The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown the majority of global industries into sharp decline, but online poker is one of the few exceptions.
Professional players are flocking to online tables as casinos and poker rooms close under social-distancing protocols. Many others are isolated at home and looking for ways to pass the time.
In response, most operators have rolled out special tournament series and/or expanded their regular weekly schedules.
PokerStars hasn’t done so yet, but it did tell OPR that an official announcement regarding its spring series in the US is coming soon. In the meantime, we can share a few details.
Pending regulatory approval, the Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker (PASCOOP) will start on April 4.
The series, a first for PA online poker players, will set a record for PokerStars festivals in the US with $2 million in total guarantees.
Last fall’s PACOOP offered the same $1 million as its sister NJCOOP, but the site had only just launched at the time. February’s Bounty Builder Series had 67% higher guarantees in Pennsylvania than New Jersey, and PA’s Winter Series guaranteed more than double NJ’s.
Even so, $2 million isn’t a record for the US regulated market. That honor still belongs to the WSOP Online Championships, which guaranteed $3.5 million in 2019.
The New Jersey Spring Championship of Online Poker (NJSCOOP) will begin one week later on April 11. That is, again, pending approval from state regulators.
That’s the earliest start date yet for the annual NJ online poker series that first ran in 2016. Although its timing has changed over the years, the start date typically ranges from mid-April to mid-May.
The number of events is still unconfirmed, but we do know that the 2020 NJSCOOP will have total guarantees of $1.2 million. That’s up from just over $1 million last year but not quite as large as the $1.3 million purse in 2018.
The timing is part of an ongoing experiment in which PokerStars first tried hosting series across PA and NJ consecutively, then simultaneously. The two SCOOPs should overlap this time, since the site’s Spring festivals are typically stretched across two weeks.
PokerStars tends to be more conservative with its guarantees than some of its competitors, and this series seems to be no exception.
WSOP reacted to the coronavirus outbreak — and the postponement of live WSOP Circuit stops — by launching a special 18-event Online Super Series. Daily events began on March 14, and each awards a ring just like a live WSOPC event.
The first few events have absolutely demolished their guarantees, some by a factor of three or more. Tuesday’s $1,000 High Roller guaranteed $75,000, for instance, and ended up with $277,000 in the prize pool.
It isn’t just US online tournaments doing unexpectedly well, either. Partypoker.com has already raised guarantees for the Powerfest that is currently underway and is considering extending the series into a third week.
Internationally, online poker has been on the decline for many years. European-facing dot-com sites have generally seen annual drops of 10% to 20% each year since Black Friday.
As a direct result of social-distancing measures, however, current traffic is up by a similar margin.
Some operators, like GGNetwork and partypoker, are up as much as 50%. Traffic has more than doubled in Italy, which has had the strictest and most prolonged lockdown of any western country.
The increase in peak traffic for PokerStars’ US-facing sites has been about 50% — similar to that of the most-affected dot-com sites. Cash game traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into tournament attendance, however. PokerStars PA gets three to four times as many players at its ring games than NJ, for instance, but its tournament fields aren’t quite twice as large.
That said, the biggest factor limiting online multi-table tournaments is the time commitment they represent relative to cash game play or sit-and-gos. As a result, they might benefit even more from people staying home.
Attendance through the first few WSOP Online Super Series events tends to support that theory.
WSOP isn’t the only operator canceling live events and replacing them with new online tournaments. The partypoker Irish Poker Open will be played online next month, as will the Unibet Open Talinn in May.
PokerStars has been slower to react. It was only on Tuesday that it announced it would delay EPT Sochi, which was scheduled to kick off this weekend.
Back on the US front, Borgata/party hasn’t yet announced a special “quarantine” series. It has, however, added a new nightly event to its regular schedule to keep up with the increased demand — a two-day phased event with a $55 buy-in and a $25,000 guarantee.
Sweepstakes poker site Global Poker — legal in most US states — has also expanded its weekend schedule and added additional satellites to its flagship events.