Online Bracelet Event Shatters Turnout Record, 25 Seat Scramble Comes Close Online Bracelet Event Smashes Its Own Record As The Biggest Tournament In U.S. Regulated Online Poker History

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Shots were heard around the U.S. regulated online poker world last Friday, when World Series of Poker Event No. 66 – Online No-Limit Hold’em – became the first tournament in industry history to generate a seven figure prize pool.

The second running of the annual event attracted 927 players from over 20 jurisdictions, who together combined to shatter the previous high-water mark set by the same tournament one year ago by more than $300k.

When the late registration bell sounded, the final prize pool stood at $1,184,650 – capping off what was otherwise another impressive, but not otherworldly, showing by WSOP NV this Series.

New record an expected result

The inclusion of a four hour late-registration and unlimited reentry period rendered a new record something of a foregone conclusion. In total, there were 320 reentries, accounting for $304,000 of the prize pool.

That being said, the event still attracted more unique entries this year as compared to last (905). This increase speaks volumes about the appeal of the tournament, especially when one considers that other featured low buy-in events, such as the Colossus, Millionaire Maker and Monster Stack, all saw participation rates dip slightly in 2016. This, despite being heavily promoted on the front page.

As to why the online bracelet event outperformed similarly priced live MTTs, the assumed reasons are varied:

  • In a word, uniqueness. The event is the only one played out (mostly) online. By comparison, a multitude of live low buy-in WSOP events have emerged in recent years.
  • WSOP NV offered more avenues into the event than last year, primarily by way of affordable $10 and $30 direct qualifiers.
  • Thanks to the growing popularity of live streaming services such as Twitch, awareness is continually on the rise.
  • Last year’s event went off without a hitch, instilling players with more confidence in the software.

As it did last year, smart timing also played a critical role in the event’s success. The online bracelet event began just one day before the onset of the Main Event, and concluded before the Main was scheduled to resume for Day 2A.

In other words, online bracelet players could play both events during the same weekend without fear of overlap.

25 Seat Scramble takes a small step backwards

Turnout for Saturday’s 25 Seat Scramble, which as the name implies awards a minimum 25 seats to the Main Event, were less impressive.

The qualifier drew a total 1,603 entries in awarding 29 seats ($296,555 prize pool) – remarkable by most measuring sticks, but a slight downturn from last year’s $308,395 prize pool.

The drop-off is hardly cause for concern, however:

  • For one, it only represented a 3.8 percent year-on-year decline.
  • Additionally, new official WSOP sponsor 888 Poker hosted a slew of online satellites into the Main Event this year, likely creating less demand for last-minute online qualifiers.
  • And perhaps most importantly, WSOP NV ran a $500 buy-in, $65,000 guarantee a half hour after the starting time of the Scramble. This tournament, which wasn’t on the schedule last year, generated roughly $116k in buy-ins – more than offseting the year-on-year decline of the Scramble.

Impact also felt at cash game tables

In what has become something of an expected trend, the combination of prestigious online tournaments and the looming Main Event sparked a flurry of activity at WSOP NV’s cash game tables.

According to data provided by Poker Industry Pro via online poker traffic tracking site, average cash game liquidity soared 18 percent from June 25 to July 9, that day reaching an annual high of 210 players. And overall, volume is up 31 percent since the Series began.

WSOP NV Graphic

Last summer, cash game traffic followed a similar trajectory, surging early in the Series before leveling off and then taking off again as the Main Event approached.

That being said, last year’s Main Event spike was more pronounced, with traffic rising 21 percent in the two weeks leading up the annual extravaganza. Not only that, but 2015 traffic was starting from a slightly higher point.

All told, this firmly suggests that the novelty of regulated online poker in Nevada during the live Series is beginning to wane, if only marginally.

But as the numbers prove, a decrease in overall popularity has little bearing on the performance of a single tournament, which bodes well for future iterations of the online bracelet event.

And the winner is…

The six remaining players convened at the Rio All-Suite Casino and Hotel on Monday to play out the rest of the online bracelet event.

In the end, it was Clayton Maguire from Brighton, Colorado winning the bracelet and pocketing the $210,279 first place prize – also a record for U.S. regulated online poker. Anthony Spinella won $197,743 in last year’s inaugural event.

Four jurisdictions, including Bulgaria and Hong Hong, were represented at the final table.

- 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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