Interstate poker is Bill Rini’s bogeyman.
Rini oversees WSOP NJ and WSOP Nevada, which operate separately in two states with legal US online poker. And he just wants his customers to be allowed to play together. They’re currently cut off from each other, though, ring-fenced within their own markets. Players can only compete against other players in their own state.
It looks like that will finally be changing in the coming months and years. A maturing multi-state poker agreement paves the way for shared liquidity and combined player pools, a pool that could grow to include four states by the end of 2018. In anticipation, WSOP and its network partner 888 Poker are hard at work on a unified product for the markets they serve.
Given WSOP’s position and the importance of the next few years, interstate poker probably keeps Rini up at night. Or it should, at least. He and WSOP have done a wonderful job of keeping the timeline a secret so far, though.
In 2015, regulators in the first two formed the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association (MSIGA) based in Delaware. The Association’s founding document lays out the terms for membership in its liquidity-sharing partnership.
Players in the two states now compete in the same pool despite logging into different clients from different locations. Rake and revenue generated by Nevada players stays in Nevada, and the same holds true for Delaware.
That’s the current extent of interstate poker in the US. It doesn’t really move the needle for Nevada, adding just a handful of players to the tables. But it’s pretty important for a small state like Delaware.
The agreement is the first of its kind, and it’s expanding.
Late last year, New Jersey added its name to the MSIGA, making it a three-state alliance. A few months removed, the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement is already reviewing operators, like WSOP.com, who want to take advantage. It is, in fact, is the only operator that can do so immediately.
Pennsylvania online gambling should go live this year, too, and Harrah’s Philadelphia will almost certainly launch a WSOP-branded poker client. Although PA hasn’t joined the MSIGA, it’s likely to do so once the industry rolls out. The state’s iGaming law already contains some provisions for liquidity sharing as passed.
That means that by this time next year, players in all four states could potentially be competing on the same platform.
These interstate agreements are desperately important for the future of the online poker industry. There hasn’t been a real, regulated online poker network in the US since Black Friday. And the industry has been suffering for it (see: disappointing NJ poker revenues).
WSOP.com is still the only online poker site offering games in both Nevada and New Jersey. Along with 888, the group serves all three states that currently offer online gambling. It’s positioned to roll out a multi-state product quickly, having already received approval in each individually.
The site also has a cozy spot under the broad wings of Caesars Entertainment. The giant corporation owns casinos in many commercial gambling states, including several that have an eye toward online gambling. Its Harrah’s property outside of Philadelphia gives WSOP.com a placeholder for online poker in Pennsylvania, almost immediately.
There’s something to be said for the name, too. WSOP is the largest live poker brand in the world, one of two with some familiarity in the mainstream. And the World Poker Tour is pretty far from offering a real-money online poker product.
Wisely, the WSOP does leverage the power of its live brand in online poker markets. It’s been hosting online bracelet events since 2015, and it recently awarded the first online WSOP Circuit rings in both Nevada and NJ.
Players outside of Nevada haven’t been able to compete for a bracelet yet, though, something Rini is intent on changing.
“It’s always been our desire to allow players to compete for WSOP bracelets on WSOP.com in any jurisdiction where it’s legal to do so,” he said. “That’s why the interstate liquidity-sharing agreement is such a game changer.”
At this point, it’s too soon to tell. That’s Rini’s line. We really can only speculate, though, until either he or regulators are more forthcoming.
First the good news. WSOP/888 products are already approved in all three MSIGA states, and WSOP.com should have an easy path to market in Pennsylvania when the time comes there, too. It’s the only operator in such a favorable spot.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as pressing a button and letting players from Nevada register for the NJ games. Regulations in New Jersey require “gaming equipment,” like servers, to be located in the state, so WSOP.com will need to migrate most of its NV gameplay operations. That would, presumably, require adding or relocating hardware.
There’s testing to be done, too. The software needs to work correctly right from the start, and it needs to accurately reflect the play in each state for bookkeeping purposes.
It’s surely quite a process, but it’s now been under way for several months. Given the appetite from regulators and some educated guessing on our end, it does seem possible that a combined NJ/NV product could be ready in time for this summer.
The 2018 WSOP schedule includes a record four online bracelet events.
WSOP/888 has been pretty fortunate to this point. That’s especially true in Nevada, where WSOP.com has a near-monopoly on the market. Its former competitor, Ultimate Poker, isn’t a factor anymore, so there’s pretty much only one online poker site where you can find a game.
In Delaware, 888 runs poker in the state. Since the games are owned by the lottery, there’s no incentive to allow or seek out other providers. The 888 platform works great as a simple utility.
Competition is stiffer in New Jersey, though. WSOP NJ and 888 Poker NJ run alongside platforms from PokerStars and PartyPoker NJ, and it’s tough to hang with the international giants. WSOP/888 brings up the rear in NJ online poker revenue.
The last section talked about the strength of WSOP’s live brand, but there’s a counterpoint to that.
PokerStars and PartyPoker rule the online poker world everywhere except Nevada and Delaware, where they don’t operate. Their networks are huge, their software is top-notch, and they simply offer bigger games than the competition. If given the choice, most US players would prefer to play on one of those two sites.
Both companies invest significant resources in their year-round live tours, too. Before Black Friday, the old North American Poker Tour was poised to challenge the WPT for its crown on the US circuit. PokerStars hosts elite events, and the same can be said of the new efforts from PartyPoker LIVE.
The perceived edge of the WSOP brand isn’t as apparent in the online realm. By name and software alone, it may not have enough to compete with PokerStars and PartyPoker in an open market.
Its best bet, then, is to be quick enough to establish a big network before the competition even gets there.