NJ iGaming Weekly: In the Aftermath of the NJCOP, WSOP Thrives

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Throughout April, Party / Borgata garnered the majority of the state’s online poker spotlight by cross-promoting its own major tournament series (NJCOP) with the first NJ-based WPT Championship.

I’d argue that the Garden State’s top performing poker network deserved every ounce of recognition it sought, not necessarily because NJCOP events drew fantastic turnouts, but because Party aimed to set a new precedent for online poker in New Jersey – one based on the strength of its direct ties to Atlantic City’s most heralded casino, the Borgata.

And to that effect, the NJCOP was a resounding success.

Thousands upon thousands of poker players – some professional, some recreational – swarmed the Borgata last month, many of them ready to mix it up on both the green and virtual felts.

For some, like celebrated WPT commentator and analyst Tony Dunst, it would be their first time checking out NJ’s poker sites. For others, the NJCOP acted as a chance for redemption, where they wouldn’t have to wait until the next live event to land a five figure score.

In short, it was an unprecedented event. And now it’s over.

Last week was the first in nearly a month that all four of New Jersey’s poker operators competed on a level playing field.

But shockingly, it wasn’t Party / Borgata that reaped the residual benefits of the NJCOP. It was perennial second-place contender WSOP.com.

And here’s why.

NJCOP exposes Party / Borgata’s weaknesses

The increased exposure to the Party’s NJ brand may have actually had a detrimental effect on the network’s reputation as a whole.

One needn’t look further than its dedicated thread on the 2+2 forums to see that Party’s patrons are none too happy with its product/service, particularly the way one recent miscommunication was handled – or in this case, mishandled.

To elaborate:

Players lashed out against Party for not properly informing them that NJCOP Event #14 – $500 buy-in High Roller would only pay the top two places, with many stating that they would have never registered had they known.

In Party’s defense, the pay-out structure was specified in the tournament lobby, but some players (myself included), thought it was just another in a seemingly endless sea of software glitches.

Compounding matters further, several players claimed to have been told by Party’s customer service department that what was displayed in the tournament lobby was in fact an error, and that the team was diligently working towards a solution. Apparently not diligently enough, as after more than a week, a resolution has not been reached.

Throughout the early stages of the tournament, I did notice some table chatter that supports the aforementioned point.

A post from 2+2 user “grave danger,” who also wrote an article describing the matter, sums up the situation quite nicely:

“During the tournament, as well as after, myself, numerous players that I know, as well as players at the table who chose to chime in on the table chat, we’re all given the same exact response, like the reps were reading from the same card.

Whether it was through chat, email, or phone. They said it was an error, and it would be fixed. The question is will they do something to fix it like they claimed?”

To date, the Party representative has not posted a reply.

Other player concerns

  • Several would-be weekend warriors hailing from out-of-state are beginning to voice their trepidation after learning that players are having trouble logging onto Party / Borgata’s software from a Borgata hotel room. Speaking as a player, if I were unable to play online poker while in the very casino that represents the online brand, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that my luck would fare any better from a local Holiday Inn or Mariott.
  • A long inactive petition calling for cash-game tables to be visible from the lobby reemerged from the ashes. My assumption is that Party’s bare-bones approach to the lobby was a premeditated solution meant to combat what’s known in the poker world as “bumhunting.”  And while disallowing pros from preying on the weak is undoubtedly a good thing, not being able to see how many players are at a table, their chip stacks, and a few pertinent table stats seems backwards.
  • Other complaints include issues regarding NJCOP tournament structures, the host of UI glitches that have still yet to be addressed and the occasional software crash.

Amiss Party’s troubles, WSOP excels

Despite WSOP’s controversial decision to adapt a new forum policy following a heated spat between a supposed victim of collusion and Head of Online Poker Bill Rini, the Garden State’s second largest network (and arguably its largest single site) was the only one to actually see its post-NJCOP cash-game volume rise.

In some respect, WSOP gains credibility not for what it’s doing right, but for what other networks are doing wrong.

Case in point: Compared to say a PokerStars, WSOP’s software is hardly worth notice. But relative to NJ’s other poker offerings, it tends toward the more stable and polished side.

A few other areas where WSOP excels, if only by adhering to standard industry practices:

  • In addition to its first-time deposit bonus, WSOP is the only network to offer reload bonuses on a somewhat consistent schedule.
  • Sit and Go leaderboards: They’re back – enough said.
  • Along the same lines, WSOP will be awarding players who accumulate the most APPs – WSOP’s equivalent of a frequent player point system – with cash incentives.
  • Rini is still more engaged on the forums than either 888’s or Party’s rep.

Grievances aside, Party is still the place to go for the biggest Sunday tournaments. And I suspect that the favorable turnout numbers for the NJCOP will compel Party to reconsider its mediocre daily schedule.

But overall, the NJCOP did more to expose Party’s deficiencies than it brought in new customers, evidenced by this week’s volume drop-off.

Cash-game report: WSOP trending towards first

According to PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, 7-day cash-game traffic averages, with week-over-week percentage gains/losses in parenthesis, read as follows:

  • Party Poker NJ: 166 (-4.6 percent)
  • WSOP: 129 (+7.5 percent)
  • AAPN (888poker): 76 (-2.6 percent)
  • Ultimate Poker: 6 (0 percent)
  • New Jersey total: 378 (-0.3 percent)

Global averages were up 0.9 percent.

Should the recent trend continue, WSOP would overtake Party / Borgata for the state’s top spot in a matter of weeks. The presence of the WSOPC at Bally’s newly-minted WSOP-branded poker room and the live WSOP in Vegas in May through July may only facilitate this process.

- 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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