5 Takeaways From The PocketFives Player’s Panel at MTGSUSA

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The issues hampering New Jersey’s regulated online poker sites were on full display at this year’s Mobile & Tablet Gambling Summit USA (MTGSUSA) PocketFives Player’s Panel, held this Monday at Bally’s Atlantic City.

View the summit’s full agenda here.

As panel moderator, I had the honor of surveying four very active members of both the PocketFives community forums, and of the Garden State’s online poker scene in general: Andrew Balok, Blake Havekes, Jack King and Dennis Lopez.

Listed below are my five key takeaways from the panel. Taken together, these highlights should provide greater clarity into what problems need to be addressed before market growth can be achieved.

5) PayPal, PokerStars will open new doors

It was the general consensus of the players that the forthcoming entry of Paypal and PokerStars into the market will help to increase liquidity via strengthened awareness.

Some key points of the discussion surrounding PayPal:

  • The panelists shared the opinion that Paypal will quickly become a widely utilized alternative payment processing platform, even more so if players aren’t forced to leave the poker client to make a Paypal transaction.
  • It was unanimously agreed that Paypal is a more respected and recognized brand than Skrill and Neteller
  • And that PayPal’s entrance may compel holdout credit card companies to jump on board.

.. and some concerning PokerStars:

  • There was a touch of skepticism regarding the impact PokerStars will have on volume, with some believing that the online poker giant’s entry will only result in moderate increases to total market liquidity.
  • Market fragmentation was also cited as a concern.
  • Those concerns aside, overall PokerStars’ eventual launch was viewed as an overwhelming positive for New Jersey.
  • Panelists were of the mind that PokerStars’ entry will inspire other NJ operators to “get their acts together.”

Outside of WSOP and the Borgata, New Jersey’s regulated poker industry currently lacks the brand recognition necessary to attract recreational players.

Reintroducing two of the biggest pre-Black Friday companies into the mix could hail a significant upturn for online poker in 2015.

4) Cross-promotion, what cross-promotion?

The participants concurred that the industry’s cross-promotional efforts are severely lacking, and offered valuable suggestions on how they could be improved:

  • Provide incentives to players who multi-table live and online events.
  • Encourage online players to visit Atlantic City by introducing loyalty program point exchanges for hotel rooms, casino gift certificates and entry into live poker events. To date, only BorgataPoker.com offers players anything of the sort (iRP exchanges are limited to Borgata comp dollars).
  • Correct the clear disconnect between what online poker rooms claim to offer, what they actually do offer, and player awareness of what is offered.

Case in point: Not a single one of the panel’s very active online players had their My Borgata Rewards or Total Rewards card rank matched to their online loyalty tier.

Based on their comments, I’m under the impression that they either didn’t know a tier match is available, or tried to upgrade, only to be told that the parameters were more rigid than they were initially led to believe.

3) Customers given few incentives for mobile play

As per the panelists, the industry’s mobile online poker offerings have been met with widespread apathy. Some explanations:

  • There are no added incentives for playing on mobile. The theme of player incentives, or the lack thereof, was one that would prop up again and again throughout the panel.
  • The average online poker player prefers to multi-table, an option not yet possible on the industry’s mobile software. Others noted that Party / Borgata’s mobile software has yet to incorporate MTTs, rendering it more of a late-stage beta version than a release worth taking seriously.
  • Poker requires too much concentration to play while on-the-go.

Conversely, due to the pick-up-and-play and virtually thoughtless nature of casino games, the panelists appeared somewhat inclined to fire up a mobile casino app when either running errands or participating in other mundane activities.

But being the bankroll savvy players that they are, they generally refrain from playing casino games for significant sums or extended periods of time.

2) Geo-location improved, but customer service still the pits

Allow me to preface by saying that both the panel and I agreed that geolocation is much improved since last winter.

To what extent is difficult to quantify, but improved nonetheless.

Customer service, however, is not.

And, especially given Ultimate Poker’s departure from the market, the panelists agreed that their willingness to engage a CS rep is at an all-time low.

A few highlights:

  • The general consensus was that the ability to be geolocated via 4G LTE was a major and necessary enhancement.
  • When asked if geolocation disconnects have cost the panelists money, each answered with a resounding “Yes.”
  • The panelists rarely received due recourse for funds that were lost due to server disconnects. Attempts to communicate their grievances via email were often left in limbo.
  • Communicating complex problems to customer service agents located overseas often proved a futile effort, particularly when the agent in question had little knowledge of an online site’s policies, or for that matter, of common poker terminology such as “big blinds” and “MTTs.”

As a result, the panelists now refrain from contacting customer service altogether, reasoning that the aggravation isn’t worth the off-chance that their issues will be suitably resolved.

1) New Jersey can support a much larger market

According to data gathered from PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, 7-day cash game averages across all NJ-based iPoker sites currently sits at just over 300. During peak hours, a total of 750-800 players can be expected to be found playing cash online.

While that may sound reasonably impressive, since January player liquidity has stumbled nearly 50%.

To put matters into perspective, consider that:

  • Before geolocation services were improved;
  • Before  WSOP / 888 had rolled-out their Android platform, and;
  • Before new means of handling real-money transactions were introduced…

… the state’s poker ecology was twice as healthy than it is today.

How long can we use the half-baked excuse that the lack of market growth can be directly attributed to New Jersey’s population size?

It was the general belief that the market can double or even triple in size, but not without increased awareness, improved communication between player and operator, and liquidity-focused incentives.

Otherwise, the industry runs the risk of continuing to cede players faster than it can acquire them.

- 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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