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PokerStars NJ recently experienced one of these upticks, when the Milestone Hands segment of its Christmas Festival sent cash game volume soaring to its highest point since the site opened for business in March.
For a 10-day stretch beginning on December 19 and running through December 28, Milestone Hands awarded players dealt into every 5,000th hand (indicated by a hand counter) with $30 dollars in cash. The winner of the hand received an added bonus of $30.
Admittedly, these rewards paled in value compared to those offered during equivalently-themed promotions on PokerStars.com, but the low monetary value was offset by a greater hit frequency.
Furthermore, the minuscule size of the NJ market made it that individual players stood a much better chance of winning prizes.
These factors likely contributed to the promotion’s overwhelming appeal.
According to Poker Industry Pro via PokerScout.com, 7-day average liquidity on PokerStars was 122 when Milestone Hands launched. By the time the promo entered its death throes on December 28, that average had swelled to 209, representing a 71.3 percent increase.
Notably, this occurred when the market only consisted of two networks, as opposed to the three it currently supports.
Based on an analysis of PokerScout’s figures alone, Milestone Hands comes off as PokerStars NJ’s most successful cash game promotion to date — and not by a small margin.
Yet these baseline numbers don’t necessarily tell the entire story.
Milestone Hands tends to draw significant traffic to the smallest microstakes games. Reason being that players can maximize their risk-reward ratio by buying in for smaller amounts than usual.
What this means for PokerStars, is that the average rake generated per hand takes a nosedive.
Also, if I had to guess, the promotion doesn’t necessarily attract much in the way of new traffic. Instead, mass multi-tabling becomes far more prevalent, which serves to artificially inflate tracking statistics.
PokerStars works to minimize this phenomenon by excluding Zoom (fast-fold) and Heads-Up tables from the promotion. But that doesn’t prevent players from sitting down at a half-dozen (or more) penny tables.
These variables considered, it’s unlikely PokerStars makes a financial killing from Milestone Hands, or even acquires much in the way of new sign-ups from the promotion.
But there did appear to be at least some positive longer-term effects.
It’s now been a week since the promotion ended, and while cash game liquidity has dipped, it remains well above its pre-promotional levels. PokerScout numbers show average cash game liquidity at 168, a full 38 percent above what it was before Milestone Hands began.
Part of this change can be attributed to the seasonal uptick that gains momentum after the holidays. And yet another portion from the currently running Cash Royal promotion.
But these factors wouldn’t account for all of the traffic gains, especially in an industry where cash game liquidity has trended downward for years. Which leaves Milestone Hands and Christmas Festival responsible for the rest.
Christmas Festival also had a profound impact on major tournament traffic.
For its Christmas Festival Big Monday (December 26), PokerStars NJ took an aggressive stance by increasing all of its major guarantees by 20 percent.
Players responded in droves, with all five majors cruising by their guarantees:
It’s conceivable that at least some of this increased tournament traffic was spillover from the surge in cash game liquidity.
The last time average cash game traffic in New Jersey hovered around 400 for a sustained period was during the seasonal uptick of early 2015.
Milestone Hands, and the ensuing Cash Royal, have helped the market relive that high point, if only for a few weeks.
What happens next will dictate the narrative. If PokerStars retains the new players that it captured in December, then we may see more traditional cash game promotions, as opposed to the random payout promos that dominated 2016.
However, if the traffic was generally low-quality in nature, derived primarily from mass multi-tabling regulars, it’s unlikely Milestone Hands and like-minded promos will become recurring characters.
In either case, Milestone Hands proves that players are still more than willing to flood the cash games tables, given the right incentive.