NJ iGaming Weekly: New Jersey Poker Networks No Longer Dominate US Market

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For the past six months, PartyPoker New Jersey has been the predominant force in the US’s regulated online poker industry. That all came to a crashing halt last Sunday when WSOP Nevada registered 7-day cash-game traffic averages of 144 – a new all-time high for the network.

Comparatively, Party NJ – which shares cash-game liquidity across two sites (nj.partypoker.com and borgatapoker.com) – currently boasts an average of 141 cash-game grinders.

As a result, WSOP NV is now the 37th most heavily traversed online poker network in the world, followed by Party NJ at number 38 and WSOP’s East Coast counterpart at number 41.

This according to data collected on PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout.

And while the changing of the guard can be easily attributed to the influx of players in Las Vegas for the live WSOP, several other factors are at play.

We look at these, along with the most recent measures NJ sites have taken to counter the current downswing, in this iteration of NJ iGaming Weekly.

Traffic in NJ nearing critical levels

Although traffic on WSOP NV is up 50 percent over the past three weeks, it would have never surpassed PartyPoker NJ if the latter didn’t forgo nearly 40 percent of its volume since early March.

To put some perspective on how poorly NJ’s online poker market is performing, consider the following:

  • On January 26, 7-day cash-game averages reached 617 – an all-time high for the then two-month old market.
  • On SuperBowl Sunday, which as many recall was hosted in New Jersey, cash-game traffic levels sputtered down to a then unprecedented low of 506.
  • As of last Sunday, there are an average of 307 players mixing it up online in NJ, or approximately half of what there was in January.
  • The global market has only fallen 22 percent over a similar time period.
  • Nevada, despite a population only 32.6 percent of the size of New Jersey’s, is currently boasting 64.2 percent of the cash-game traffic. I expect this ratio to become even more disproportionate as June wears on.

New Jersey’s tumultuous fall from respectability is not unlike what happened in Italy a couple of years ago.

After cash-game tables premiered in July 2011, the Italian market experienced a brief 3-month traffic surge, followed by a 41 percent loss over the course of the next twelve months. Volume would rebound that fall, only to trend slightly downwards over the next year-and-a-half – a trend that continues today.

Today, the Italian market boasts 7-day averages of only 2,400 – or about 0.004 percent of its 61 million population . Like New Jersey, the Italian online poker industry is ring-fenced and taxed by the state.

Using Italy’s performance as a predictive model for New Jersey, it would appear that even in a best case scenario, cash-game averages in New Jersey would curve up slightly this fall, followed next spring by another tailspin that could see traffic levels spiral below their current levels.

Factor in New Jersey’s small population, higher attrition rates, and technological challenges, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 250 became the new standard during off-peak seasons.

That is of course, if nothing changes.

WSOP NV offers a lesson in how to revitalize NJ’s iPoker industry

There’s a reason why traffic on WSOP NV is on pace to increase by 100 percent from late May to early July, while that of its closest rival (UltimatePoker.com) has stood pat, and it lies in the multiple ways WSOP NV has taken advantage of its cross-promotional ties to the biggest name in live tournament poker.

Listed below are a just a smattering of the things New Jersey’s iPoker operators can learn from WSOP’s success in Nevada.

1. Run prestigious online tournament series concurrently with massive live events

While the Borgata Poker Open is not exactly the WSOP, it does draw a myriad of out-of-state players to Atlantic City for what often amounts to a two-week stay. Last spring, Party /Borgata took advantage of this by hosting the NJCOP concurrently with the live WPT Championship.

Suffice it to say, it didn’t work out as well as it could have.

Problem was the Championship was one of the Open’s concluding events. Of the players that remained at the Borgata, a healthy amount were there to play for millions, not a piddling five-figure payday.

To the contrary, WSOP ran its High Roller and Online Championship Series in Nevada just as the hype for the live WSOP was reaching a fever pitch. WSOP’s strategy worked, as to date, the Online Championship has grossly outperformed its counterpart in New Jersey and has arguably had a more measurable effect on cash-game traffic than the NJCOP.

The lesson to be learned is that next time Party NJ hosts an online tournament series it should coincide with the Open’s first, lower buy-in events.

2. Host complimentary promotions that increase player bankrolls

All too often online poker networks sponsor huge tournament series without complimenting them with bankroll bolstering promos – the tragic flaw being that players on a budget simply aren’t willing to dedicate a hefty portion of their roll without some sort of backup plan.

WSOP.com countered this by rolling out a 100% match reload bonus on deposits up to $1,000 and releasing increments at a generous 20 percent rakeback rate.

The Multi-Table Madness and SNG Leaderboard promos also increased cash liquidity on the site. And while the effect of these promos was more pronounced in Nevada, WSOP NJ is the only New Jersey iPoker network that has managed to exhibit slight gains over the past few weeks.

To the contrary, NJ operators tend to host their most rewarding promotions when little else is going on. That’s like a parent giving their son a fresh hundred dollar bill, only to ground him for two weeks.

3. Spread awareness

It’s a relatively small sample size, but in the times I’ve played live poker at Sands Bethlehem and Parx Casino since regulated poker went live in New Jersey, the players I’ve encountered either didn’t know online poker was live in the Garden State, or if they did, assumed players had to hold a New Jersey residence.

That’s a problem, but one that with a little ingenuity can easily be solved.

Case in point: Over the past two weeks, David Tuchman has arguably done more to spread iGaming awareness during his live final table streams then the cumulative efforts of all NJ operators have over the past six months.

Why not stream Borgata Open events? Or perhaps take a cue from Sands, and start posting billboards in PA and NY stating “Online poker is only a X minute drive away!”

Best yet, forge an interstate compact with Nevada. If there was any question that an alignment with NV would be beneficial, those doubts have been dispelled – if only because Nevada has been able to buck the seasonal downtrend plaguing the vast majority of online poker networks.

Party’s alignment with the Philadelphia 76ers and WSOP’s with the NY Rangers is a good start, but to date, very few individuals living in the Mid-Atlantic know they they have the option to gamble legally online.

New promotions make their way to NJ

I’ve scoured New Jersey’s poker sites in search of enticing, new promos. Here’s the best of the lot:

  • 888 Poker Summer SlamFrom now until June 24, 888 is offering players the opportunity to participate in a nightly $5,000 freeroll. Reminiscent of 888’s launch efforts, registered players will be gifted two freeroll tickets, with an additional two earned by playing in 30 raked hands or 5 tournaments on any given day.
  • Borgata Poker’s The GrindAkin to the Mega Missions promos of month’s past, The Grind rewards players who reach predetermined benchmarks with additional rakeback. Unlike previous iterations of the promo, The Grind has upped the ante considerably – offering the most hardcore players upwards of 18 percent additional cash back.
  • WSOP.com Online Championship Series: I only mention this because several of last’s week WSOPOC events have failed to reach their guarantee. I anticipate more of the same this week, creating tremendous value for the Garden State’s tournament grinders.

Let’s hope the aforementioned does something to stymie the downward spiral afflicting NJ’s online gambling industry.

- 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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