What Impact Did the World Series of Poker Have on Nevada Online Poker?

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In the nearly 16 months since regulated online poker first went live in the United States, gaming operators have only had a handful of opportunities to cross-promote their online brands with a live poker event.

The partnership of PartyPoker NJ and Borgata was the first to test the waters in April, when its New Jersey Championship of Online Poker purposely coincided with the Borgata Spring Poker Open and WPT Championship.

But it wouldn’t be until this June’s WSOP that a concerted attempt was made to heighten online poker awareness via the world’s most prestigious brick and mortar tournament series.

Without a doubt, WSOP.com’s efforts out in Nevada this summer were exemplary, evidenced by soaring traffic numbers, new industry highs, and positive residual effects.

Yes, there were hiccups along the way – with some ideas working better than others – but overall, the 2014 WSOP will be remembered as a prideful moment in online poker history.

Perhaps more importantly, it will likely become the comparison point for which WSOP NV bases its future efforts.

WSOP NV sets a strong precedent

Minor complaints aside, the 2014 WSOP was a resounding success for WSOP NV and regulated online poker. And WSOP.com mostly has its cross-promotional efforts to thank.

The numbers don’t lie:

  • Average cash-game liquidity on WSOP.com spiked 63.5 percent from May 19 to July 11.
  • By comparison, traffic on Ultimate Poker NV fell nearly two percent over the same time period.
  • Traffic on WSOP.com has yet to completely slide back to its pre-WSOP levels, leading me to believe that overall online poker brand awareness is up.
  • For a time, WSOP NV was the most heavily traversed site in the U.S.’s regulated iPoker market.
  • According to Head of Online Poker at WSOP.com Bill Rini, WSOP.com “ended up sending about 200 online qualifiers to WSOP events, including roughly 100 to the Main Event.”

If the aforementioned stats don’t speak volumes for the incredible impact the Series had on online traffic, then I don’t know what will.

Data provided by PokerFuse Pro and PokerScout.

Highlights of WSOP NV’s promotional efforts

2014 marked the first year in the modern poker era that U.S. residents had a fully legal means of winning their ticket into the Main Event online. It was one they would readily take advantage of.

Facilitating this was WSOP NV, which as the Main approached, began giving away seats like they were going out of style.

Some, myself included, thought that its 25 Seat Scramble, which as the name implies guaranteed 25 seats to the Main Event (valued at $10,000 each), was pushing the envelope too far.

How could WSOP NV expect to host a quarter million dollar guaranteed tournament when only two months earlier, PartyPoker NJ couldn’t draw enough interest to fill the NJCOP’s $200,000 Guaranteed Main Event – despite New Jersey’s much bigger population reach relative to that of Nevada?

The answer as it turned out, was likely a combination of location, timing and perceived value.

To elaborate:

The scramble was held on Day 1A of the Main Event, which under most circumstances would be a recipe for disaster – but not when most people qualified to play were already situated within striking distance of the Rio. For them, online became the one of the only places where they could qualify for the Main at a moment’s notice.

And because the $250,000 guarantee seemed so unattainable, players seeking high value signed up in droves, leading to a record-shattering 1,235 entries – enough for WSOP NV to turn a modest profit of $15,525.

With regards to the Scramble, Rini had this to say:

On the successes side, players obviously loved the 25 Seat Scramble. It’s the largest tournament anyone has ever run online in the US regulated environment.

I did a little fact checking, and as it turns out, the only U.S. regulated tournament events with more participants than the Scramble were freerolls, with the next closest paid entry event featuring 343 fewer runners.


Other highlights

Below is a inclusive list of areas where I feel WSOP NV also thrived during this year’s Series:

  •  Visual representation: WSOP.com-emblazoned tables, banners and other visual adverts were on full display throughout the Rio.
  • Live stream integration: David Tuchman did a formidable job of weaving WSOP.com plugs into his live stream broadcasts. I found them a bit much at time, but then again, I was already fairly aware that I could play online poker at WSOP.com in Nevada – most weren’t.
  • Cash at the cage: Allowing players to at least partially manage their account from the convenience of the Rio’s casino cage was both beneficial and necessary.

Areas where improvement is necessary

I want to preface this section with a caveat: Considering that it was WSOP NV’s first full Series in the market, it did a very admirable job of circumventing any major disasters. By all accounts, most of what went wrong was minor and largely forgivable.

But should these same issues crop up in subsequent years, I’d be less inclined to simply write them off.

Technological shortcomings

To the surprise of no one, most of the issues WSOP NV faced were technological in nature. Early on in the festivities, there were reports that players on WSOP.com were falling victim to the network’s collusion policy, which specifies that individuals cannot be seated at the same table with players using the same IP address.

That’s a fair and necessary policy. The problem was that the Rio has a limited number of IPs, causing some players staying there to run into problems. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it’s something I would expect WSOP to account for in the future.

Why no mobile?

Then there was the problem with playing online poker at the tables. Due to the lack of a mobile WSOP NV app, grinders who wished to play online while at the live tables were forced to lug around an unwieldy laptop.

Suffice it to say, not many would take advantage of the opportunity. Next year, I would expect participation rates to rise, as it appears the iOS and Android app launches are right around the corner.

From Bill Rini:

One of the areas that we want to improve upon for next year is making the experience for players more seamless. The team is already working on everything from logistical to technological challenges that will enhance the customer experience.

This statement, combined with WSOP’s recent software upgrades grants me the assurance that the technological maladies that hobbled this year’s efforts will be less of an issue in 2015.

Other minor quibbles

The only other promotional vehicle that didn’t work out as well as expected was WSOP NV’s online counterpart to the Series – the WSOPOC.

Unlike the High Roller Series, which was a brilliant tactical maneuver that gave players who arrived at the Rio early the chance to warm up playing a higher buy-in online tournament, the WSOPOC was held when live WSOP fever was approaching its high point.

In theory, the WSOPOC was a great idea, but in practice the idea that players who busted from live WSOP events early would feel compelled to stay up half the night grinding online tournaments wound up being a bit far-fetched.

Ultimately, turnouts numbers for the WSOPOC tended towards unimpressive, especially for the June 15th Main Event, which only managed to attract 571 runners and 155 rebuys en route to a massive overlay.

- 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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