NJ Online Poker Consolidation: Analysis And Impacts

All Of NJ’s Current Online Poker Sites Could Soon Combine Into One – Here’s How That Would Look

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If 888 goes through with its acquisition of bwin.party, it’s plausible that the company will fold bwin’s existing New Jersey poker network – currently consisting of nj.partypoker.com and BorgataPoker.com – into its own.

Under normal circumstances, a marriage of this sort would almost certainly have an additive impact on network liquidity.

Yet with PokerStars’ reentry into the Garden State looming, it will likely serve more as a defensive measure designed to keep the ship afloat rather than move the needle by any measurable degree.

Consolidation will trigger modest gains to cash liquidity…

Even in the absence of PokerStars, it’s doubtful that any further consolidation will have more than a nominal impact on cash game liquidity.

  • The New Jersey market is severely hindered by population constraints, rendering it difficult for operators to acquire new depositing players.
  • Along the same lines, a unified network still won’t be big enough to support all but the most popular poker variants.
  • Consolidation does not eliminate difficulties related to payment processing; still one of the most pressing problems faced by the industry.
  • A previous effort to consolidate the market did not translate to significant cash game liquidity gains.

As to the latter point, back in January WSOP.com and 888 began sharing liquidity across NLHE cash games stakes up to $.25/$.50 and select tournaments. Although the merger appeared to have an immediate impact on cash game traffic, the gains were largely exaggerated by positive seasonal trends.

Supporting this theory is that according to Poker Industry Pro via PokerScout.com, liquidity on the combined network is slightly lower now (10%) than the summation of individual site traffic was this time last year. Traffic on Party/Borgata has dipped 17% over an equivalent span, suggesting that the merger only had a net positive impact of approximately 7% – or about 14 players.

That being said, a potential merger between 888/WSOP and Party/Borgata differs in several key ways:

  • At the time of the 888/WSOP merger, 888 was hardly an afterthought in New Jersey. Comparatively, a union between Party/Borgata and 888 won’t go unnoticed.
  • Players may welcome a migration away from PartyPoker’s NJ platform, which has attracted the scorn and distrust of many players.
  • The combining of Atlantic City’s two most name recognizable brands in Caesars and the Borgata creates powerful cross-promotional and marketing opportunities.

Factoring these variables in, I suspect that a unified Caesars/Borgata poker network will cause cash liquidity to expand by 10-15%.

Assuming the market remains stable and PokerStars is a non-factor, that equates to average player counts of approximately 350 at this time next year.

Of course, in all likelihood PokerStars will be a factor, and a rather dominant one at that.

…which will be more than offset by PokerStars’ arrival

Even in the most optimistic scenario, the launch of PokerStars in New Jersey will have a ravaging effect on the competition’s liquidity.

If Star’s entry results in:

  1. Long-term overall market growth of 20% (optimistic), and
  2. Market share of 50% for Stars (conservative)

… I estimate that liquidity on the combined 888 network will hover somewhere around 210 average by next August – or 32% below current traffic levels in New Jersey.

Change those figures to:

  1. 15% for long-term growth and
  2. 60% for market share

… and that figure drops to 48%.

Granted, that’s still a far rosier scenario than if WSOP/888 and Party/Borgata remained separate entities, illustrating how important it is for New Jersey’s existing online poker networks to dig deep into their bags of tricks.

Prospects for tournament growth fare better

On the tournament side, combining liquidity will allow the united 888 front to go head-to-head with PokerStars.

New Jersey players have shown a strong willingness to spread their tournament dollars across two networks. But when the market consisted of three networks or more, overlays were highly prevalent – causing lesser known operators to sometimes resort to drastic actions.

To illustrate, prior to forging a shared liquidity pact, WSOP.com had difficulty meeting the guarantee of its $25k GTD Sunday Major. These days it isn’t uncommon for the now $30,000+ GTD to surpass its minimum benchmark by 10%, and more during the colder months.

  • A marriage of New Jersey’s existing poker rooms will allow operators to maintain aggressive guarantees without reaching into their own pockets to ensure they’re met.
  • SNG and tournament leaderboards that span across all network skins will only further incentivize players.
  • And as an added fringe benefit, each individual site on the network can maintain their own non-Major tournament schedules – a weapon Stars will not possess.

All of this is not to say that the combined 888 network will suddenly be able to host $100,000 GTD Majors with ease, but it does allow it to maintain the status quo, if not slightly enhance its ability to attract MTT grinders.

That may prove paramount to not only the growth prospects, but the very survival, of New Jersey’s “other” poker rooms.

- 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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