WSOP NJ and Nevada online events could hit $9 million in prize pools
Online Poker Report

How Well Are The 2019 WSOP Online Bracelet Events Performing?

WSOP online bracelet

As of Wednesday, four of this year’s World Series of Poker online bracelet events are in the books. That’s the total number of events we witnessed last year, but only midway through this year’s WSOP.

Now is a great time to to take a look at how the fields are stacking up compared to expectations.

Growth, both vertical and horizontal, for WSOP online

The online component of the WSOP has been rapidly growing since its introduction in 2015.

In those years — when the schedule did not change much — year-on-year field growth of 20% to 40% was the norm. Even when the number of events expanded from one to three in 2017, entries for the $1,000 main event saw a modest increase.

With the number of events being more than double this year; instead, we look at the stability in average field sizes and prize pools. For the past three years, the average per-event prize pool has held steady at a little more than $1.1 million.

So far this year, only one event has cleared $1 million – the No. 7 $400 no-limit hold ’em opener – but that’s to be expected. All of the higher buy-in events are yet to come.

The old and the new at the WSOP

Two of the four events this year are entirely new – the No. 38 $600 Knockout Bounty and the No. 46 $500 Turbo Deepstack – while the other two are analogous to events last year, albeit with slightly increased buy-ins.  

The buy-in change makes evaluating event performances a bit difficult. As in both cases, the field size shrank slightly, yet the prize pool grew. We expect that effect in a buy-in change anyway, so if we want to know whether these events had any organic growth, we have to try to correct for it.

The WSOP buy-in effect

Generally speaking, buy-ins and field sizes for otherwise equivalent events follow a power law; halving or doubling the buy-in will produce a change in field size in the opposite direction but of less than a factor of two.

In the case of WSOP events, because there are so few of them and so many additional factors at play, figuring out the exact power involved is impossible, but we can look elsewhere for an estimate.

PokerStars’ SCOOP is a convenient benchmark because it always uses a three-tiered system. The three versions of each event running buy-ins are separated by factors of 10.

For its WSOP Main Event, the low and mid versions run at $109 and $1,050 and have consistently produced fields differing by a factor of about five. That gives us an exponent of 0.7 for our power law.

Event No. 7’s $400 buy-in is an increase of 9.6% over last year’s $365 opener, and the PLO event’s (No. 24) $600 is an increase of 6.2% over last year’s $565.

A power law of 0.7 would give us the following expectations of less than zero organic growth:

  • Decreased field sizes of 6.6% and 4.3%, respectively.
  • Prize pools increases of 2.8% and 1.8%.

The actual performance was as follows:

  • Field sizes decreased by 4.5% and 0.6%.
  • Prize pool increases by 4.3% and 3.2%.

In both cases, the field-size decrease is a little less than expected and the prize-pool increase a little larger.

We can, therefore, conclude that if the buy-ins had remained consistent from year to year, we would likely have seen 2-4%vorganic growth for both events.

Not much enthusiasm for new WSOP events

On the other hand, the new events didn’t perform quite as well as might have been hoped.

Since the $400 opening event managed to produce a seven-figure prize pool, that would have seemed to be a reasonable target for the $500 Knockout and $600 Turbo Deepstack.  

The Knockout drew only 1,224 entries and produced a prize pool of only $656,640, but its lack of re-entries easily excuses that. Without re-entries, the opener would have only had a $707,000 prize pool. From that perspective, event No. 38 didn’t underperform too badly.

The Turbo Deepstack, for its part, drew 1,767 entries and produced a $795,150 prize pool.

It’s hard to evaluate these events because they’re new and because both feature a nonstandard format. Did they suffer from being spaced too tightly together and at similar price points? Or would they have performed better with standard blind and payout structures? These questions are impossible to answer without more data.

Interstate poker participation continues

One thing is certain, which is that the WSOP lucked out with the recent decision made by a federal court to strike down the Department of Justice’s November opinion on the Wire Act, which could have blocked interstate poker liquidity sharing for much of the series.

Although the DOJ may appeal, even if it wins, the new enforcement deadline won’t be until Jan. 1 at the absolute earliest. New Jersey players will, therefore, be able to participate in all bracelet events this year. It was formerly unclear whether that would be the case for any but the first two events.

A state-by-state breakdown of re-entries is not available but, in terms of unique players last year, New Jersey’s participation rate correlated inversely with buy-in and ranged from 6.5% for the $3,200 high roller to 26.7% for the $365 opener.

For the events so far this year, we don’t see the same correlation with buy-in but, of course, we haven’t yet seen any buy-ins above $600. Rather, the big difference in participation rate we’ve seen has to do with game and format.

The pot-limit Omaha event saw the lowest participation from New Jersey, at 14.3%, down from 16.3% last year. The low buy-in opener got just 17.3%, down substantially from 26.7% in 2018.

On the other hand, the Knockout event got a 19.5% participation rate from New Jersey, and the Deepstack Turbo 18.3%.

So, although the variety format events may have performed a bit weakly in overall terms, they’ve done more than their share in encouraging participation from players not physically attending the WSOP.

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New Jersey skews recreational

This makes sense, in light of the probable explanation for the inverse correlation with buy-in, which is that serious and, therefore, more deeply-bankrolled – players are likely to be in Las Vegas for the series, leaving a disproportionately recreational crowd back in New Jersey.

Faster blind speeds and bounty formats are also popular among recreational players, so it stands to reason that these events would draw the bulk of New Jersey players.

The fact that New Jersey attendance is down for the opener suggests that many of these players are only willing to fire a single event, even at the low end of the buy-in spectrum. That might be something the WSOP considers in future years in deciding whether to add additional events to the schedule and, if so, how to set the buy-ins.

Bigger things to come for WSOP online

The remainder of the WSOP online bracelet schedule consists of two $1,000 events – the latter being the championship – the $3,200 High Roller, an $800 6-Handed and the $500 Summer Saver.

Because of their higher buy-ins, these events can be expected to produce a disproportionate amount of the summer’s total prize pools, the WSOP Championship and High Roller, in particular.  

Last year, each brought in about $1.5 million. If they can maintain that performance and other events perform about on par with those we’ve seen so far, this year’s lineup is just about on course to produce $9 million in combined prize pools, for an even $1 million per event average.

Alex Weldon
- Alex is a freelance writer and artist living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He has been doing data-based analysis of the online gaming industry since 2016.
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