Could Full Tilt's Model Work In The NJ Online Poker Market?
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Are Full Tilt’s Rewards Program Changes A Good Fit for NJ Online Poker Sites?

NJ online poker Full Tilt policy changes
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Just two weeks removed from a sweeping update to its cash games, Full Tilt has gone live with the next stage of its plan to create a more exciting and lucrative environment for its casual players.

Enter the Players Club – an alternative and recreational player-friendly VIP scheme that will run alongside Full Tilt’s existing Edge Rewards program.

Full Tilt’s bold new approach to VIP programs will undoubtedly garner the attention of other operators, including those located in New Jersey, where population constraints magnify the importance of retaining depositing players.

But is mimicking Full Tilt’s efforts in New Jersey the best path forward?

What is the Players Club?

At its core, the Players Club is a device that will allow recreational players to keep more skin in the game. This is accomplished by making it exceedingly easier for them to receive bonuses and gain access to freebies.

All players will be automatically enrolled as members of the Players Club, from which they can either elect to stay put, or opt instead for the Edge Rewards program. The latter will continue to award Full Tilt Points (FTP) and cater to higher volume players.

Constituents of the Players Club include:

  • The Deal: A randomized side game that awards escalating rewards ranging from no prize to a shot at a progressive jackpot worth at minimum $50,000.
  • Weekly Windfall: Awards players that regularly frequent cash games with Coins, mystery cash prizes and entries to $5k Flip Freerolls.
  • Freerolls: Players Club members will have access to Jackpot, Depositor, Coin and Daily Freerolls.

The Players Club is based on the Coin currency. Members accrue Coins at a rate of 1 Coin per dollar paid in rake or tournament fees, and can spend Coins on The Deal, which costs one Coin per hand.

What results is a system that offers near instant gratification, as even microstakes and occasional players will be able to pile up and redeem Coins at a rapid clip.

Impact on Edge Rewards

In order to help offset the cost of these policy changes, Full Tilt has instituted cutbacks to its Edge Rewards.

The number of tiers has been dropped to three, and the highest tier is capped at a 20 percent rakeback and 4 percent cashback rate, as opposed to 25 percent cashback/rakeback before the update.

In addition, players will have to maintain significantly higher rolling Full Tilt Point averages in order to move up the ranks.

As an example, under the old guidelines, players would have to generate a 30-day rolling average of 75 FTP or a 100-day rolling average of 50 FTP to exchange their points at a rate of $1.50 per 100 FTP. Those requirements have been increased dramatically, to 250 FTP (30-day) and 150 FTP (100-day).

On the plus side, Edge players will receive additional cashback up to 200 percent by participating in games experiencing low traffic.

How the changes will impact Full Tilt

The way I see it, the changes are designed to accomplish the following:

  1. Introduce a much needed element of fun and chance to what has become a robotic game.
  2. Balance the poker ecology by distributing awards more evenly between recreational and professional players.
  3. Encourage casual players to eventually become regulars, by padding their bankrolls and motivating them to play more regularly.

Ideally, what results is a more liquid, active player pool that consists of players from all walks, some of whom will gather enough rewards and experience to move up the ranks.

Should New Jersey online poker sites adopt a similar model?

The short answer is “Yes.” The population constraints of the New Jersey nearly demand that NJ online poker operators seek innovative ways to not only appeal to, but retain, depositing players.

An increased number of freerolls, and the introduction of mystery bonuses would certainly help, but it’s The Deal aspect of Full Tilt’s update that will keep players at the tables, if only because it promotes a “just a few more hands” mentality among players.

Also, The Deal is at its core a gambling game.

Considering that New Jersey’s iGaming industry generates approximately 85 percent of its revenue from online casino games, The Deal will likely be effective at drawing a segment of the Garden State’s gambling horde to the sparsely-populated poker tables.

It’s just up to PartyPoker NJ and WSOP/888 to cross-promote their poker vertical to casino patrons.

That being said, the problem with mimicking Full Tilt’s model in New Jersey is that New Jersey operators already cap the amount of rakeback high volume players receive rather low.

Top tier players on nj.partypoker.com can earn bonuses and tournament tickets at a 20 percent rakeback rate, but cashback at only 10 percent.

Rakeback rates on WSOP.com and 888 go up as high as 35 percent, but the dearth of mid and high-stakes games running at off-peak hours combined with high points requirements render this rate nearly impossible to achieve.

In short, any further cutbacks would ravage what is already a less-than-lucrative rewards system.

An alternative solution may be to do away with rakeback altogether, in favor of a system that resembles the Player’s Club, but offers better rewards across the board.

This can be complemented with a reduction in the amount of rake operators take from higher stakes cash games hands, encouraging grinders to play up.

In the absence of traditional VIP programs, New Jersey operators should have the extra cash on hand to make this a reality.

Other changes New Jersey operators may want to consider

As mentioned previously, Full Tilt has also introduced a swath of changes to its cash games.

A listing of the changes follows, along with comments on whether I feel they should be instituted in New Jersey:

  • The removal of heads-up tables: Hardly necessary, as heads-up games go off infrequently as it is.
  • The removal of high stakes games with blinds over $10/$20: Not applicable. The highest stakes in New Jersey are $10/$20.
  • The removal of mixed and draw games: Irrelevant, since New Jersey sites do not offer anything outside of Hold’em and Omaha variants. Although it might be a good idea to eliminate the vacant Stud lobbies.
  • Limiting players to 16 tables, and six tables per stake: WSOP.com has already instituted table caps, and there aren’t enough players on New Jersey sites to warrant further amendments.
  • The elimination of table selection options: Yes. Any update that addresses bumhunting will have a positive impact on the poker ecology.
  • Automatically combining short handed tables: Yes. Short handed tables are combined in live poker rooms, why not online?
  • Rake increases at stakes $.05/$.10 and below: No. Not only is the rake in New Jersey already on the high side, but lower stakes games are almost universally comprised of casual players. All increasing the rake would do is bleed these players at a faster clip.

What this illustrates is that ring-fenced, US regulated markets face different challenges than their ROW counterparts, and what might work for Full Tilt isn’t necessarily the best path forward in New Jersey.

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Robert DellaFave
- 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.