PokerStars Festival To Debut At Resorts AC In New Jersey On October 29

Boon Or Bust: How Will A PokerStars Branded Tournament Series At Resorts AC Impact New Jersey Online Poker?

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In a recent press release, PokerStars arguably delivered the biggest news to hit the New Jersey poker scene since the company was first approved to offer regulated online poker in the state.

From October 29 – November 6, the global market share leader will host the first tour stop of the newly-minted PokerStars Festival at Resorts AC. The stop will consist of a tournament series, as well as a bevy of other poker and casino themed side attractions.

PokerStars Festival is part of a larger live tournament rebranding initiative, that will see it and another new tour (PokerStars Championship) replace PokerStars’ current tours, including the European Poker Tour (EPT).

To date, cross-promotional ties between NJ online poker sites and their brick and mortar counterparts have been loose. PokerStars Festival New Jersey marks the first real effort by an operator to converge the two worlds.

But can it inspire a resurgence on PokerStars NJ; a site that initially rose to dominance, but is now in danger of losing its hold on the market?

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Running down the PokerStars Festival

PokerStars Festival New Jersey is best described as one part tournament extravaganza, and one part boardwalk attraction, when combined, give the feel of a lighthearted, gambling holiday.

The tournament series

The live tournament portion of the Festival will see more than 50 events spread over eight days, which works out to an average of more than six tournaments per day.

For perspective, the upcoming Borgata Poker Open (September 6 – 23), held in the casino’s mammoth Event Center and widely regarded as the biggest tournament series on the east coast, features just 41 tournaments over 18 days.

Given the packed schedule, and the multi-day nature of some Festival events, one has to wonder if Resorts will have difficulty accommodating all registrants.

Players can kickstart the registration process by utilizing PokerStars’ new online registration portal, entitled PSLive, ahead of the event. Registration will also be available in person at Resorts’ Ocean Ballroom, although players harnessing this option will only be able to pay with cash.

Tournament buy-ins will run the gamut from $100 to $5,000. Key highlights include:

  • October 30-31: $340 buy-in PokerStars Cup
  • November 1 – 5: $1,100 PokerStars Festival Main Event
  • November 4 – 5: $2,200 PokerStars Festival High Roller
  • November 4 -6: $230 PokerStars Open

There are no apparent guarantees attached to the tournaments, although it’s conceivable that PokerStars has simply yet to announce them.

PokerStars will be hosting myriad online qualifiers into Festival events. These will be available not only from the New Jersey client, but on PokerStars’ dot-com and ring-fenced sites in Spain, France and Italy as well.

It appears that the qualifiers will be spread across multiple game formats, including Spin & Go’s. Freeroll tournaments will be available via PokerStars.NET.

The attractions

PokerStars has designed its Festival events with the recreational player in mind, evidenced by a slew of entertaining attractions that will run alongside the live tournament series.

These include:

  • StarsFun skill zone: Features include free-to-play games like air hockey, darks, and foosball, as well as mini-golf, hoops and pinball contests that will award cash prizes. Runs from October 31 – November 4.
  • Casino-style tournaments: PokerStars promises a series of innovative blackjack, roulette, video poker and slot tournaments.
  • Run it Up day: Twitch phenom Jason Somerville will headline a cast of Team PokerStars Pros. True to the nature of his stream, Somerville will be hosting an assortment of mixed-game events, including a Dealer’s Choice Stud Club. Somerville will also headup a poker seminar and Q & A session.
  • Survivor “Immunity” Tournament: A $300 + $40 tournament that will feature reality TV stars Tyson Apostol and “Boston Rob” Mariano. Given the $3,000 prize pool, it is presumed that this tournament will feature just 10 players.

First annual NJCOOP to run ahead of PokerStars Festival

In the press release, PokerStars mentions that it will be kicking off the first NJCOOP “ahead of the Festival.”

On Thursday, Team Pro Chris Moneymaker confirmed via Twitter that the series will run from October 16 – 30, with only the tail end of the series overlapping with the live Festival event.

The NJCOOP (Moneymaker’s tweet appears to contain a typo) will mark the second major online tournament series hosted by PokerStars in New Jersey, the first being the NJSCOOP, which ran in May.

Previous attempts to overlap online and live tournament series’ have been met with mixed results. In fact, the industry’s most successful tournament series to date — Party/Borgata’s GSSS IV — was one of the network’s first series’ not to coincide with an Open event at the Borgata.

Despite this, the GSSS IV paid out over $1.3 million on a $1 million series guarantee, and only saw two of its 62 tournaments fail to reach their guarantees.

Impact of PokerStars Festival on NJ online poker

Online poker operators in New Jersey have made numerous attempts to bridge the gap between online and live. However, efforts made thus far have been on the shallow end, with operators rarely offering anything more than online satellites into live events.

Along the same lines, land-based casinos haven’t gone too far out of their way to attract recreational poker and casino players to their online poker sites.

This may account for why, when Party / Borgata did overlap its major online tournaments with live Open events, the short and long-term impacts on network liquidity were nominal, at best.

By contrast, the PokerStars Festival at Resorts should prove more effective at generating new signups for PokerStars NJ, as just about every attraction sans the tournament series is designed with the recreational gambler in mind.

Also, the presence of a somewhat major PokerStars tour stop in the US should resonate with players in other countries, as the PokerStars brand is presently much stronger internationally than it is in the states.

Granted any spike in liquidity precipitated by poker tourism will likely be short-lived (as it is on in Nevada during the World Series of Poker).

But as PokerStars presence in the US grows, it becomes conceivable that more and more of these tourists will stick around, thus fulfilling the vision of New Jersey as a hub for US online poker.

Resorts may be biggest beneficiary

As much of an upside as there is for PokerStars, when the smoke clears it’s Resorts Casino in Atlantic City that may prove the biggest winner.

Keep in mind that Resorts hasn’t had a live poker room since early 2010. The onset of a PokerStars branded tournament will drive an entirely new demographic — young poker players — to a casino that is in the process of reinventing itself.

Combined with the casino’s efforts to target Trump Taj Mahal players (the casino is slated to close in just a few weeks), and Resorts could be on the cusp of a Golden Age.

- 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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