate Poker will hold out before dropping its guarantee to $15,000, or even $10,000.

The results of gaming operator efforts will soon come into focus

Add in the $50,000 888poker is giving away each week, and last week New Jersey’s poker sites gave away well over $1.3 million to its faithful patrons.

An admirable figure by any account, but will the giveaways and widespread promotional vehicles eventually draw more players to NJ’s poker sites?

As of now, it’s too early to tell, but there are some early indicators working for and against the future viability of NJ’s iGaming market.

First, the positive:

  1. Now that football season has officially come to a close, more players will likely be spending their Sundays playing poker online. Solid promotions may provide football fans on the fence about online poker with the incentive they need to create an account.
  2. Thanks to PartyPoker’s deal with the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers, as well as the increased marketing efforts from iGaming operators across the board, regulated Internet gambling awareness has spread – although to what degree is not entirely known.
  3. More depositing options are becoming available, such as PartyPoker’s PrePaid Card, which gives users hesitant or unable to use an existing depositing method with an alternative option. Although it would help if Party updated its Deposit options page so that it reflects its current offerings.
  4. Management is making a more concerted effort to appeal to player demands, evident by recent changes to PartyPoker’s 50k Guarantee.

Now, the negative:

  1.  A recent poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University reveals that New Jersey’s residents are more opposed to Internet gambling than they were nearly a year ago. That doesn’t bode well for the prospect of sustained growth in NJ’s iGaming market.
  2. Should increased awareness lead to more tournament runners, the added value to be had by playing in a Sunday Major will taper off and eventually disappear, driving some players away. A vicious cycle ensues where the sites are either forced to increase the guarantees or find another means of keeping players loyal to their site. In a word, they’ll have to spend more money.
  3. Geolocation and wayward server disconnect policies still hamper NJ-based sites, leading some to take their chances on unregulated sites.
  4. The current generous promotions haven’t exactly had a major impact on cash-game volume over the past month.

Cash-game volume down, but that was to be expected

Overall, cash-game volume was down this week, although part of the drop-off could easily be attributed to the Super Bowl.

What will be interesting to see is how it fares next week, in the absence of any major sporting event.

According to PokerScout:

  • Party Borgata (NJ): 583 24-hour peak (220 7-day average) – 7-day averages are down over 15%
  • WSOP: 460 (180) – Averages are down nearly 19%
  • All American Network (888): 278 (120) 24-peak is down moderately, 7-day averages remained stable
  • Ultimate (NJ): 40 (14) – Nearly non-existent

Do note that 24-hour peaks on Party and WSOP are up over last week; early indicators that the market is bouncing back from its low point.

- 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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