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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.
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:
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.
On paper, it appears that the NJCOP is faring relatively well. But several factors paint a decidedly different story:
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.
There are several indicators that the NJCOP Main Event will meet its lofty expectations:
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.