A week later, the oddity persists: The newly launched PokerStars.pt online poker site in Portugal currently has the third highest number of cash game players, with an average of 1,800.
The reason this is so surprising is the Portugal industry is not much larger than the New Jersey online poker industry, yet the latter only averages about 300 cash game players.
And while there are some reasonable explanations for the discrepancy, there’s little denying the Portugal market is still a lot stronger than most expected.
Portugal is proving to be a very strong poker market, and there are numerous structural reasons that might explain why the European nation is vastly outperforming New Jersey:
The latter point warrants further explanation.
In online poker, liquidity begets liquidity — for cash games and especially tournaments. If PokerStars was the only operator in New Jersey, the site would likely outperform the entire industry as it currently exists, both in terms of traffic and revenues.
As things shake out in the coming months, Portugal will likely mirror New Jersey when it comes to traffic trends.
Looking back to the launch of New Jersey’s online poker industry in November 2013, there was an initial rush to the tables that led to the state’s industry peaking just two months after launch.
On Jan. 24, 2014, New Jersey’s online poker industry set a record with an average of 600 cash game players, according to Poker Industry Pro traffic data.
As noted in the opening, average cash game traffic across all New Jersey online poker sites is currently about 300. The early rush — spurred on by the novelty of the industry and inflated marketing spend by operators to grab market share — faded pretty fast, as the market atrophied to its current size by April 2014.
Seasonal trends aside, the New Jersey online poker market has been relatively static for the past two-and-a-half years.
It’s likely Portugal will follow the same path. The market will be larger, so the drop may not be as precipitous, but the drop will come.
PokerStars may not be competing for market share, but the company is running an inordinate number of promotions. It’s also almost certainly trying to maximize market penetration and increase brand awareness as much as possible before competitors launch.
Promotional spending will eventually slow and level off, and the player attrition will be hard to overcome in such a small, limited market.
The final factor that may be playing a role in Portugal is marketing. On this front the country could wind up being a test case for PokerStars’ revamped marketing strategy.
One way PokerStars is executing this shift is to focus its marketing around celebrities. On this front, PokerStars has perhaps the most famous and popular person in Portugal on its payroll, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Some professional poker players believe the money PokerStars is spending on the likes of Ronaldo would be better spent increasing rewards or lowering rake. Ideally, this would make the games more appealing to recreational players and more beatable for pros.
But considering the early numbers in Portugal, Ronaldo, and other megastars like Neymar, could very well be worth every penny PokerStars is paying them. Both names are prominently featured on the PokerStars.pt homepage and in the company’s advertisements.
Ronaldo’s impact is hard to measure when PokerStars is the only operator in the market, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward. Especially so if new sites try to appeal to players through rewards and better rake structures.