Why New Jersey Online Poker Traffic Rebounded In February

What’s Really Driving The Recent New Jersey Online Poker Traffic Surge?

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The New Jersey regulated online poker market experienced an influx of activity in mid-to-late February, resulting in the highest daily average player counts since WSOP.com and 888 Poker NJ embarked on a partial shared liquidity compact early this year.

Typically, liquidity surges of this magnitude are only experienced at the genesis of high-value promotions or during a prestigious tournament series.

Yet in the case of New Jersey, it appears that none other than Mother Nature was the main protagonist behind the industry’s sudden windfall.

NJ online poker traffic at a glance

According to data from PokerScout (see graph below), daily cash game averages in New Jersey resided well above their 7-day counts for much of the third week of February. This indicates that the market was in a nearly unprecedented period of growth:

Data: OnlinePokerReport.com / PokerScout.com

Data: OnlinePokerReport.com / PokerScout.com

The following week, traffic levels stabilized, before once again plateauing around their 2015 high water mark on Sunday.

Both New Jersey networks benefited from the inflow, although Party / Borgata experienced a healthier gain (16%) relative to WSOP / 888 (7%).

New Jersey market goes against industry trends

To confirm that the recent traffic gains are in fact a well-welcomed anomaly, and not indicative of typically industry trends, we look to the recent performance of the global market.

Since February 13, industry liquidity levels have begun to sputter out, falling just over 5% and continuing to trend downward. Online poker giants PokerStars, 888 Poker and iPoker have all experienced notable falloffs during this time.

This downhill trend is typical of late-February, and usually precipitates a tumultuous spring, where global liquidity can fall as much as 10% during any given month before settling in at their annual low point around June.

Not only are New Jersey’s traffic patterns not a reflection of industry trends, they utterly defy them.

Did promotional efforts account for NJ traffic surge?

I’m hesitant to completely dismiss the impact promotions played on New Jersey traffic, although there is little evidence to suggest operator efforts were the primary component behind the surge.

To illustrate:

  • Outside of a niche Short-Handed Leaderboard promo (which began on February 15), WSOP.com maintained a relatively static promotional schedule throughout February.
  • 888 pulled its popular freerolls and cashback-themed promos.
  • The Borgata’s only noteworthy promo, The Grind, is a recurrent cashback offer that has been in effect since last summer. Last month’s iteration brought nothing new to the table.

Which leaves PartyPoker, who for the first time in what seems like ages hosted an incentive-based promotion that offered meaningful rewards.

Bonus Builder

Bonus Builder awarded players cash and poker bonuses ranging from $3 to $750, depending on their frequency of play. In order to fully capitalize, cash game grinders were tasked with accumulating 5,000 points ($2,500 in rake) from February 9 – 18.

Upon doing so, they were rewarded $150 in cash and a $600 poker bonus. While the cash was credited to player accounts immediately and unconditionally, the bonus was subject to a 25% rakeback clearing requirement and a 10-day eligibility period (February 20 – March 1).

A bit of simple math reveals that the Bonus Builder’s top level afforded players an additional 15% rakeback for the month of February – nice, but certainly not as noteworthy as say 888’s 80% Rakeback promotion last winter.

There appears to be little correlation between New Jersey traffic trends and the first segment of the Bonus Builder promotion. If anything, during the promotion’s early days, daily player counts on Party / Borgata were decidedly down.

That changed somewhat during the promo’s second leg, when players scrambled to fulfill the rigid bonus requirements, and likely accounts for the growth disparity between Party / Borgata and WSOP / 888 during that time.

But it still doesn’t neatly explain why the NJ market as a whole blossomed.

Baby it’s cold outside

While it would have been nice to attribute the market’s growth to heightened brand awareness, software updates and operator generosity, the fact of the matter is that New Jersey recently experienced one of its coldest (and snowiest) stretches in recorded history.

On February 21, the industry averaged its highest player counts of the month. It’s no coincidence that on the same day, the Garden State was blanketed by several inches of snow, falling temperatures, and severe wind chills.

And on Sunday, the East Coast was hit with another blast of snow, compelling the average New Jersey resident to stay in, watch the game, or fire up the computer and play a few hands. As a result, traffic levels vastly exceeded their Sunday norms, despite the absence of a $100,000 guarantee on Party / Borgata or other special event.

If that weren’t compelling evidence enough, here’s a look at the mean temperatures in my home town of Secaucus, NJ during the third week of February, when cash game liquidity was at its highest:

Data: Wunderground.com

Data: Wunderground.com

NJ online poker – predicting the months to come

Now that the weather is finally beginning to stabilize – highs for the next 10 days are expected to be in the 30s and 40s – expect New Jersey’s regulated iPoker scene to feel the preliminary effects of the seasonal downtrend.

Last March, liquidity on the then nascent industry tumbled 13% in March, and another 13% in April before bottoming out in early June.

Due to slightly increased brand awareness, operator consolidation/elimination and market maturity, I’m hard pressed to believe that this year’s falloff will be quite as pronounced, although a minimum 20% fallout between now and June seems likely.

That is, unless PokerStars makes its long anticipated return to New Jersey, in which case, the market may continue its defiant ways, or at the very least, tread water.

Image credit: Apurva Madia / Shutterstock.com.

- 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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