By 2018, NJ online poker sites could be sharing player pools with Nevada, Delaware

WSOP Ups Its Game With The NJ Poker Classic, Which Could Be Its Last Single-State Tournament Series

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New Jersey online poker players are spoiled for tournament choices this fall.

The state’s two largest operators have already hosted major (and mostly successful) series during the last month. Not wanting to miss out on the blitz, the WSOP/888 network is poised to run its own online series, its first of the year.

The inaugural New Jersey Poker Classic features 38 events and $500,000 in guaranteed prize pools. The series runs from Nov. 10-20 on the WSOP NJ and 888 Poker NJ clients.

Highlights of NJ Poker Classic

The first three events begin Friday, and they should provide a barometer for the potential turnout over the next ten days.

In an effort to provide a little something for everyone, buy-ins range from $10 to $1,000. Most of them fall between $50-$150, but there are a few big ones that jump off the page:

  • Nov. 12: Event #7: $320 Sunday Biggy ($65,000 Guaranteed)
  • Nov. 12: Event #9: $500 Sunday Spectacular ($30,000 Guaranteed)
  • Nov. 14: Event #16: $1,000 High Roller ($50,000 Guaranteed)
  • Nov. 19: Event #31: $500 Main Event ($100,000 Guaranteed)

There are two non-hold’em events, as well, both pot-limit Omaha.

This schedule is evidence of some adjustments in the network’s game plan. The last series it hosted in New Jersey was the NJ Online Championships a year ago, which featured $250,000 in guarantees spread over 93 events.

There are fewer than half as many events this time around, but the schedule represents a significant step forward. Guaranteeing $500,000 is an ambitious task given the current climate for NJ online poker sites.

How’s WSOP/888 doing in the marketplace?

Both WSOP and Borgata launched their NJ online poker networks just prior to the start of 2014.

The two enjoyed exclusive access to the marketplace for the next two years, during which Borgata averaged 10 to 15 percent more revenue per month. WSOP was never in first place during that stretch.

PokerStars entered the marketplace in March 2016 and immediately took over the top spot for revenue in the state. It’s held the lead every month since, though the gap appears to be closing over the past few months.

Here were the revenue numbers for September:

PokerStars: $707,976
Borgata: $632,568
WSOP/888: $561,705

Although the bottom two have traded places several times over the past year and a half, WSOP/888 has been stuck at the bottom for six consecutive months.

It is, however, still comfortably in second place when it comes to cash-game traffic. Tournament series add volatility to the revenue numbers from month to month, so cash-game traffic provides a more consistent metric for comparison.

Here’s the most recent seven-day rolling average player data, per Poker Industry Pro:

  • PokerStars: 91
  • WSOP/888: 86
  • Borgata: 72

Keeping pace with the competition

With the NJ Poker Classic set to begin, each of New Jersey’s three online poker networks will have hosted major tournament events this fall.

PokerStars recently held its second annual NJ Championship of Online Poker with 46 events and $1.2 million in guaranteed prizes.

The Borgata / PartyPoker NJ / playMGM network hosted another edition of its recurring Garden State Super Series. This season’s schedule boasted 14 events and $375,000 in guarantees.

In designing the NJ Poker Classic schedule, WSOP hopes to find its own sweet spot in the marketplace. WSOP Head of Online Poker Bill Rini spoke to Online Poker Report about the series:

Every tournament schedule is part art and part science. We have data to go off of, but the wants and needs of players change over time. So you have to go into it knowing that a spreadsheet is never going to give you everything.

From the beginning, our positioning has been to be the best place to play poker online. We offer a great experience for players, chances to win WSOP packages, and players know and trust the brand.

As far as the competition, I don’t want to say that we don’t pay attention but they’re often playing off other strengths and weaknesses, so what works for them might not be right for us. We just try to be very good at what we set out to do.

According to Rini, WSOP recognized that its November calendar was missing something, and it’s trying to fill the gap in a big way.

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The last NJ-only online poker series?

Last month, New Jersey announced an interstate agreement to share liquidity with Nevada and Delaware. The agreement is still pending with state regulators, but they appear ready to go in the near future.

“New Jersey stands prepared to approve a game offering for all three states as soon as an operator submits such a product for testing,” said David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

While interstate poker should benefit the bottom lines of all three operators, WSOP/888 stands to gain the most. It is the only one with a live product in all three states, which means it should be the first to market with shared player pools.

According to forecasts, WSOP/888 could control as much as 33 percent of traffic in an interstate player pool with five operators. Since it has the product in place already, the development costs to get there would likely be minimal.

Being first to the party is a good thing, but it will pose a few challenges for the platform, too. Rather than tailoring its product to just one market, WSOP will have to balance the schedule across multiple states and time zones. It may serve as something of a guinea pig for competitors, a position its familiar with from its initial entry into New Jersey.

The potential for increased player numbers and prize pools would be worth a fair amount of trial and error, though. Should interstate play come to fruition soon, this series may well be the last NJ-only series for WSOP/888.

- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.
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