A Memorable Day For New Jersey Online Poker, But For All the Wrong Reasons

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On a day in which New Jersey players were primed to compete for nearly $400,000 in guaranteed prize money, Party / Borgata dished out the worst bad beat in US regulated poker history.

During the early levels of the Garden State Super Series three main events, a pop-up flashed indicating that the tournaments were currently on pause. Within 30 minutes of the announcement, they were cancelled.

Thus brought an abrupt end to the most high profile day on the GSSS schedule, with Party / Borgata issuing refunds and all but writing an engraved invitation to PokerStars to take over the nascent market’s number one spot.

A timeline of tumult

Below is a chronological recounting of Sunday night’s debacle. Some times are approximate.

  • Four of the six scheduled GSSS events: Event #11 Low (4:30 PM), Event #11 Mid (5:00 PM), Event #11 High (5:30 PM), Event #12 Low (6:00 PM) go off as planned.
  • Event #12 Mid, scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM, seats players on time but does not start, nor does it accept late registrants.
  • The final GSSS tournament of the day, Event #12 High (7:00 PM), never begins.
  • At ~7:07 PM, all GSSS tournaments are paused. At the time, Event #12 Mid is still in late registration and approximately $66,000 short of meeting its guarantee.
  • Fifteen minutes later, Party / Borgata issues an apology in the form of a pop-up, informing players that they are experiencing technical difficulties and working to resolve the issue.
  • By 7:55 PM, all tournament tables are closed and the GSSS events presumably cancelled.
  • A frenzy of activity on nj.partypoker.com’s dedicated Two Plus Two forum ensues, with most players expressing confusion, followed by outrage.
  • Around 8:45 PM, the first refunds are issued.
  • On Monday night, Group Director of Poker Jeffrey Haas issues a formal apology and explanation.

So what happened?

As per Mr. Hass:

“We experienced a major system failure last night between 6:50pm to 7:40pm EST on nj,partypoker.com and BorgataPoker.com that affected all running tournaments. This resulted in all running tournaments firstly pausing, but then, eventually leading to them all being cancelled.

The technical team did all they could to resume play from the paused state, but unfortunately, due to the nature of this specific bug, there was no way to resume the tournaments.”

Haas went on to elaborate that the technical failure was tournament specific, which is why cash-games, SNGs and casino games proceeded without interruption.

A patch designed to resolve the issue has since been deployed.

Party / Borgata owns up; promptly issues refunds

In my estimation, Party / Borgata deserves a fair amount of credit for addressing the catastrophic technical failure in a swift and satisfactory fashion.

Although no thorough explanation was offered until 24 hours after the fact, refunds were granted before player uproar reached a fever pitch.

Players still alive in the cancelled GSSS tournaments received an equal portion of 50% of the prize pool, with the remaining 50% “distributed on a percentage basis according to each player’s chip count,” otherwise known as a chip chop.

Their entry fee (VIG) was also reimbursed.

As example to illustrate:

  • Johnny registered for Event #11 Mid, a $185 + $15 buy-in, $200,000 guaranteed tournament. He, like everyone else who registered, started with 20,000 in chips.
  • At the time the tournament was cancelled, 600 of the registered 800 players remained, and Johnny’s chip count was 35,000.
  • Since the tournament had not reached the money yet, Johnny, and anyone else still alive in the tournament regardless of chip count, received $100,000/600 = $166.67 as an equal share of the prize pool, and an additional $100,000 * (35,000/(20,000 * 800)) = $218.75 based on Johnny’s current chip count.
  • Add in a $15.00 entry fee refund and Johnny walks away with $400.42.

Notice that in the aforementioned example, Johnny’s payout was based on the total guaranteed prize pool, and not the amount of player buy-ins. This dispels the imaginative conspiracy theory that Party cancelled its own tournaments to avoid paying a substantial overlay.

More on Party / Borgata’s cancellation policy here.

But solution is not a catch-all

While mostly fair, Party’s solution to the GSSS debacle is not without its flaws.


  1. Players who were eliminated from the tournament were not refunded their entry fee. Isn’t the purpose of an entry fee so that an operator can host a well-run tournament? Sunday’s GSSS events were anything but.
  2. Based on Party / Borgata’s cancellation policy, those who late reged the tournament right before they were paused would receive their money back and more, even if they never saw a single hand. Great for them; terrible for the players who were mixing it up for 60 minutes plus.
  3. Throughout the chaos, the crippling flaws of Party / Borgata’s oft-criticized customer service team were on full display. When evaluating my experience with the team, evasive, curt and oblivious are three adjectives that immediately spring to mind.
  4. Those who satellited into cancelled GSSS events will presumably receive either T$ or an equivalent ticket. The problem is that some will lose value utilizing that ticket in a smaller guaranteed GSSS or daily MTT. No other $100 buy-in MTT on the schedule matches the 300:1 value-to-buy-in ratio that Event #12 Mid, a $100 buy-in, $30,000 guarantee offers.

The latter point was partially resolved by Haas’ surprise announcement that next Sunday’s GSSS events would feature an added $50,000 in prize money. Although, according to some player accounts, its unknown if they’ll be even able to use their refunded ticket in another GSSS event.

Sadly, last Sunday’s tournaments will not be re-run. My guess is that this decision was made due to the Borgata Poker Open coming to a close this Friday.

Closing thoughts

The GSSS was supposed to set the precedent for which all other tournament series, including those run by PokerStars NJ, would be judged. In lieu of Sunday’s technical failing, that bar has been set exceedingly low.

Granted, Party / Borgata has experienced its fair share of technical difficulties in the past, but until Sunday, none have been so prominent.

Can we trust the systems?

The duo’s technical shortcomings raise serious questions regarding their future in the US’s regulated iPoker market.

Namely: if the software has difficulty handling a 4,000 player server load, how could it ever be trusted to handle 40,000 or more?

Will the brands recover?

Already players have sworn off Party / Borgata, and even if their threats to never play on the network again are idle, the discontent of the online poker community is very real, and bodes poorly for the PartyPoker brand.

And with PokerStars poised to enter the market shortly, and WSOP and 888 on the precipice of expanding their grasp over the regulated marketplace, the timing of Party / Borgata’s technical malady couldn’t have been worse.

Where I land

Despite a slightly delayed response period, Party / Borgata must be recognized for providing players with a serviceable, if not above average, resolution.

I’m willing to give credit where credit is due, but after ten months in the market, a technical failing of this magnitude should have never have happened.

- 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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