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The 2018 partypoker NJ Garden State Super Series (GSSS) Fall Edition ran to completion this past weekend.
Compared to last year, the ninth iteration of this recurring New Jersey online poker series increased its total prize pools by $75,000. The extra money aimed to attract serious online poker players as well as the part-timers who may not be regular customers.
But in a declining market, was the extra cash enough to reignite optimism for NJ online poker?
In a word: no.
The series began straight after the PokerStars NJCOOP ended, with $450,000 in total guarantees across 24 events. Players could enter GSSS tournaments through the Borgata Poker sites, including partypoker and playMGM.
The series’ Main Event guaranteed $100,000, and additional prizes were available via leaderboard promotions.
Entry to the Main was competitively priced at $320, with “wheels4920” striking a deal to collect the win and $20,782. The same player also won Event #2: Sunday $60K GTD NLH for another $14,100, making the series especially profitable for them.
The Main Event only attracted 274 entries, though, leaving partypoker to pick up a significant overlay. And with only 39 entries for the $1,060 High Roller ($50,000 guaranteed), the two signature events both missed their marks.
In fact, nearly all GSSS events fell short of their respective guarantee.
A miss here and there isn’t a bad thing, mind you.
Players certainly enjoyed the extra value the overlays offered. And as a marketing strategy, offering free money is one of the best. The inaugural WSOP Online Circuit, for example, took a little flack for exceeding its unambitious guarantees across the board. It’s case of ‘pick your poison’ to some extent.
Nevertheless, the participating GSSS sites would surely have preferred larger fields.
PokerStars had a similar experience with the NJCOOP. Its $500 Main Event captured only 305 entries, putting the $150,000 guarantee just too tall to reach. In other words, the bar was set just about right.
Curiously, the GSSS Main Event actually attracted the largest field of the series apart from two $0.25 qualifying tournaments. Whether the turnout is attributable to the prospect of overlay or the six-figure guarantee isn’t clear, but moderately steep buy-ins don’t seem to be a hurdle in this market.
So what’s going on?
While the Fall 2018 GSSS didn’t smash any records, it’s hard to blame the operators alone. The reality is that NJ online poker is not doing well on the balance sheet.
The NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) recently released its September financial report, with online casino revenue surging. NJ poker sites, however posted their leanest month since launch — way back in November 2013.
Of the $1.6 million in September online poker revenue, the Borgata network generated just $399,978. That’s down 36.77 percent from its 2017 numbers. And neither PokerStars nor the WSOP NJ / 888 Poker combo blew the doors off with their revenue either.
The problem is bigger than any one individual operator.
Online poker does not do well in small, ring-fenced markets. Advertising spend is justifiably low, and tournament guarantees rarely set the heart racing.
By the time the next GSSS comes around in Spring 2019, however, online poker should be up and running in Pennsylvania. The new PA law allows for interstate compacts, and most analysts expect PA and NJ player pools to combine sooner rather than later.
New Jersey already has compacts with Delaware and Nevada, but the small populations of those markets mean that shared liquidity has had a minimal effect. And so far, the WSOP/888 network is the only one active across multiple states.
PA online poker is a different proposition, though.
Add the 12.8 million population of PA to the 9 million in NJ, and we’re suddenly looking at a formidable market. Tournament guarantees could increase substantially, though regular $1 million guarantees would likely remain out of reach — at least in the short term.
Throw in the prospects of New York or Illinois legalizing online gambling, plus perhaps a few smaller states, and it won’t be long before the US online poker market is the size of that in France or the UK.
Owners GVC and MGM have set up their joint partypoker venture to take advantage of the anticipated explosion in sports betting. The deal includes online poker wherever it becomes legal, so Pennsylvania will likely be the first stop.
MGM also has a deal with Boyd Gaming which was recently approved as the new owner of the Valley Forge Casino.
That alliance will give partypoker an entry to the PA market and the possibility of combining its player pools across its two active states. Right now, WSOP/888 are the sole beneficiaries of multi-state poker.
Speaking of PA, industry rumors say that the Stadium Casino venture may be for sale. If that’s the case, MGM could contend for those licenses in order to operate its own, self-branded platforms in PA.
Either way, partypoker is poised for expansion, and a combined player pool would place it in a much more competitive position going forward.