NJ iGaming Weekly: Can the NJCOP Reverse the NJ Market’s Current Downswing?

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Forgetting for a second about geo-location errors, bug riddled software, and payment processing issues, the number one complaint I’ve heard among New Jersey-based tournament grinders is that the volume simply isn’t there.

And with the notable exception of March 2nd – the day Party / Borgata hosted its record-breaking $100,000 guarantee – they’re right.

For players used to anteing up $215 in the hopes of parlaying their small investment into a six-figure payday, New Jersey’s comparatively minuscule payouts have done little to either draw pros away from playing on unregulated sites or to persuade them to abandon their second homes in foreign countries.

Keep in mind that New Jersey’s success in the virtual poker department may ultimately act as a tipping point for states currently taking a cautious “wait and see” approach to regulated gambling.

It’s for this reason that New Jersey needs to make a concerted attempt to regularly draw New Yorkers, Philly residents and at least a smattering of big name pros to the Garden State for its online events.

But will the upcoming New Jersey Championship of Online Poker (NJCOP) accomplish that?

As it stands, maybe. If it were more ambitious, almost definitely.

Volume has steadily decreased over the past two weeks

A quick glance at the numbers reveals that without the presence of a big event, traffic tends to fall.

Cash game numbers as of March 16th are as follows (7-day averages):

  • Party / Borgata: 212 – down approximately 5 percent over past two weeks and 10 percent over its monthly high
  • WSOP.com149 – down 7.5 percent since March 2nd
  • All American Poker Network (888poker): 113 – dropped 6.6 percent over a 14-day period
  • Ultimate Poker14 – averaging two players less than it did on March 2nd

Turnouts for this week’s Sunday Majors fared slightly better, but still exhibited an overall downward trend:

  • Party / Borgata 50k guaranteed: 342 – down 17 runners from last week
  • WSOP $25,000 Weekly Sunday guarantee: 137 runners, four more than on March 9th
  • 888 The Big Sunday: featured 56 entries as compared to last week’s 50
  • Ultimate Poker $20,000 Sundays: down a whopping 171 entrants from last week

Two points worth noting. Ulitmate Poker’s tremendous drop-off  can undoubtedly be attributed to the end of its NO-verlay promotion.

Secondly, last week Party /Borgata experienced technical difficulties, resulting in the forced stoppage of the $50k and players receiving an ICM chip-chop. Party’s server failure may have had a negative effect on this week’s turnout numbers.

To read more about last week’s software disaster, turn to this thread on the 2+2 forums.

Revised NJCOP is still not without its issues

Party Poker has this way of welcoming player feedback, only to incorporate small portions of their customers’ valuable advice. New Jersey’s market leader did it when the $50k guarantee was initially revamped and now Party Poker is doing it with the NJCOP.

Thankfully, Party made a further amendment to the $50k, this one based almost entirely on player feedback. Here’s hoping the NJCOP follows a similar path, because right now it’s lacking moxie.

Changes to the NJCOP

Last week, Party posted a draft schedule of the upcoming NJCOP. Suffice to say, it was almost universally scorned by players.

Since, the schedule has been amended. Notable changes are as follows:

  • The event schedule has been increased from 10 events to 15.
  • The total guaranteed prize pool has seen an increase from $500,000 to $600,000.
  • Event buy-ins now range from $10 to $500 as opposed to $50 – $200.
  • Anyone who final tables Event #1, a $50,000 freeroll, will receive free entry into all NJCOP events – a $2,000 value.

Here are the problems with the revised NJCOP

While the new NJCOP schedule is certainly better than the uninspired first draft, I’d argue that it still lacks the “WOW” factor necessary to sway poker players on the fence.

Here are a few issues I, and posters on 2+2, have with the current slate of tournaments:

  • Two of the listed events are satellites. While I take no issue with satellites in general, including them as part of the main event schedule feels like a slightly deceptive device to inflate the numbers.
  • There’s only one non-NLHE event on the menu – Event #4 $10k GTD PLO Re-buy. That’s better than nothing, but in general the schedule is still lacking. How about a PLO8 event?
  • Compounding matters, the sole PLO event appears to be full-ring, which is strange considering all other PLO games on Party / Borgata are 6-max.
  • No tournament leaderboards. Awarding the freeroll finalist a NJCOP prize package was a nice touch, but that benefits exactly nine players. Leaderboards inspire healthy competition among the entire community.
  • Three of the scheduled events repeat themselves later in the series, one twice.

Not to mention, the buy-in and guarantee for the main event could have easily been higher. Even a $300 entry fee would serve to differentiate it from its weekly Major.

The potential effect of the NJCOP on the regulated online poker market

As is, will most of the NJCOP events meet or exceed their guarantees? I’d say yes, but only because the benchmarks have been set so low.

Instead, I would have preferred if Party upped the ante even further by introducing larger guarantees, a few bigger buy-in events and a more varied schedule.

Granted, by doing so Party would run the risk of losing money. But that small negative would be more than offset by the NJCOP’s heightened potential to attract players from neighboring states, and more importantly, the attention of the nation at large.

Getting back to the question proposed in this week’s title, “Can the NJCOP reverse the NJ Market’s current downswing?”

Well, put it this way. In a world where cathartic events are few and far between, Party has the opportunity to do something that will shake up the regulated iGaming industry, potentially propelling it to new heights.

And they’re electing to play it safe, instead seemingly banking on the Borgata Spring Poker Open to increase volume.

Sorry for the criticism Party, but now more than ever, New Jersey needs you to go big.

- 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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