WSOP New Jersey and Nevada continues to show online events work

Will The WSOP Keep Growing Online Bracelet Events For 2020 And Beyond?

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The World Series of Poker has come and gone for another year, and now that the results are in, we can say that the decision to expand the online bracelet component of the series from four to nine events was a success.

Issues with players trying to withdraw their money after the series wrapped notwithstanding, the actual events went off pretty well.

In the grand scheme of things, nine events over six weeks is not at all a dense schedule, but the US regulated market is a small one, and not generally accustomed to big-ticket events. Furthermore, online bracelet events have to compete both with the live series and the non-bracelet WSOP Online Championships that run throughout the series.

From that perspective, the safe course would have been to continue adding events at the rate of one or two per year, rather than more-than-doubling the schedule in a single year. The series organizers believed they had identified unmet demand for additional online bracelet events, however, and have been proven correct.

Old WSOP online events and new

As with the last time the schedule was rapidly expanded in 2017, the addition of new events slowed but didn’t halt the organic growth of existing ones for WSOP New Jersey and WSOP Nevada.

EventEntriesPrize pool
$400 hold'em2,825$1,017,000
$600 pot-limit Omaha 6-max1,216$656,640
$600 hold'em knockout1,224$673,200
$500 hold'em deep stack1,767$795,180
$1,000 hold'em double stack1,333$1,266,350
$1,000 hold'em1,750$1,662,500
$3,200 hold'em593$1,802,720
$800 hold'em 6-max1,560 $1,170,000
$500 hold'em1,859$836,550

The low-stakes Hold’em and Omaha events grew in terms of prize pool by 4% and 3% respectively and the $1,000 Championship increased its attendance by 7%. The $3,200 High Roller did not have its growth so impeded, as none of the added events had buy-ins above $1,000; it increased its attendance by 24%, a bigger gain than last year.

The performance of the new events was mixed.

The first two – the $600 Knockout and $500 Turbo Deepstack – did not perform quite as well as might have been hoped. The Knockout produced the second-smallest prize pool of the series, after the $600 Pot-Limit Omaha event, though this can be excused by its lack of re-entries. However, the Turbo produced a prize pool 25% smaller than the $400 opener despite a 25% higher buy-in, which is disappointing.

Later in the series, however, the new events performed much better. The $1,000 Double Stack got 1,333 entries, only 24% less than the Championship, and produced the biggest prize pool of the series outside of that and the High Roller, at $1.26 million.

The $800 Six-Max was not far behind, with a $1.17 million prize pool, and the $500 Summer Saver had the second-greatest attendance of the series with 1859 entries, behind only the $400 opener.

All told, the five new events produced $4.7 million in prize pools for an average of $940,000.

Omitting the High Roller, since that would make for an unfair comparison, the three existing events produced $3.3 million in prize pools, for an average of $1.1 million. Thus, the new events underperformed existing ones by 15% on average, but that’s a pretty small margin given factors like the added prestige of the Championship event, lack of re-entries in the Knockout, etc.

Confounding factors for WSOP

There are other reasons that the late-series events may have performed better than the early ones. Except for the $500 Summer Saver, the lower buy-in events were all clustered together near the beginning of the series.

That may have been a mistake, as the sorts of players who play $1,000-plus events online are generally bankrolled to fire everything they believe will be profitable, whereas recreational players may occasionally take a stab at a $400-$600 tournament, but probably not four in the span of a few weeks.

There was also much more attendance from non-American players in the latter half of the series. Exact numbers are unavailable, looking at the top 30 finishers in each event, non-US representation was only 10% in those first four low buy-in events, and 27% in the latter five.

That makes sense, as players flying in from abroad to attend only part of the series are more likely to do so for the Main Event and the events immediately preceding and following it.

These numbers may not be reflective of the overall field, as we might expect those traveling long distances to play to skew more professional and therefore perform better than the local population. In relative terms, however, it shows that later events on the schedule did benefit to a much greater extent from non-American participation.

Of the nine events, two were won by non-Americans – Sri Lanka’s Upeshka de Silva and Canada’s Shawn Buchanan – while another two were won by Americans playing from New Jersey, and the remaining five were won by Americans attending the series in person in Nevada.

Bigger things to come for WSOP online events

Based on the success of this year’s expanded schedule, it’s likely that at least one new event will be added next year as well.

We may not see many (or any) new events in the $400-$600 range, however. Most of this year’s added events were at the low end of the buy-in spectrum and that some of them seemed to suffer from crowding, so there’s little reason to add more so soon. Rather, because the High Roller showed such strong growth and the new $1,000 Double Stack proved a particularly successful addition, we could see the top range fleshed out.

A second Omaha event seems like a likely candidate to be added in 2020, whether a $1,000 Championship, or less likely a High Roller. Since there’s a smooth spectrum of buy-ins from $400 up to $1000 but then a big gap between that and the High Roller, some kind of event with a $1,500 or $2,000 price tag might also be in order, perhaps one with a slower-than-standard structure.

A $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Super High Roller is another good possibility. Online events with that kind of price tag were once extremely rare, but have been gaining in popularity in the global dot-com market in recent years.

Under ordinary circumstances, the US regulated market wouldn’t support such a hefty buy-in, but with so many top pros attending the live series, there would likely be a market for it. Such an event could even swing things for online-focused pros outside the US trying to decide whether to attend the series or stay home and grind.

All that said, there’s been a tendency so far for the WSOP to alternate growth years with stabilizing years for its online bracelet events.

The first such event was created in 2015 and remained unchanged in 2016. In 2017, the schedule was tripled. Then in 2018, nothing changed except for the addition of the Omaha event and a slight adjustment of buy-ins.

So, although it would be surprising if no events were added next year, it’s not likely to be more than one or two, accompanied, perhaps, by some tweaking of the lower buy-ins and rearrangement of the schedule.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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