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It took only days for the upstart company in the market to overtake the two existing operators.
With such a fast and trouble-free start, it looked as though PokerStars was going to continue separating itself from its competitors – the duos of partypoker and Borgata and 888 and WSOP.com – and further cement its place at the top of the New Jersey online poker market.
But as Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Without question, all the operators have been hard-hit by the addition of PokerStars. This is particularly true of the combination of Borgata and partypoker, which continues to lose ground to the new kid on the block.
On the other hand, 888 and WSOP.com are fighting back. They’ve weathered a flurry of round one punches from PokerStars, emerged relatively unscathed, and are hyped up for round two.
In fact, after the initial two week period during which they lost ground to PokerStars, 888 and WSOP.com have been closing the gap. Now the sites are running virtually neck-and-neck with PokerStars – at least when it comes to cash game traffic.
Here’s a look at how the New Jersey online poker market has ebbed and flowed since the arrival of PokerStars.
While still early, these numbers are beginning to stabilize. They show a two horse race between 888/WSOP.com and PokerStars developing, with Borgata/partypoker falling further and further behind.
Average cash game traffic as of March 15, 2016 (the day before PokerStars’ New Jersey soft launch):
Average cash game traffic as of March 28, 2016 (exactly one week after PokerStars’ official launch):
Average cash game traffic as of April 16, 2016 (exactly one month after PokerStars’ official launch):
Average cash game traffic as of April 29, 2016:
Data courtesy of PokerScout.com.
In the chart below, you’ll see that following the initial shakeup caused by PokerStars’ entry, the market share by operator was relatively unchanged between March 28 and April 16. However, over the past two weeks there has been some movement.
Between April 14 and April 29:
Essentially, 888 and WSOP.com have been the only winners over the past two weeks.
During this time period, 888 and WSOP.com have narrowed the gap between themselves and PokerStars to just 3 percent (+2 percent), and widened the gap between themselves and Borgata and partypoker to 14 percent (+4 percent).
PokerStars hasn’t exactly “lit the world on fire” in New Jersey, as many expected them to. But this is more a matter of exuberant expectations rather than a failing by PokerStars.
Still, the current plateau PokerStars appears to have hit is somewhat unexpected. Most analysts anticipated the site grabbing at least a 50 percent market share relatively quickly.
Instead, we saw PokerStars grab a 40 percent market share within a week of its full launch. PokerStars has been stagnant at 40 percent for the past month.
This is an interesting, but not fully unexpected development.
“… 888 and WSOP.com had built up a sizable lead over partypoker and Borgata on this front, and despite losing far more players, and a higher percentage of players, they are in much better shape to weather the storm in my opinion.
At some point 888 and WSOP.com will see their current traffic decline level off, and I’d be surprised if their average cash game traffic dips below 125 players.”
My prediction was quite prescient. 888 and WSOP.com traffic appears to have leveled off at 130 players, stifling PokerStars’ ability to grow its market share as long as partypoker and Borgata remain in the picture.
In the same I column I said the following of Borgata and partypoker’s traffic deficit:
“… this traffic deficit will likely lead to a slow, prolonged exodus by grinders, which will speed up the rate of attrition for Borgata and partypoker.”
This prediction has also come to fruition.
The decline at WSOP.com and 888 was sharp, but leveled off very soon after PokerStars’ entrance. On the other hand, the decline of partypoker and Borgata has been slower but more prolonged, with no end in sight.
At present, the network has lost a full third of the online poker cash game traffic since PokerStars opened up shop.
The question is: Will PokerStars continue to suppress partypoker and Borgata in New Jersey? Or, like 888 and WSOP.com, will partypoker and Borgata find a bottom and see their declining traffic numbers stabilize?
That’s a question I do not have the answer to.