NJ iGaming Weekly: Party/Borgata’s Newly Revamped 50k Guarantee Lives Up to the Hype; Ultimate Poker Gets Frisky

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If there’s one lesson to be learned from New Jersey’s foray into the iGaming market it’s this: Players are less responsive to outlandish promotional vehicles than they are to good old fashioned accountability.

Case in point: Party/Borgata experienced a staggering 80 percent week-over-week turnout increase for its highest buy-in tournament, the 50k Guaranteed.

How? Not by spending an exorbitant amount of money, but by merely reacting to player requests.

Ultimate Poker‘s Sunday Major touted similar percentage gains, but not without the assistance of a desperation tactic.

WSOP‘s Majors also boasted noteworthy gains; not via the presence of a gimmicky promotion, but by continuing to provide arguably the best overall online poker playing experience in the Garden State.

We examine the short and potential long term effects of each site’s approach to change in this iteration of NJ iGaming Weekly.

Party/Borgata prove that adaptation works

Cliffs: Party/Borgata made some substantial changes to the network’s flagship Sunday tournament, the $50k Guaranteed.

And then, a week after the tournament struggled to attract 200 players, this happened:

Party / Borgata $50k Poker tournament

That’s a massive jump that shattered the previous record for entries into the tournament by over 100 players. And it happened in the context of New Jersey’s overall online poker traffic hitting a plateau.

I’ve got an in-depth look at how these changes came to pass and why they had such a dramatic impact on the field size for the $50k here.

But suffice it to say that other NJ rooms will be dissecting the tournament for whatever lessons they can glean from the staggering traffic burst Party/Borgata generated with just a few simple changes.

Ultimate Poker’s bizarre NO-verlay promo

Give Ultimate Poker some credit, their new NO-verlay promo is creative gimmickry at its finest.

But I’d argue that despite its obvious player appeal, it will end up hindering the site’s chances of finding a niche in New Jersey’s iGaming market more than it does helping.

The NO-verlay promo states that if one of Ultimate Poker’s nightly guarantees or Sunday Majors meets or exceeds its guarantee, that all players will be refunded their initial buy-in.

In a twist of sheer brilliance, Ultimate will not refund add-ons and rebuys, and all refunds are to be paid in U-Dollars, which are the equivalent of tournament dollars.

There’s no questioning that Ultimate Poker’s guaranteed tournaments offer the best value in New Jersey. Yet, due to its inferior software and lackluster design the site has had difficulty competing in the market.

I’m firmly of the mind that until the company addresses the site’s underlying maladies, New Jersey’s poker players will continue to take their business elsewhere. Here’s why:

Two possible scenarios

In one scenario, the NO-verlay promo draws players to the site, many of whom are only there because of the chance to freeroll a tournament. The guarantee is met, and players are rewarded with their initial buy-in back, albeit in tournament dollars.

The players then use their newly-gifted U-Dollars to play in additional tournaments, either until their luck runs out or until their U-Dollars are fully converted to real-money.

Either way, at this point there is no added incentive for playing on Ultimate Poker, and players will likely return to their preferred site.

In the other scenario, the promo fails to draw a significant amount of players, and Ultimate’s tournaments only come closer to fulfilling their guarantees. They still offer good value, but exceedingly less value than they did prior to the promotion’s launch.

Now players have even fewer reasons to give Ultimate their business.

The latter is the more likely scenario, for this reason: Ultimate’s NO-verlay promo is a quintessential Catch-22.

A player will open a NO-verlay tournament lobby, wait until the guarantee is either met or close to being met to register, and then do so. At least that’s what I would do.

Unfortunately, other players will be doing the exact same thing, resulting in a unintentional game of cat-and-mouse.

So far the only one benefiting from the promo is Ultimate Poker, as the number of tournament entries is up, but are still having trouble meeting their guarantees.

Case in point: Sunday’s $20,000 Sundays only drew 132 players, nearly 90 less than what would be needed to trigger the NO-verlay bonus. Monday’s $5k Nightly didn’t fare much better, missing the mark by about $2,300.

Regardless of how the promo ultimately plays out, one question remains unanswered: “How does Ultimate hang on to its player gains once the NO-verlay promo ends?”

Short answer, they can’t – not without offering players better long-term incentives.

Meanwhile, WSOP continues to climb

In other news, WSOP continues to gather steam, shattering its $25,000 Weekly Sunday Guarantee, all without the direct assistance of a promotional device – although the presence of several freerolls and satellites into live WSOP events certainly didn’t hurt.

By addressing the majority of its most pressing issues, and by offering players a solid (albeit by-the-numbers) online poker playing experience, WSOP is quietly creeping up on Party/Borgata for the Garden State’s iGaming lead.

And let’s also give credit to WSOP’s Head of Online Poker Bill Rini, who addresses player questions and concerns as timely and efficiently as anyone in the iGaming scene.

Cash game volume

And now that I’ve thoroughly exhausted everything I’ve had to say about this week’s tournament numbers, let’s take a quick peek at how cash-game traffic fared:

According to numbers posted on PokerScout:

  • Party Borgata (NJ): 526 24-hour peak (240 7-day average) – Up slightly over last week.
  • WSOP: 443 (200) – Once again, WSOP does more business than the week prior.
  • All American (888): 306 (130) – Exhibited small gains across the board.
  • Ultimate (NJ): 36 (16) – Appears that the NO-verlay promo led to NO traffic gains.

Will Party/Borgata’s 50k Guarantee continue to draw players to the tournament? And what effect will it have on the site’s cash game numbers?

Can Ultimate “ultimately” stay in business?

We’ll address these questions and more in next week’s iGaming weekly.

- 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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