888 Among Candidates For Online Poker Partnership With Pechanga

Key Tribes Enter Online Poker Partnership Talks Ahead Of Legislation In California

California online poker partnership talks
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Online Poker Report has learned that 888 has engaged in online poker partnership talks with at least two key California tribes, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Also learned is that Pechanga is exploring its options with other online poker platform providers.

As an emergent force in the US industry, 888 would certainly make sense for Pechanga and many other tribes and card rooms. But that’s not to say multiple other platforms wouldn’t also fit the mold.

This column will look at three major contenders along with some less likely alternatives.

Pechanga plays its cards close to the vest

Pechanga’s online poker partner has long been a mystery.

In an October 2014 interview with iGamingBusiness.com, Pechanga Chairman Mark Macarro said the following when asked about who the tribe might partner with:

“The truth of it is that we haven’t publicized our efforts. When the time comes, we will announce our plans. Pechanga will be ready to effectively compete. But our focus has been and continues to be on the passage of the bill that strictly limits and regulates online poker, not publicizing our internal workings. So rest assured, that’s the primary difference — we haven’t publicized that.”

Earlier in 2014, rumors pegged Gamesys as Pechanga’s online poker partner, but the partnership never materialized and subsequent rumors indicated the two entities had decided to go their separate ways.

The lack of a partner has been brought up as an underlying reason for Pechanga’s unbending approach to online poker legislation over the past few years.

Pechanga’s opposition to bills has earned it the obstructionist label, but with the recent emergence of a Pechanga-backed online poker bill, it appears the tribe is now actively exploring potential partnerships, although it’s still playing its cards close to its vest.

The case for 888 Holdings

In California

In California, 888 has already announced a partnership agreement with Bay 101 Casino, and the company is expected to be the online poker platform provider for the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians.

Rincon’s casino is operated by 888’s online gambling partner in Nevada and New Jersey, Caesars Entertainment.

If a deal with Pechanga and Agua Caliente can be finalized, 888 would be well-positioned to become the early market leader in California.

Pechanga Resort and Casino, San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, and Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort are three of the largest and most-visited casinos in the state. With Caesars’ involvement, 888 would also be able to unleash the very strong WSOP.com brand in the market.

If the plan is to pool players across a vast network of individually branded online poker rooms, 888 could leverage these existing partnerships to secure even more partnerships with other members from the Pechanga coalition, or other card rooms.

With a starting point of Pechanga, Agua Caliente, Rincon (WSOP.com), and Bay 101, 888 possesses a strong selling point to attract other partners and further increase liquidity across its network.

888’s solid United States track record

888 has proven to be an effective, and more importantly, committed, partner in other legal US markets.

888 is also poised to be the only operator active in every legal US market, as the brand has a partnership agreement in place with Mount Airy Casino in Pennsylvania should the state’s legislature pass online gambling legislation.

888 is the market leader in Nevada. Caesars’ WSOP.com Nevada site is the only remaining online poker site in the market, as Ultimate Poker and Real Gaming were unable to compete with the 888-powered site in the small market, and were forced to close their doors.

888 is also the singular online poker provider in Delaware, but not because it’s outperformed the competition. Delaware’s online gaming industry is run through the state lottery, and 888, along with Scientific Games, were chosen as the exclusive platform providers (paywall).

In New Jersey, 888 is also partnered with Caesars, and powers the company’s online poker sites (WSOP.com New Jersey and an 888 branded site), as well as one of Caesars’ online casino platforms.

On the New Jersey online poker front, 888 has done a good job weathering the early PokerStars storm, and is currently running a close second to PokerStars, as it continues to close the gap following PokerStars’ fast start in New Jersey.

In July, PokerStars’ online poker revenue tallied $754,199 in New Jersey, for a market share of 38 percent. 888’s market share was 32 percent in July with revenue of $648,832.

Bwin.party’s (partnered with the United Auburn Indian Community in California) market share was 30 percent, on the back of $608,074 in revenue.

888’s ability to compete in New Jersey makes it an attractive partner.

The case for IGT

IGT’s overhauled poker product

I won’t hold it against you if you’re not familiar with IGT’s online poker product.

IGT acquired the BOSS Media platform back in 2008, and while BOSS was a serious player during the early part of the poker boom, the software (like so many other early online poker platforms) became an also-ran as the industry continued to evolve.

BOSS poker software was still usable, but hasn’t been considered a top-tier platform for close to a decade.

That’s about to change, as IGT has spent the last three years overhauling and improving the legacy software. The new product is a vast improvement and could turn IGT into a serious player in the online poker industry going forward.

The company is also very bullish on its new mobile platform, which has become an increasingly popular platform for online poker players.

The new, completely overhauled BOSS platform is currently only available through Lottomatica in Italy, but IGT plans to upgrade its online poker products in other markets, Svenska Spel in Sweden and Canadian Poker Network in Canada.

IGT’s positive attributes

IGT already has relationships with most California tribes, as the company is one of the largest gaming suppliers in the world, land-based and online. IGT machines can be found in virtually every casino around the globe, and it’s also a top supplier of social casino games.

Additionally, IGT has experience in regulated US online gaming markets. The company supplies online casino games to several operators in New Jersey, and provides the Kentucky, Georgia, and Illinois lotteries with their online games.

IGT in California

A key factor that might increase IGT’s appeal to Pechanga and other tribes is it would act strictly as a B2B provider, and wouldn’t try to compete with their own branded online poker platforms.

So, unlike in New Jersey where 888 and WSOP.com compete for customers, IGT online poker sites would feature just the land-based casino or card room brand.

A representative from IGT indicated the company has been speaking to customers and anticipates debuting the company’s latest software at G2E.

Here’s a sneak peek:

IGT online poker platform table

Windows lobby 2

The case for Pala Interactive

Pala’s proprietary online poker software

The biggest factor that differentiates Pala from every other listed platform provider is that the Pala Band of Mission Indians has created the only homegrown online gambling platform in the state. (Barona Band of Mission Indians has reportedly scrapped the proprietary software it was developing.)

Pala has been field testing its online casino platform in New Jersey (where it’s operating PalaCasino.com and PalaBingoUSA.com under the Borgata online gambling license), but it’s yet to unveil its online poker platform.

Pala in California

As a California tribe with longstanding relationships, Pala likely has a negotiating edge over foreign companies working to secure a partnership agreement with Pechanga and the other tribes in its coalition.

And like 888, if Pala could secure deals with Pechanga and Agua Caliente it’d be a top contender for market supremacy, which could have the same type of snowball effect, leading to even more partnerships with other tribes.

The case for another platform provider

NYX

NYX has become a prodigious player in regulated US online gambling markets, powering software for Golden Nugget, Caesars, and Resorts Casino in New Jersey. But to this point, the company has been focused entirely on online casino games.

NYX’s affiliated poker platform, OnGame, will likely need a major overhaul before it gets serious consideration from the bigger players in the California market.

The OnGame software was acquired by NYX in 2014 from Amaya. Two years earlier, Amaya acquired OnGame from bwin.party, but the software was entirely redundant in the wake of the deal that brought PokerStars and Full Tilt under the Amaya umbrella.

NYX later divested its ownership in OnGame, but still retains an ownership stake in the company, which allows NYX to use the software in North American markets.

Gamesys

Gamesys is another strong online gaming provider that has shown little interest in online poker over the years.

Its online poker product has been in the developmental stage for quite some time, but the only evidence of progress we’ve seen was the rollout of a lottery-style poker game earlier this year, Wild Seat Poker.

Without a comprehensive online poker platform, Gamesys seems like a long shot to secure a partnership with Pechanga and some of the other large gaming tribes.

GVC

GVC’s newly acquired online poker platform, PartyPoker, is currently partnered with United Auburn Indian Community in California.

GVC is also partnered with Borgata in New Jersey (a legacy deal that Borgata could be trying to get out of if rumors are correct) and has an unnamed partner in Pennsylvania.

Similar to 888, PartyPoker has done a good job dealing with the arrival of PokerStars in New Jersey.

But considering it’s partnered with market-leading Borgata, being third among three online poker operators in the market should cause some level of concern from prospective partners in California.

Churchill Downs Interactive

CDI has been patiently waiting for a chance to unleash its online gaming products in the US market, and it looks like the big unveiling will continue to wait until California passes an online poker bill.

CDI has partnered with two California card rooms, Crystal Casino and Oceans 11 Casino.

CDI seems like an unlikely partner for Pechanga and other tribes, considering the longstanding animosity between California tribes and the horse racing industry, and the untested nature of CDI’s online poker platform.

Amaya

Pechanga et al. teaming up with Full Tilt or PokerStars would certainly be the sexiest move, but the rift between the two sides appears unbridgeable.

I refuse to completely discount anything (especially in California), but the chances for Amaya being the platform provider for Pechapanga seems close to zero.

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Steve Ruddock
- 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.