Party/Borgata GSSS VI Is Not Making The Grade, Despite Low Expectations

Party/Borgata Slashes Expectations For GSSS Spring ’17, And It’s Still Not Making The Cut

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Following October’s disastrous Garden State Super Series V, the network pared down its expectations for the GSSS VI. The previous iteration saw Party/Borgata go head-to-head with PokerStars’ NJCOOP and fail quite miserably,

And by “pared down,” we mean it miniaturized the series to a pittance of its former self.

Whereas the GSSS V guaranteed $1.1 million across 75 events, the Spring ’17 iteration guarantees just $265,000 across 11 tournaments. Despite this, the series is still not crushing its ultra-conservative expectations.

Which begs the question: Have players all but given up on the network? And if so, how did the site with the strongest brand recognition in New Jersey fall so precipitously?

GSSS VI results so far nothing to celebrate

It’s early yet. But from the looks of it, the GSSS Spring ’17 won’t represent the beginning of a comeback for Party/Borgata.

To date, four events have run:

  • Event #1, a $100 + 9 six-max re-entry held some promise, surpassing its $10,000 guaranteed prize pool by $1,600.
  • Event #2, a $200 + 15 buy-in ($50,000 guaranteed) event that effectively replaced the network’s biggest weekly major, came up decidedly short. It drew just 201 total entrants. What resulted was a nearly $10,000 overlay.
  • Event #3 fared only slightly better, attracting 246 entrants. The event posted a $572 overlay — pretty poor for a tournament that guaranteed just $5,000.
  • Event #4, a $200 + 15 buy-in $10,000 guarantee bounty — did skirt by its minimum benchmark (by $650), but the expectations were remarkably low.

Granted, the overlays so far are not as crippling to the network’s bottom line as were October’s, when more than two-thirds of all GSSS V events posted overlays.

But the theme is common. The network lost the ability to successfully run high-profile tournaments.

The downfall of Party/Borgata online poker in NJ

Despite its imperfections  — and there are many —  there was a fairly long stretch when Party/Borgata was unequivocally the king of NJ online poker.

The Borgata’s strong branding, and presumably some leftover nostalgia of the days when PartyPoker was top dog in the US online poker industry, accelerated the network to an early lead.

Remarkably, it maintained a majority market share for the better part of two-and-a-half years, right up until PokerStars entered the equation in March 2016.

We say remarkably, because the site was the subject of negative press several times, most notably following server crashes during high-profile events.

However, the network’s — and by extension the entire NJ online poker industry’s — revenue fell precipitously during this timeframe. It went from $1.84 million in January 2014 to just $1.20 million two years later. That represented a 34.8 percent falloff in just 24 months.

The arrival of PokerStars NJ

Then in March 2016, the bottom fell out for Party/Borgata.

Naturally, with the entrance of a third operator — and a high profile one at that — it was anticipated that the network would see its market share drop.

Less anticipated was the magnitude of the drop, from nearly 56 percent in January 2016 to an average of right around 30 percent over the past 12 months (currently 28.3 percent). In other words, the network’s share was effectively halved, despite the number of operators only increasing by 50 percent.

By contrast, WSOP/888 market share only dipped from roughly 44 percent to just over 30 percent; a drop that is much more in line with expectations.

What’s interesting about this is that when WSOP/888 and Party/Borgata were only competing against each other, Party/Borgata always came out on top. But since the entry of PokerStars, WSOP/888 has beat out the network in eight out of twelve months, including the past four.

So what happened?

The logical conclusion is that the launch of PokerStars in New Jersey somehow impacted Party/Borgata more than it did WSOP/888.

Determining why is a much tougher nut to crack, but there are a few theories:

  • PokerStars bears a strong number of similarities to Party/Borgata, particularly with regards to tournament scheduling. WSOP/888 took a deviant approach by focusing more on low buy-ins, paired with a high prevalence of rebuy and add-on tournaments.
  • Party/Borgata featured a higher frequency of so-called grinders than WSOP/888. Unfortunately for the network, PokerStars was most fondly remembered by those same regs, many of whom were biding their time until their beloved pre-Black Friday home relaunched. WSOP/888 players are of a more casual stock, and weren’t as attached to the Stars brand.
  • The network’s deficiencies in the areas of server stability, customer service, and technology became all the more apparent when a product that was superior in just about every way launched.

Branding can only carry an online poker site so far

To answer a question put forth at the beginning of the discussion: Yes, it is quite apparent that players have left Party/Borgata in search of greener pastures. Many have found a new home at PokerStars.

If there’s a lesson to learned here, it’s that strong branding isn’t the be-all end-all when it comes to operating a successful online poker site in the New Jersey market.

If anything, Borgata’s branding may have been its undoing. To clarify, the operator put too much stock in its ability to drive traffic via name recognition exclusively. Thus, it neglected critical aspects of its operation.

And when a better product came along, players that were once entirely loyal to the Borgata brand jumped ship.

We’ve witnessed this phenomenon on the NJ online casino side as well. Borgata also got off to a strong start here. But since, it has fallen way behind lesser brands that have constantly refined and expanded their offerings. The Golden Nugget is the best example, but so is Tropicana, albeit to a lesser extent.

What does the future hold for Party/Borgata?

From the looks of the GSSS Spring ’17 schedule, Party/Borgata appears content to avoid taking substantial financial risks, even if that means toning down its once-big tournament events considerably.

Given this, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where players flock back to the site. More likely is that the network eventually concedes the market to PokerStars and WSOP/888. Or, it may part ways with PartyPoker in search of a more committed partner.

Until then, expect low cash game traffic and “not-so-special” special events.

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- 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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