NJ iGaming Weekly: Ultimate Poker Slashes Guarantees; 888 Leads Cash-Game Traffic Reemergence

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Cash-game traffic on New Jersey’s online poker sites continued to rebound, boasting incremental gains for the second consecutive week. This, despite worldwide iPoker traffic settling in at its lowest point in over two years.

The industry’s modest resurgence can be attributed to several factors, the most notable being 888’s recently launched Double Points Summer promo, which as the name implies awards players with twice the amount of player loyalty points, and subsequently twice the cash-back, that they would normally receive.

Ultimate Poker has rolled out a ring game-focused promo of its own, but instead of propelling the site in a positive direction, the only major change seen at UP is the reduction of its biggest weekly guarantees.

We’ll offer our opinions as to why 888’s cash-back promo is succeeding and UP’s is doing anything but, as well as examine the other possible driving force behind New Jersey’s pleasantly surprising turnaround, in this iteration of NJ iGaming Weekly. 

New Jersey iPoker traffic trends

Cash volume up

7-day cash-game averages according to Pokerfuse Pro via PokerScout are as follows (two week differential in parenthesis):

  • Party Poker NJ146 (+3.5%)
  • WSOP NJ111 (-5.9%)
  • AAPN (US.888poker.com): 63 (+43.8%)
  • Ultimate Poker NJ: 4 (a deceptive +33.3%)

888’s growth and WSOP’s struggles are a testament to the power of a strong player loyalty program.

Case in point: Despite boasting a better first-time deposit bonus, reload bonus, and a more varied assortment of promotions, WSOP would ultimately lose significant ground to its sister site.

And why? Signs point to WSOP’s recently revamped VIP scheme, which is far less lucrative than the one offered by 888. And that’s before Double Points is factored in. With it, there’s little comparison.

To illustrate – players who achieve WSOP’s highest monthly tier are entitled to an unimpressive 9% cash-back. Conversely, those who opt into 888’s Double Points Summer will earn an absolute minimum of 10% rakeback.

Combine this with the fact that the two sites utilize the same software platform and it becomes fairly obvious why ring game grinders are gravitating back towards 888.

Tournament turnouts a mixed bag

New Jersey’s two biggest weekly tournaments failed to attract enough runners to meet their guarantees, with Party / Borgata’s $50k guarantee falling short by $4,120 and WSOP’s $25,000 Weekly Sunday missing the mark by a somewhat alarming $6k.

Yet, the site’s lesser tournaments – namely those in the $16.50 to $100 range – performed more admirably.

Most notably, Party’s Daily $10k ($100 buy-in) almost always attracts more than 110 entrants. WSOP’s most popular nightly, a $27.50 buy-in R&A with a $10k guarantee, also performs nicely, regularly generating a prize pool in the $10,000 to $12,000 range.

Other nightly tournaments, particularly those on 888, are more of a mixed bag – but generally reach their markers with at least 50% reliability.

All this leads one to believe that New Jersey’s poker rooms might be better off coordinating smaller tournament series, like WSOP’s recently launched Mini-Fest, with greater frequency.

A comparison of Double Points and Cash-Game Crazy

As mentioned previously, 888’s Double Points Summer is likely the motivating factor behind the room’s return to relevance.

Ultimate Poker is running a similar promo entitled Cash-Game Crazy.

Awarding ring games players 100% cash-back, on paper Cash-Game Crazy is even more lucrative than Double Points. Yet, it’s had almost no notable impact on UP’s nearly non-existent ring game volume.

Listed below are a few theories as to why:

#1 Opt-in requirements

The only opt-in requirements for Double Points are that players must have had made at least one deposit prior to the start of the promotional period and another during it.

Ultimate Poker, on other hand, asks that players achieve Green Chip (the third of eight monthly tiers) before becoming eligible.

That wouldn’t be so bad if there were a plentiful number of ring game regulars on the site. As it stands, accumulating even a nominal amount of XP can be a bit of a grind.

#2 Cash-back vs. U$

888’s Rewards Points can be converted to cash at any time. This cash can either be used on the site or withdrawn.

Cash-Game Crazy gifts players with U$, which oddly enough, cannot be used for purchase into ring games, nor can they be withdrawn. Thus, players must use their accumulated U$ towards tournament buy-and SNGs buy-in, or at U$ brandished slot machines.

Which brings me to my final hypothesis:

#3 Tournaments on Ultimate Poker aren’t what they used to be

Ultimate Poker recently slashed the guarantees for their biggest weekly and nightly tournaments – and not by a marginal amount either.

As of June 16th, the $5,000 nightly is now a $1,000 guaranteed and the $20,000 Sundays has been cut by a staggering 7/8ths, all the way down to a $2,500 guarantee.

While I certainly can’t blame UP for downgrading their guarantees, the move seems a bit drastic. Others on the poker room’s dedicated Two Plus Two forum appear to share my sentiment.

I also find it odd that UP would cut the guarantees for their tournaments during the same week that they started paying rakeback in what essentially amounts to tournament dollars.

On a side note: It’s possible that UP has accepted its place as New Jersey’s perennial bottom feeder (at least for now), and that until it upgrades its software sufficiently, it is content to lose less money than it has in months pass. Seems reasonable.

Amaya acquisition of Stars may be impacting NJ iPoker traffic

I mentioned earlier that a secondary variable could be propelling NJ cash-game traffic in the right direction.

With Amaya’s purchase of PokerStars, and all the hoopla surrounding PokerStars’ now seemingly inevitable return to the Garden State, iGaming awareness throughout the Garden State has spread.

This, more than any form of traditional adverts, may have driven traffic to the state’s existing online poker rooms.

Or it’s possible that online players who avoided New Jersey’s “lesser” sites simply want to shake the rust off before PokerStars returns as early as this fall.

In either case, it wouldn’t be shocking if the market’s volume returns to its peak levels from January upon PokerStars reentry.

- 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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