NJ iGaming Weekly: The First Annual NJCOP Gets Underway; Reactions Range From Tepid to Enthusiastic

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When state-regulated online poker was legalized in New Jersey, it signified much more than the return of Internet gaming to the Garden State. It marked the birth of a new era in Atlantic City, one in which the struggling gambler’s haven could reach a whole new audience via cross-promotions between its land-based casinos and their online counterparts.

Fast forward 14 months, and what was once a possibility has manifested itself into a staunch reality. The nj.partypoker.com and BorgataPoker.com-hosted NJ Championship of Online Poker denotes the first time since regulated poker went live in New Jersey that an online tournament series directly coincides with a major live poker open – the Borgata Spring Poker Open.

Until recently expectations for the NJCOP were exceedingly high, only partially quelled by the drastic traffic falloff NJ sites have experienced of late. But if there was any one event that could reverse the downtrend faced by the Garden State’s online poker scene, it would be the NJCOP.

But so far, it’s only partially succeeding.

NJCOP events draw significant, but not overwhelming, interest

Thus far, six of the scheduled 15 NJCOP events are in the books.

Turnout figures for the events hosted thus far range from mildly disappointing to almost impressive:

  • Event #1 – $50,000 Freeroll: 2292 entrants
  • Event #2 – $20,000 GTD NLHE: 319 entrants, exceeds guarantee by $9,029
  • Event #3 – $100,000 GTD NLHE: 501 entrants, $7,315 overlay
  • Event #4 – $10,000 GTD PLO (Re-buy): 314 entries, exceeds guarantee by $4,287
  • Event #5 – $20,000 GTD Bounty: 356 entrants, exceeds guarantee by $5,276
  • Event #6 – $20,000 GTD 6-Max: 329 entrants, exceeds guarantee by $9,939

To date, only one tournament has failed to reach its guarantee, with two others exceeding it by nearly a 50 percent margin.

Notably, Party NJ’s third $100,000 guaranteed tournament boasted its lowest turnout figures to date.

On March 2nd, the network’s first $100k drew an extraordinary 786 runners, amounting to an over $145k prize pool. The second, which was hosted four weeks later, attracted just enough players (544) to exceed its baseline guarantee, but still a few dozen more than last Sunday’s iteration.

The NJCOP results thus far also indicate that players relish the opportunity to play in NLHE tournaments featuring alternative formats, such as bounties. Mid-to-high stakes tournaments of this variety are notably absent from Party / Borgata’s weekly schedule.

Why the NJCOP numbers fail to impress

On paper, it appears that the NJCOP is faring relatively well. But several factors paint a decidedly different story:

  • Thanks to the Spring Poker Open and first ever Atlantic City-held WPT Championship, business at the Borgata’s poker room is booming. Out of state and NJ residents hesitant to pony up the $15,000 for the Championship are participating in a slew of juicy cash games, side events, and at least in theory, playing online. But then why aren’t entry figures for NJCOP events higher?
  • Both BorgataPoker.com and nj.partypoker.com are running NJCOP satellites and other gimmicky promotions around the clock. Qualifiers produce artificially inflated entry pools.
  • Sunday Major turnout across all NJ sites was about on par with the week prior. Compare this to March 2nd, when Party / Borgata’s first $100k sparked renewed interest in NJ-regulated online tournament poker.
  • Outside of the Main Event, most NJCOP events tout conservative guarantees. If Party had decided to take a more aggressive approach, instead setting the guarantees for Events 2, 5 and 6 to $30k, not a single tournament played thus far would have hit the mark. That being said, the number of entrants into the aforementioned events would likely have been higher.
  • The majority of NJCOP players sign up for more than one tournament, reducing the overall participant pool significantly. This is to be somewhat expected, but the frequency of repeat players is exceedingly high.

NJCOP could facilitate long-term growth of NJ’s online poker scene

Should the remaining NJCOP schedule, particularly the Main Event, draw significant interest, it could spark long-term interest in the Garden State’s fledgling Internet poker arena.

PartyPoker recently revealed that approximately 15 percent of total signups are from out of state residents, with nearly 1 percent each from at least four states that do not directly border NJ, such as Connecticut, California, Florida and Texas.

Like Canada and Mexico in the post-Black Friday era, New Jersey has the potential to become a hub for U.S. poker players, at least until other states throw their hats into the regulated iGaming arena.

NJCOP Main Event and other predictions

There are several indicators that the NJCOP Main Event will meet its lofty expectations:

  • As the NJCOP event with the largest guaranteed prize pool, the Main Event is more likely to entice players with tournament tickets than other NJCOP events featuring $200 buy-ins. This may also explain why turnouts for Event #3 were so pedestrian.
  • The Main Event takes place on April 26th, one day after the Spring Poker Open comes to an end. Some out of state players may stick around to participate in the Main, if only because the prize pool is larger than those bolstered by most Open events.
  • There are more satellites running for the Main than any other NJCOP event – far more.
  • As of Tuesday morning, over 100 runners have already signed up. 1082 is the magic number.

Given this, I predict that the Main Event will at least come close to fulfilling its ambitious guarantee, in the process encouraging Party Poker to host a major online tournament series at least twice a year.

In terms of how the NJCOP will affect cash-game volume, it’s still too early to say with clarity. Week-over-week 7-day averages on Party Poker NJ are up very slightly, while volume across other NJ-based sites is down by similar margins.

Twenty-four hour peak volumes on Party tell a more optimistic story. On Monday, the site drew upwards of nearly 500 concurrent cash-game players, and vaulted up five places on the worldwide traffic charts.

I would expect this trend to continue, with Party picking up more steam as the week goes on.

Data provided by PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout.

- 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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