PokerStars' three spring series in PA, NJ and MI created over $6.3 million in combined prize pools

PokerStars US SCOOPs Analysis: NJ Expands, PA Shrinks and MI Breaks New Ground

A favorite in the PokerStars online poker calendar, the Spring Championship of Online Poker is now becoming entrenched in the US.

For the first time in US online poker, 2021 saw three SCOOPs, named for their respective states: PASCOOP, NJSCOOP and MISCOOP. Pennsylvania kicked things off, followed by New Jersey and Michigan. It was the sophomore edition of PASCOOP, while regulated online poker is new this year in Michigan, so the 2021 MISCOOP is the first run of that series.

The fall and spring championships are the biggest annual series for PokerStars. As winter days give way to spring and weather improves, there is a tendency for players to depart the online poker felt in favor of other, often outdoor activities. SCOOP is therefore a sort of last hurrah before the summer slowdown and the expected revenue reduction the season brings.

In April, New Jersey online poker revenue fell by 10.9% compared to March. The 2021 NJSCOOP may not completely fill the hole, but May revenue figures, coming out later this month, should look much better than they otherwise would. PA and MI numbers should exhibit the same pattern.

Moreover, the SCOOPs provide us with a snapshot of how online poker is doing at an early stage in the year. Are guarantees being met? How do this year’s entries compare historically, and how does the tournament series itself measure up against previous offerings?

NJSCOOP 2021

There were 163 tournaments on PokerStars NJ for this year’s NJSCOOP. Total guaranteed prize money came to $1.2 million. That figure seems to have been well chosen, as the series generated $1.36 million in prize pools.

However, those top level figures don’t tell the whole story. Only 95 of the 163 events exceeded their guarantees. That means that the other 68 events ran with an overlay.

Of course, missing a guarantee doesn’t automatically mean the poker room loses money. If the deficit is less than the operator’s share of the entry fees, that money goes to cover it. In this case, the operator simply makes a smaller percentage than usual, but doesn’t pay any additional money out of pocket.

A more dramatic overlay is one where the operator misses the guarantee by enough to wipe out its cut and then some, creating a net loss. These are obviously celebrated by players because of the added value, but a concern for the operator.

[ Editor’s Note: Some operators will run – or at least risk – substantial overlays on purpose as a marketing scheme. This is not usually in the PokerStars playbook, however. ]

Overlays were widespread, but the NJSCOOP remained profitable

For the 2021 NJSCOOP, Online Poker Report calculates that PokerStars lost money on 31 events.

The biggest shortfall came in Event 39-H, a $100 No-Limit Hold’em event with 4-handed tables, progressive knockouts, a turbo structure and a $5,000 guarantee. Only 30 players entered this slightly unusual event, leaving PokerStars 40% short of the guaranteed prize pool.

Event 30-M was a more conventional $15 tournament with a $6,000 guarantee. It fell 30% short. The $5 Half Price Sunday Storm missed its $3,500 guarantee by 36%. Overall, PokerStars had to make up more than $25,000 in prize money.

To put this in perspective, however, PokerStars keeps 10% of most entry fees, so its gross earnings for the series were well in excess of $100,000. The overlays cut into that substantially, but the series as a whole did not lose money.

Most events that fell short only missed their guarantee by a very small amount. One, Event 47-H, a special edition of the Nightly Stars, was only one player short of making the guarantee. Missed guarantees were spread fairly evenly throughout the series.

Only one event cracked the $100,000 mark. Unsurprisingly, this was the Main Event, or its Mid tier to be specific. This 8-Max event, with its $300 buy-in, guaranteed that $100,000 up front and did a little better, producing a prize pool of $109,480.

All the events were split into low, medium and high buy-ins. This is the first year that US SCOOPs use three tiers instead of two, bringing the series into line with the original SCOOP which runs on PokerStars’ dot-com site for international players.

An improvement on past NJSCOOPs

NJSCOOP has been running much longer than the others, since 2016. The 2020 edition offered $1.2 million in guarantees and ran from April 11-27. The 2021 series was pushed back, running from May 8 to May 24.

The series from 96 tournaments to 163 in 2021. This was largely due to the addition of a third buy-in tier, although the number of distinct events on the schedule also grew from 48 to 55.

The 2020 NJSCOOP offered the most tournaments ever for an NJSCOOP and the guarantee was 20% higher than the previous year. With the new medium tier, that makes the 2021 SCOOP a massive increase on previous events even if the total guaranteed prize money was unchanged.

Clearly the strategy has worked for PokerStars. Even though NJ is Stars’ most established US online poker market, the company remains committed to experimenting with tournament series innovations.

The late scheduling, when typically there are fewer players in front of their screens, doesn’t seem to have hurt. Revenue figures out later this month should reflect this success.

PASCOOP 2021

The PASCOOP was the first of the US SCOOPs to run. It began on April 17 and ran through May 3 offering $2 million in guaranteed prize money over 123 events.

The highlight was the Main Event, a two-day $300 buy-in tournament complete with $200,000 guaranteed.

The event pulled in 1,015 entries to create an impressive $284,200 prize pool. This has to be seen as a success for what was only the second SCOOP in Pennsylvania. Overall the series paid out $2,642,485.55.

Those are good numbers, but the first PASCOOP in 2020 was even bigger. It guaranteed the same $2 million, but prize payouts totaled over $3.1 million. The market had only recently launched at that point, however, and player enthusiasm was high and bound to dwindle. PokerStars also had no competition in the state at the time, unlike now.

One way to compare the two is to look at the series opener. The very first PASCOOP event last year was the 01-L $10 buy-in PASCOOP Warm-Up with a $10,000 guarantee. It garnered an astonishing 2,967 entries delivering a prize pool of almost $27,000.

So how did the 2021 PASCOOP stack up? Not quite as well. The first event this year at the low buy-in tier was the same $10 Hold’em tournament but with a smaller $6,000 guarantee. It attracted 866 players creating a prize pool of $7,881.

It was a similar story for the Main Event. The 2020 edition produced the largest ever prize pool in PA legal online poker history at $368,200. That was 29.5% bigger then this year’s event.

Fewer overlays in Pennsylvania than NJ

Only 25 of the 2021 PASCOOP’s 123 events paid out the minimum guarantee. The combined shortfall was larger, however, at over $65,000. Here too, this was only a fraction of what PokerStars collected from the series, which in Pennsylvania was over a quarter million.

The event that attracted the highest number of entries was the Main Event with 1,015, but the High tier of Event #4 came very close, at 1,013. This was a $100 buy-in special edition of the Sunday Special, with $75,000 guaranteed.

The Pennsylvania market is larger than New Jersey in terms of population, but average incomes are lower. More importantly, though, it is still dominated by PokerStars despite the arrival of competition. As a result, Pennsylvania is proving to be consistently larger for PokerStars than New Jersey, where it plays second fiddle to WSOP, due to the latter’s multi-state poker network.

MISCOOP 2021

MISCOOP was a bit more like PASCOOP, with $2 million guaranteed over 120 events. This was the first ever MISCOOP although PokerStars kicked off its Michigan launch with an early version of its Championship of Online Poker (MICOOP).

That series produced $2.2 million in prize money, and the 2021 MISCOOP followed nicely with $2.35 million. New markets are notoriously difficult to predict, but Stars looks to have got its marketing right for Michigan.

There are pushes and pulls in the market. New players are attracted to the new online poker offer in Michigan, but this is against a background of traditionally falling demand as the longer days of Spring arrive.

Michigan being a new market, there is no previous MISCOOP, which is what makes PASCOOP the best point of comparison. Nevertheless it does tell us something about the MI market.

It looks like only 17 of the events paid out the minimum guarantee. A better performance than New Jersey or Pennsylvania, assuming the success criterion is accurately guessing the right guarantee. Either way, the MISCOOP looks to have lost just under $16k on missed guarantees. That is tiny compared to the additional tournament fees Stars will have earned on the events which smashed their guarantees.

Three events made prize pools of six figures. First was Event 11-H, a $2,000 buy-in high roller which produced a prize pool of $104,500. Next up was Event 20-H, a $200 special edition of the Sunday Special with a big $100,000 guarantee. The prize pool for that edged past the guarantee at $102,858. Finally the Main Event, with its $300 buy-in made $243,880, not quite as good as Pennsylvania’s but still well in excess of the guarantee.

MISCOOP offered the widest choice of games

MISCOOP tried a few twists on its schedule compared to New Jersey and Michigan. Mirroring PASCOOP, it included two high roller events, with $1,000 and $2,000 buy-ins respectively. The former event attracted 78 players, easily beating its $50,000 guarantee. The $2,000 event attracted 55 entries, which was likewise enough to smash its $80,000 guarantee.

PokerStars threw in several events for aficionados of less popular poker variants, and all did well:

  • PLO8 provided the game for Event . It attracted, 118, 171 and 197 entries for the High, Medium and Low tiers respectively. All guarantees were met.
  • 5 Card PLO was the format for Event 17 catching 126, 179 and 239 entries.
  • 8 Game was on offer for Event 28 which attracted 72, 125 and 164 players at the three levels.
  • H.O.R.SE was on the tables at Event 31 which gathered 94, 144 and 214 players to demonstrate their versatility.

All these events met their guarantees, and their three figure fields may well be sufficient for Stars to offer the poker variants in future tournament series. The difficulty with less popular poker games in state regulated markets is that there isn’t always the player liquidity to make them practical.

If anything the MISCOOP may show the way for larger markets, or for a larger player pool such as that created by interstate compacts. If Pennsylvania and Michigan join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) as expected, then the enlarged player pool could see a resurgence of traditional poker variants.

The international SCOOP paid out $136 million

Of course the international PokerStars SCOOP dwarfs the existing US state SCOOPs. For 2021, PokerStars offered players around the world a tournament series with 306 events and $10 million guaranteed.

Total prize money paid out exceeded the wildest expectations. $136 million went out in prize money. There were 1,391,567 unique entries and the average tournament field was 5,626 players.

It will be a long time before the US market can compete on that scale.

- 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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