An Early Review Of PokerStars NJ Finds Much To Like, Not Too Much To Fault
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PokerStars Debut in New Jersey: The Good, The Bad, And Not Much Ugly

PokerStars NJ online poker up and running
PokerStars’ New Jersey soft launch was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday, and after a slight delay, the site went live just after 4 p.m., dealing its first hand of real-money poker in the United States in nearly five years.

The delay likely had people freaking out a bit, as the hoped-for return of PokerStars has been dashed on several occasions over the past two-plus years, with poker players dealing with what felt like a never ending parade of licensing delays and false hopes.

Minor delay aside, the first day of the soft launch went swimmingly for PokerStars.

Here’s a quick glimpse of PokerStars’ first day in New Jersey, based in large part on my colleague Robert DellaFave’s firsthand test drive of the site.

The good

No sign of early issues that plagued other online poker sites

After two-plus years, the New Jersey online gaming market has worked out a lot of the kinks that plagued the first movers. In many ways PokerStars actually benefits from its late arrival, as geolocation and player verification procedures have become non-issues, and payment processing options have dramatically improved.

Software resembles the company’s ROW product

It also appears the DGE has come a long way in its acceptance of certain software features, as PokerStars’ client is far more robust than its predecessors’ early platforms.

Most of the features that are available on the global site are part of PokerStars’ New Jersey online poker platform. This is in stark contrast to 888’s and partypoker’s first-generation platforms in New Jersey, which were several iterations behind their global products, and were missing even the the most basic features like waiting lists and mobile apps.

Again, launching late gives PokerStars a huge advantage on this front, as it won’t have to deal with a customer base that grows increasingly annoyed.  

Full slate of cash games

PokerStars is also taking a far more aggressive approach to cash game options. In addition to the stalwarts of online poker, No Limit Holdem and Pot Limit Omaha, PokerStars NJ is offering several games other sites don’t possess, some by choice: Stud games, Badugi, 2-7 Triple Draw, and an 8-Game Mix are available now.   

Not to beat a dead horse, but PokerStars’ late arrival isn’t all that bad. Undoubtedly, had the site launched in 2013 there is little chance all of the games would have been tested and approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in time for the launch.

Wide variety of tournament options including Spin & Go’s

In addition to extra cash game options, PokerStars is launching with what looks like a full complement of multi-table and Sit & Go tournaments, both in terms of stakes and structures, and more importantly the extremely popular Spin & Go’s.

The Spin & Go’s (again, using Robert DellaFave’s firsthand experience) are available at $1, $2, $5, and $10 levels and have a multiplier up to 1,200x.

Two excellent deposit bonuses

Players registering an account at PokerStars New Jersey have two deposit bonus options to choose from.

The first is the typical online poker offer, of a 100% match on your first deposit up to $600. However, the bonus clears extremely fast, at an almost unheard of 50 percent cashback rate.

The second option is a mixed bag of goodies, as players depositing $20 or more can opt for a deposit bonus package of $40, a $10 Spin & Go ticket, and a ticket to a $5,000 freeroll tournament.

Option number two is clearly the better choice for anyone depositing less than $100 or so, but once you get up to $100 you may want to start considering option number one, depending on your playing habits.

Little impact on competitors’ traffic

PokerStars was only online for eight hours on Wednesday, but during that time the other operators in the market, the network of Borgata and partypoker, and the network of Caesars and 888, didn’t see any significant decline in traffic, as peak traffic was within normal ranges based on PokerScout.com’s data.

The bad

Early rush of players didn’t happen

In what could be a sign of over optimism, online poker players weren’t beating down the site’s virtual doors to be part of the soft launch, as, according Robert DellaFave, traffic numbers on the PokerStars in-client peaked at just over 200 players – during the soft-launch phase PokerStars traffic is capped at 500 players.

DellaFave believes this will improve as the soft launch goes on, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on, as one popular theory held that many potential online poker players in New Jersey were sitting on the sidelines waiting for the return of PokerStars. If this proves to be false, it means most of PokerStars’ traffic will likely be siphoned directly from competitors, which is good for PokerStars, but not so good for the online poker market as a whole.  

Some minor technical issues

In addition to the small delay at the start of the soft launch, DellaFave also reported intermittent technical issues that would cause the client to lag.

No PayPal… yet

PokerStars launched with far more payment processing options than its competitors did in late 2013, but even still, the site is at a bit of a disadvantage in the current market, as PayPal is not an available deposit or withdrawal option at this time. A PokerStars representative says it will be available in the future.

The ugly

Unlike the utter failure of Golden Nugget’s platform during the original soft launch in November of 2013, with credit card approval percentages in single figures, and the numerous and incredibly annoying geolocation issues the early movers dealt with, there isn’t anything overtly negative from the first day of PokerStars’ soft launch.

So far so good.

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Steve Ruddock
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Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.