NJ iGaming Weekly: It’s Party Time in New Jersey, as Online Poker Market Experiences Unprecedented New Highs

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If New Jersey’s first three months in the regulated iGaming space were a preamble, then Sunday was the true first chapter.

Granted, Party Poker / Borgata’s $100,000 guaranteed one-off event wasn’t the first of its kind – last month WSOP.com held a paid entry $250,000 guarantee as part of its Online Championship series – but it was the first tournament that instilled a sense of confidence in me, as if to say “don’t worry, online poker is alive and well.”

It also summoned up memories of days gone by, when PokerStars reigned supreme in the US. Back then a $200 buy-in could be parlayed into life-changing money, all in less time than it would take to put in a full day of work.

Up until Sunday I had resigned myself into thinking that those days had past, and that they wouldn’t return for several more years, if ever. Now, I’m not so sure.

So it’s only fitting that this week’s iteration of NJ iGaming Weekly be solely dedicated to the day I’ve personally dubbed “Breakthrough Sunday.”

The Party / Borgata 100k guaranteed: By the numbers

Just a quick overview of last Sunday’s 100k guarantee numbers relative to weeks prior reveals how significant an impact the tournament had on NJ’s burgeoning online poker market:

  • Sunday’s tournament drew 768 entries. The previous high was set on February 9th, when 378 runners signed up for Party / Borgata’s newly-revamped 50k guarantee.
  • The 100k guarantee shattered its guaranteed prize pool by a staggering $45,410. Prior to Sunday, no NJ tournament had cleared its benchmark by more than $20,000.
  • First place paid out $26,901, and the top three finishers all received five-figure paydays. Although it wasn’t the highest first place prize paid out thus far, it takes top honors for a $200 buy-in tournament.
  • For comparison’s sake, WSOP’s $250,000 Guaranteed Main Event on January 26th missed its guarantee by a whopping $86,000, forcing the site to make up the difference.

For more on Party / Borgata’s record-setting tournament and its possible implications on the future of the site’s Sunday Major, please refer to Chris Grove’s recent posting.

So why the huge turnouts?

Beyond the lure of a bigger of a bigger prize pool, there are several theories as to why the 100k guarantee drew such a massive field:

  • The tournament was originally announced three weeks ago. It’s likely that players who won a Sunday Major entry via Party’s frequent satellites waited until last Sunday to take full advantage of their tickets.
  • Last Sunday, both Harrah’s Philadelphia and Parx Casino were sponsoring Day 2’s of major tournament events. It’s possible that players who busted early made the trek across Interstate 95 for a second chance at glory.
  • Along the same lines, New York City’s poker contingent likely felt more compelled to visit the Garden State than they would otherwise.

Remember, New Jersey’s regulated markets have a distinct advantage over those located in similarly populated areas: it’s sandwiched between two major cities that together exceed the population of the entire state.

And since introducing live poker a few years back, Philadelphia is quickly evolving into an epicenter of gambling activity.

Tournament entry fields up across the board

The ramifications of Party / Borgata’s successful foray into the land of six figures reached well beyond the confines of its own poker room, as a fair percentage of those who signed up for the 100k also took a shot at one or more of NJ’s other Sunday Majors.

Reminiscent of the pre-Black Friday days when upwards of four or more poker rooms would shatter the guarantees for their Majors week in and week out, Party’s success proves that what’s good for one site is advantageous for the online poker community at large.

Case in point:

  • Ultimate Poker’s NO-verlay $20,000 Sundays drew a record-breaking 300 entries, surpassing its guarantee by $7,300. Notably, it was the first time in the infant site’s history that the $100 buy-in event drew enough runners to satisfy its meager requirements.
  • WSOP’s $25,000 Weekly Sunday Guarantee also performed admirably, boasting a $34,200 prize pool.
  • Even 888poker’s Not-So-Big Sunday surpassed its guarantee, albeit by the slimmest of margins.

On a side, it’s quite likely that once Ultimate’s Sunday Major hit its guarantee, players began signing up in droves.

The reasoning behind my theory is that the site is currently offering a promotion where players are refunded their entire buy-in should one of its weekly guarantees cross over into the black.

More on NO-verlays here.

Cash-game traffic also experiences increase

While I’m sure Party / Borgata is thrilled that their 100k field trial obliterated expectations, the true mark of a site’s long-term viability is its cash-game traffic.

According to PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, the 100k did have a positive impact on cash-game volume, much to the pleasure of Party / Borgata, I’m sure.

7-day averages and 24-hour peaks as follows (as of Monday):

  • PartyPoker NJ: 231 (620 24-hour peak) – 7-day averages are up a respectable 8.5 percent over eight days prior.
  • WSOP: 174 (379 24-hour peak) – averages are down over 6 percent this week.
  • 888poker (All American Poker Network): 119 (255 24-hour peak) – down a rather remarkable 10 percent since last Sunday.
  • Ultimate Poker: 16 (54 24-hour peak) – holds steady at virtually nothing.

It’s clearly evident that while every NJ poker site benefited on the tournament front from Party’s bold move to double its guarantee, that it was the only site to reap the rewards of increased cash-game volume.

Given the success of the 100k and the positive impact it had on cash-game numbers, it will be interesting to see how Party handles the prize pool for its Sunday Major going forward.

But if I had to guess, last Sunday won’t be the last time we’ll be seeing a six-figure guaranteed payout in New Jersey. And that’s a major milestone in and of itself.

- 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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