Runaway Success of WSOP Main Event Scramble Hints at Potential of Regulated Online Poker

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While no single tournament event can definitively signal the future direction of an online poker market, some events are certainly more indicative than others.

Take the 25 Seat Main Event Scramble that ran at on July 5th. The tournament was, as the name suggests, a satellite to the $10,000 buyin Main Event of the World Series of Poker that guaranteed a prize pool of 25 seats – or $250,000 – for a buyin of $200+$15.

That’s quite a guarantee you have there

The guarantee struck many (including myself) as ambitious.

In a good way.

In a good, sort of crazy, way.

After all, the tournament was scheduled for a Saturday. A Saturday immediately after a major holiday. And the seats the Scramble promised were not transferrable and could not be exchanged for cash or lammers.

The satellite wasn’t a rebuy, or a re-entry, or anything that would artificially pump the prize pool.

And, frankly, the Main Event isn’t something most people can play on a whim. It requires a lot of time, time that the vast majority of people who visit the World Series simply don’t have.

So it was against that challenging backdrop that was betting they could draw the 1250 players they’d need in order to make the guarantee (1162 if you count tournament fees).

How did they do? Pretty well:

WSOP Scramble

Putting the performance in context

Is 1,235 a lot of players?

While it might be a paltry number for a major MTT on an international site, calling the turnout for the Scramble in the context of the U.S. regulated market impressive would be an understatement:

  • A heavily-promoted $200k guarantee – with rebuys – that ran on Sunday June 15th at NV managed to generate a prize pool of $137,200. That was a record for Nevada, but a far cry from the $247,000 prizepool the Scramble generated just a few weeks later.
  • The largest player-generated prize pool to date in New Jersey: Borgata / Party attracted 892 players for their $200k guarantee on April 28th, generating a pool of $178,400.

The next natural question: how many of those 1,235 tournament players found their way into the cash lobby? A less-positive wrinkle there:

That’s not to say there wasn’t any crossover.

7-day moving averages for cash game traffic in Nevada (per Pokerfuse Pro / hit their highest level of the summer in the days following the Scramble, and peak players held steady at over 400 through the weekend.

But both feats seem to be more a result of the steady momentum generated by the entire World Series of Poker, and less a direct result of the Scramble itself.

The lessons of the Scramble for regulated online poker sites

The primary lesson of’s Scramble is clear: Players – and lots of them – are willing to go through the somewhat arduous process of signing up and depositing at a regulated U.S. online poker site if the reward is obvious and compelling.

And the definition of a compelling reward isn’t limited to cash bonuses. After all, the Scramble had a meager overlay when all was said and done.

But believing that players will naturally expand their activity beyond the immediate scope of the reward is likely a faulty assumption.

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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