NJ iGaming Weekly: The WSOP Effect on NJ Online Poker Room Traffic

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Last week, I suggested that only two of New Jersey’s poker operators have managed to remain viable in the state’s now collapsing iGaming market.

And while both WSOP NJ and PartyPoker NJ have clearly taken positive preliminary steps towards ensuring their long-term sustainability, turnout numbers continue to decline at rates that outpace global trends.

So why isn’t volume on the rise, or at the very least stabilizing?

The most obvious answer is that players gave up on legal iPoker long before significant change was enacted, with most resigning themselves to trying again only after more states joined the iGaming mix. To them, regulated online poker was but one of many playing alternatives available in New Jersey, and clearly not the best.

A lack of positive press and the lingering presence of the unregulated market likely played contributing roles as well.

What WSOP.com and Party / Borgata need to do is to somehow make the public aware of their new and improved online poker offerings, and just as importantly, their commitment to change. And if they hold any hope of bucking what now amounts to a four month downtrend, they need to do it now.

The 45th Annual WSOP – which kicked off this Tuesday – may be the long-shot answer.

We look at how the live WSOP can potentially bolster online traffic in NJ in this iteration of NJ iGaming Weekly. But first we examine the increasingly precarious state of regulated online poker in NJ.

An analysis of the state of online poker in New Jersey

Despite losing nearly 48 percent of its cash game traffic since late January, NJ online poker revenue held relatively stable until last month –  even then declining at a slower rate than cash-game volume levels would indicate.

According to data provided in a recent scouting report from PokerScout, the apparent inconsistency between traffic and revenue can be partially reconciled by a third variable, that of player value.

From January through April, the average amount of revenue generated per player steadily increased, effectively offsetting any traffic losses. But thus far in May, that value has decreased to around its March levels.

I’m of the mind that the recent falloff in player value can be directly attributed to the end of 888’s 80% Rakeback promo – which rewarded high-volume play.

It’s also conceivable that the amplified emphasis on tournament play earlier this spring, illustrated by the restructuring of Party / Borgata’s 50k Guarantee, Ultimate Poker’s NO-verlay promotion and the presence of the NJCOP, led to nominal increases in player value.

Along the same lines, a lack of notable tournament events in May may have contributed to its decline.

You can view PokerScout’s graph, which details month-by-month player value trends on NJ poker sites,  and an accompanying analysis by Chris Grove here.

7-day cash-game averages (as of May 26)

  • PartyPoker NJ: 150 – down from 151 a week prior
  • WSOP: 116 – represents a 2.5 percent drop-off since May 19
  • AAPN (888 Poker): 56 – 888’s slide continues, as traffic drops another 6.7 percent this week
  • Ultimate Poker: 3 – can UP even be considered a legitimate place to play cash at this point?

To conclude, given the diminished player interest in online cash-games and tournaments, together with the decrease in player value, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Garden State’s poker rooms generated less than 80 percent of the revenue in May that they banked a month prior.

Can the presence of the live WSOP bolster online poker traffic in NJ?

For the first time since regulated iGaming went live in the US last April, the world’s biggest live poker stage has an online counterpart.

Already the leading online poker provider in the state of Nevada, WSOP.com NV is well positioned to experience heavy traffic gains over the next six weeks. That much is obvious.

Less obvious are the potentially advantageous effects the WSOP will have on the legal poker market as a whole – particularly in New Jersey.

Listed below are just a few of the many ways in which the 2014 WSOP can positively affect, directly or otherwise, the regulated iPoker industry.

#1 The WSOP.com Online Championship

As part of its cross-promotional efforts, WSOP.com is hosting a 15-event tournament series, the WSOP.com Online Championship. Beginning on June 1st, players from  New Jersey and Nevada will have the opportunity to compete for $560,000 in guaranteed prize money.

Offering the Online Championship in both states where WSOP.com operates was a brilliant strategic move in that it allows East Coast players who can’t necessary afford the trek out to Vegas an opportunity to experience a small slice of the WSOP.

Similar to last month’s Party / Borgata-hosted NJCOP, the Online Championship will appeal to mid-stakes grinders hoping to turn a relatively small buy-in into a significant score.

But because the Online Championship has the added benefit of being associated with the live WSOP, without directly competing against it, I’d argue that it will perform even more admirably in New Jersey than in Nevada – perhaps even drawing an influx of new players to WSOP NJ.

#2 Media exposure

The Rio recently implemented a new rule that will allow WSOP participants to play online while at a live table. Furthermore, this year’s WSOP will feature a computer-laden Grind Room where players can test their online poker skills.

Should ESPN dedicate a segment to the Grind Room, or even comment on a player mixing it up online during the Main Event, it will increase public awareness of WSOP’s online poker brand.

Better yet, it might get players from New Jersey talking about how WSOP NJ has a dedicated mobile app, which makes it even easier to multi-table live and online games.

#3 Player awareness

At the 2014 WSOP, pros who may or may not have even heard of WSOP.com will get to experience their first taste of regulated US poker. In a best case scenario, pros originally from the US but now staying abroad will encourage their friends to take up stock in either Nevada or New Jersey to play online poker.

More realistically, a well-recognized online pro may become a sponsor for WSOP.com. One look at how much Jason Somerville has done for Ultimate Poker in Nevada should be proof enough that pro sponsorship can have a profound effect on an online poker network’s reputation and reach.

Envisioning a WSOP domino effect

In an ideal scenario, the WSOP can vault the entirety of state-regulated poker into the public consciousness.

Should new players start creating accounts on New Jersey online poker sites, they’ll view them for the first time in their current, somewhat improved state – not the terribly flawed mess that they were back in December.

And now that both of the state’s top poker operators seem to be more in touch with what players want, it suddenly becomes more likely that new registrants will stick around.

As a result, attrition rates stabilize, promotions improve and the market finds renewed strength.

It’s still a long shot, but what better option does New Jersey have than to rely on a tournament series taking place nearly 3,000 miles away? At this point, there’s nothing to lose.

- 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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