PokerStars Should Do These Things For Spin & Go Success In New Jersey

How Can PokerStars Optimize The Success Of Spin & Go’s In New Jersey?

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Arguably, the biggest news in online poker last week wasn’t PokerStars‘ announcement of a New Jersey online poker launch date, but that Spin & Go’s will be included as part of the initial roll-out.

The screamingly popular lottery SNG format has shown amazing resiliency since launching on dot-com in September 2014, not only becoming a permanent fixture on the site, but one of the focal points of Stars’ promotional spend.

Yet, New Jersey isn’t dot-com, nor is it even PokerStars Spain – which services a population nearly five times the size. Which means that in order for the format to achieve optimal success, it’s going to have to be tweaked to fit the market.

Here are the adjustments I would make.

Limited buy-in levels

The way I see it, the main appeals of Spin & Go’s are the potentially huge jackpots and their frenetic pace.

What if the pace wasn’t as frenetic, with turnaround times exceeding 20-30 minutes as opposed to five?

That’s exactly what could happen if PokerStars NJ offers too many price points, especially if they’re weighted toward the more expensive end.

More often than not, players that sign up for high buy-in Spins will spend more time waiting for them to start than actually playing, as there just aren’t enough high-rollers or high-stakes grinders in New Jersey to sustain the $100, or even the $60, buy-in level that’s found on dot-com.

By capping the price of admission at say $20, and reducing the number of buy-in levels, each buy-in tier will be more liquid, resulting in games getting off at more regular intervals.

Sure, a few Spin & Go grinders may be put off by playing for only $20 a match, but the softer playing fields should more than compensate.

Encourage off-peak play

Restricting the buy-in levels is a solid first step, but it’s not nearly enough.

As is the case in nearly every market, traffic in New Jersey is much higher during select hours – typically 5 pm – 12 am on weekdays and 12 pm – 12 am on weekends.

On, Spin & Go’s run with some regularity even during down times. That won’t be the case in New Jersey, where online poker lobbies are only sparsely populated one-third of the day, and practically a barren wasteland during the dead of the night.

Admittedly, there’s no saving the overnight hours – during these times, Spin & Go’s simply won’t run with any frequency. There is hope for some of the mid-morning and afternoon hours, however.

Behind its Milestone Hands promotions, Happy Hours are the operator’s most effective device at drawing players to the tables. Awarding Spin & Go players double loyalty points during specified times (preferably off-peak) is not a catch-all solution, but it does fill the gap rather nicely.

PokerStars may also want to toy with Spin & Go leaderboards, as these tend to promote increased action throughout the entire day.

Cap the top multiplier

As contradictory as it may sound, PokerStars may generate more PR by capping the top Spin & Go multiplier lower in New Jersey than on dot-com.

Currently, the top jackpot pays out 10,000 times the buy-in to winners and 1,000x to the runners-up. Problem is, top multipliers are “spun” with an alarmingly low frequency, ranging from 3 in 1 million to just 1 in a million.

That’s all well and good on a site like that services dozens of countries and tens-of-thousands of daily players. In New Jersey however, the grand prize will be hit with such a low frequency (generously, once a year) that feel-good stories will be few and far between.

By contrast, a top prize of say 1,000x will hit often enough as to generate a fair amount of positive PR. Granted, a press release that reads “Players X wins $10,000” as opposed to $100,000 is not nearly as exciting, but at least the PokerStars NJ team can somewhat rely on them to happen.

Not to mention, the combination of lower top multipliers and lower buy-ins virtually guarantees that PokerStars NJ will never have a month where it posts negative online poker revenue.

Lower multipliers are also good for the long term health of the online poker ecosystem, as any player who isn’t lucky to hit a top multiplier (over 99 percent) will pay a lower effective rake.

Keeping players liquid is vital in any market, but even more so in one with hard population caps.

Target casino players

By now, it’s fairly common knowledge that NJ’s online casinos are the primary driver of iGaming revenue, consistently accounting for 85 percent of the monthly take.

PokerStars will be in a unique position in New Jersey in that it will (presumably) offer online poker and casino through a single portal. It would be a tragic mishap for the operator not to take full advantage of this by forgetting to promote its poker/slot machine hybrid to gamblers.

There’s a bevy of ways to get casino junkies playing spins, one of which is to throw in a handful of Spin & Go tickets as part of the casino welcome package. If nothing else, this will get casino players to login to the poker client and try their hand.

A few of them might stick around.

Don’t forget about other formats

When PokerStars launched Spin & Go’s on dot-com, cash game liquidity spiraled downward and never fully recovered. And today, if a site supports lottery SNGs, players can almost be assured that it’s by far the most popular SNG format on the site.

I expect the format to be similarly popular in New Jersey. That poses a potential problem, as cash game and SNG traffic is already spread pretty thin as it is with only two operators, neither of which hosts alternative playing formats.

Should cash game/SNG dip much further, entire stakes and buy-in levels may not run with any regularity. In a worst case scenario, this will result in players who preference these games abandoning NJ online poker entirely.

In order to combat this, I’d advise PokerStars to distribute its promotional spend equally among its formats. Month long promos that incentivize these players via random rewards may be a good start. Promos that encourage Spin & Go players to grind out a few cash games hands could conceivably seal the deal.

How will NJ’s other operators respond to Spin & Go’s?

The short answer is they will have no direct response.

888 Poker does not offer Spin & Go’s as part of its international poker client, meaning WSOP/888 in New Jersey won’t either.

PartyPoker is one of the few other top global operators that doesn’t feature lottery SNGs, and even if it did, Borgata Poker is transitioning to a poker platform provided by Pala Interactive sometime in the next few months. It’s impossible to say with clarity, but I’d gauge the chances of the Pala poker platform supporting lottery SNGs at launch as doubtful, at best.

Ultimately, the presence of Spin & Go’s is going to bode poorly for anyone not named PokerStars, as the 3-man affair, when done right, is especially well-suited to smaller markets. But that doesn’t mean existing NJ operators will be forced to wave the white flag, it’s just that they’ll have to respond via more indirect means.

Throughout March and into April, there will be increased media attention focused on PokerStars, but also the New Jersey market. What better time to launch a concentrated and aggressive marketing campaign?

An enhanced welcome package, reload bonuses, increased tournament guarantees, freerolls: all these items may entice both new and returning players to spread the wealth around.

Not to mention, current operators may be able to leverage their experience in the NJ market to their advantage. PokerStars may boast the superior platform, but it’s far from impervious to the same growing pains that afflicted NJ operators in 2014.

- 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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