Chris Moneymaker won two events, failed to start another poker boom

PokerStars NJCOOP: A Battle Won In The Fight For New Jersey Online Poker

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The 2018 PokerStars New Jersey Championship of Online Poker (NJCOOP) has come to an end.

The series awarded more than $1 million in total prize money, with Chris “Money800NJ” Moneymaker taking his fair share of it. Moneymaker hauled in two victories during the series.

He wasn’t the only one who double-dipped, either.

Michael “[email protected]” Gagliano also picked up two titles, the second one heads-up against none other than Moneymaker. And Jason “JayRiv” Rivkin rounded out a trio of multi-winners when he took down a win-the-button event late in the series.

Big names, big final-table battles and big money all added up to a successful series for PokerStars NJ.

But is it enough for NJ online poker as a whole?

Online poker struggling in New Jersey

The NJCOOP ran for more than two weeks, offering 47 events with buy-ins up and down the scale. Three $30,000 Platinum Pass packages to the PokerStars Player’s NL Hold’em Championship were up for grabs, too.

The two-day Main Event drew 305 entries — a decent turnout but not enough to avoid some overlay on the $150,000 guarantee. Ryan “ISlowRollYou” Hohner won the $500-buy-in event to take home his largest-ever online prize of $28,218.90.

Without more context, the names and numbers sound like cause for optimism. But the latest revenue figures from the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) paint a different picture.

In the month of September, NJ online poker generated its lowest-ever monthly revenues. The paltry $1.6 million take sunk through the previous floor, a $1.7 million snoozer in June 2017.

Although the NJCOOP was a modest success, the overall market trend is one of declining interest in online poker.

Shared liquidity no magic bullet

Since May, New Jersey’s compacts with Delaware and Nevada have facilitated shared liquidity across the three states. The agreements have not provided the mini-boom for online poker some had envisioned, though.

At the moment, WSOP/888 still operate the only network active in all three states. In addition to powering the WSOP NJ and WSOP NV sites, 888 Poker provides the platform for the three Delaware licensees.

The potential for shared liquidity is thin beyond that in the immediate future. The other large NJ providers, PokerStars and partypoker, are so far limited to just that one state.

Nevertheless, liquidity sharing may still have a spark in store for online poker.

Pennsylvania online poker could be a game changer

The first state-regulated Pennsylvania online poker sites will go live soon.

The PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB) is gradually working its way through the applications, so cards could be on the virtual felt before the end of the year — and certainly by the end of Q1 2019.

The new law allows for interstate compacts like the multi-state poker agreement. Assuming things go smoothly, the Commonwealth could join the three-state compact by the end of 2019.

All of the major US operators have plans for PA online poker. If and when they’re able to add their NJ players to the same pool, it may provide a real tipping point. The benefits of combining small-market liquidity in Delaware and Nevada may not have moved the needle, but the addition of the Keystone State very well could.

New Jersey has just under 10 million residents and Pennsylvania another 12.8 million.

The sudden expansion of state-regulated sports betting has opened the door to more online poker legislation, too. Although sports betting has taken center stage in the legislative conversation, there is an occasional recognition that online poker and online casinos are a logical step.

Legalizing online sports betting, in particular, while leaving other forms of online gambling illegal is not an especially rational position.

Until then, it’s mostly New Jersey

The reality is that NJ online poker sites can’t produce tournaments comparable to those available on offshore sites. Even with a modest price point and a robust satellite schedule, the NJCOOP Main stubbornly failed to reach its guarantee.

This lack of firepower limits the ability of operators to attract new and recreational players.

A new generation of young, internet-savvy adults has the potential to drive online poker into the future, but a patchwork marketplace makes it difficult for operators to gain traction. While waiting for expansion into more states, they’re left fighting to engage what small audience they have.

PokerStars can (and should) pat itself on the back for running a successful 2018 NJCOOP. Sadly, though, the occasional big tournament series isn’t enough to stem the waning interest in NJ online poker.

For now, at least, “PokerStars makes millionaires” is a more appropriate tagline in other markets than it is in the US.

- A former founder of Poker Industry Pro and Head of Content at PokerNews publisher iBus Media, Joss Wood is a graduate in English from the University of Birmingham. Joss also holds a master’s degree in Organisational Development from the University of Manchester. His career path has taken him from the British Army, through business and finance to seven years as a successful professional poker player.
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