Mass Overlays And Cancellations The Story Of The GSSS V

Borgata/PartyPoker GSSS V Recap: Struggling Series Takes A Turn For The Disastrous On Final Day

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On Sunday, the online poker partnership of Borgata and PartyPoker NJ relived one of lowest points, when technical failings resulted in the cancellation of the Garden State Super Series V (GSSS V) Main Event, and seven other scheduled events.

Online poker players may recall that in September 2014, the first running of the GSSS was hampered by a eerily similar sequence of events that forced the New Jersey-based network to pull the plug on six events, including the Main.

The network cited geolocation issues as the culprit behind the latest round of cancellations. Thus providing an almost fitting conclusion to a series that had already fallen well short of expectations.

An abrupt end to the party

The difficulties appeared to have started at approximately 8:00 p.m local time. It was then that posters on the network’s dedicated Two Plus Two forum began complaining of widespread geolocation issues.

At roughly 8:30 p.m all tournaments were paused, including the Main Event, which kicked off some three-and-a-half hours earlier.

Soon after, Party iterated its intention to “resume play.” But in the interim between the wave of disconnects and the pause, the few players that remained connected were liberally stealing blinds and antes from inactive players, rendering any sort of quick fix solution unlikely.

Sometime between 9:30 – 10:00 p.m, the network resigned itself to pulling the compromised tournaments from the lobby.

Outrage ensued, and the ire of the online poker community was only prompted further when the network took a full 13 hours to issue an apology.

Borgata was the first to deliver a comprehensive explanation on Twitter:

“We experienced a failure on our geolocation service which impacted all active players on our network, the failure resulted in the player locations not being verified. As a regulated provider in NJ, we had to adhere to the regulations and not permit wagering while a player’s location could not be verified. The technical support team worked tirelessly to identify the root cause. The issue was finally resolved late in the evening.”

This was followed by a similar yet lengthier update from teampartypoker on PocketFivesNew Jersey Poker Community wall.

Notably, competing networks WSOP NJ/888 and PokerStars NJ — the latter of which was running a tournament series of its own — did not experience any technical maladies on Sunday night.

How has the network responded?

When the first GSSS went down some two years ago, Borgata/Party came up with a resolution that most players found to be serviceable:

  • Active players received 50 percent of their winnings as a evenly distributed slice of the remaining prize pool, and the other 50 percent as a chip chop.
  • For these players, entry fees were reimbursed.
  • The affected tournaments were not re-run.
  • The network added $50,000 to the following week’s GSSS events.

The first two points are in accordance with the network’s cancellation policy, and were enacted once again to resolve player accounts.

But there was one big problem. It appears the network calculated chip counts at the time the tournaments were paused, and not from the time of the first geolocation error. If true, then hundreds of players have received less than their fair share. A select few received much more.

This is the kind of accounting error we’d expect to hear from an offshore site, not one fully regulated in the state of New Jersey.

Going further, the network has yet to issue any sort of goodwill sentiment. Players note that in the past, Borgata/Party responded to widespread technical failings by either hosting an exclusive freeroll for affected parties or adding prize money to future tournaments — like it did for the first GSSS.

Can Borgata/Party recover?

Back in 2014, when regulated NJ online poker sites were still in its infancy, players were more willing to write-off isolated missteps as growing pains, in so long as a fair solution was provided.

Not so much now that Borgata/Party has been operating in NJ for nearly three years. Even if the network goes back and redistributes funds properly, regaining the trust of NJ online poker players is going to prove a long, uphill battle, and possibly one that the network won’t care to fight.

Since October 2014, network revenue has dropped 40 percent, and cash game traffic has been slashed in half. The ambitious GSSS V appeared to be a last ditch effort to keep up with PokerStars NJ; the same operator responsible for cannibalizing a significant portion of the network’s revenue when it went live in March.

Unfortunately, Borgata/Party overplayed its hand. To the careful observer, this was clear well before Sunday’s cancellations drilled the point home:

  • Of the 60 plus events that ran without a hitch, more than two-thirds could not fend off an overlay.
  • In some cases, the overlay amount was massive. For instance, GSSS #36 ($200 buy-in, $100,000 GTD NLH) only drew 360 entries. Even after factoring in the juice, the network lost $22,600 on this tournament alone.
  • Data collected from Poker Industry Pro via PokerScout shows that network cash game traffic only experienced a mild uptick during the series.
  • The even more ambitious PokerStars NJCOOP is performing worlds better.

Suffice it to say, that even if Sunday never happened, it was unlikely that the GSSS VI would be on the same scale as its immediate predecessor.

A case of poor timing

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are strongly considering legalizing online poker and casino games.

Borgata/Party’s failure to stabilize its geolocation services and rightfully distribute funds probably won’t upend all the good progress that PA has made thus far, but it might cause lawmakers on the proverbial online gambling fence to take pause.

At this juncture, any black eye for U.S. online gambling is detrimental to the future of the industry.

- 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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