NJ iGaming Weekly: Golden Nugget in, PokerStars Out, WSOP Server Down

NJ iGaming Update
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New Jersey’s third full week in the iGaming biz proved to be an eventful one, chock full of breaking developments, unexpected technology issues and a vast increase in the number of registered accounts.

Yet despite the headlines, fluctuations in online poker traffic over the past week were relatively nominal, with NJ.PartyPoker.com slightly increasing its now-dominant lead over WSOP.com for a third consecutive week.

But that doesn’t take away the fact that Week 3 of online poker and casino gambling was a defining week for the Garden State – one in which winners and losers emerged, system flaws were revealed and the big picture became all the more clear.

Golden Nugget finally approved for iGaming permit

Out of the seven Atlantic City casinos that participated in NJ’s “soft play” roll-out, the Golden Nugget was the only one to not be given a green light by DGE officials.

Citing a minor issue with the formatting of a report, the DGE held the Nugget in test mode until last Friday, when it finally cleared the casino to conduct full-scale iGaming operations.

Powered by Bally Technologies, the Golden Nugget’s real-money online casino is now live, but the word is still out on when it plans to rollout its self-branded poker platform.

This raises the question: Will the Golden Nugget’s delayed entry into NJ’s online poker market ultimately prove to be a death blow?

Early indicators point to yes. Two factors could potentially cripple the Nugget’s chances of success:

  • For one, despite plans to open a new poker room at its brick and mortar facility this month, the Nugget has never been known as a premier establishment for poker players.
  • Furthermore, of New Jersey’s six regulated sites, only two (PartyPoker and WSOP) have shown any real signs of life, leading one to believe that New Jersey’s poker community just isn’t large enough to sustain a conglomerate of poker sites.

PokerStars’ past comes back to haunt the company

In what amounts to the least shocking yet biggest development of the week, the DGE chose to suspend PokerStars application for a period of two years.

While it’s not quite as severe as an all-out ban, the suspension reinforces the DGE’s hardened position towards the highly scrutinized online poker provider.

In a statement, the DGE cited the “unresolved indictment” of PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg, and the “involvement of certain PokerStars executives with Internet gaming operations in the United States” post-UIGEA as the reasons behind the suspension.

However, the statement also clearly indicates that PokerStars’ application may be reconsidered if “significantly changed circumstances are demonstrated.”

Namely, Scheinberg would have to settle or otherwise concede to the DoJ.

With no immediate reason to ban the company – yet no good reason to approve it either – PokerStars’ application will likely reside in a state of prolonged limbo, at least for the foreseeable future.

That’s probably good news for the integrity of New Jersey’s iGaming industry as a whole, and especially good news for online poker front-runner NJ.PartyPoker.com, but it does dampen the hopes of those who were hoping to see PokerStars bring their player volume, excellent VIP structure and stellar software to the NJ market.

PokerStars’ online partner, Resorts, has offered no comment as to whether it will be seeking a new iGaming partner.

For more on PokerStars’ suspension, click here.

WSOP.com experiences server disconnect; confusion ensues

Last Tuesday, WSOP.com scheduled a server switch that was supposed to cause a momentary pause in the action.

Instead, the entire server crashed for approximately six hours.

Unfortunately, several of the evening’s biggest events were winding down at the time.

With most of the big money payouts yet to be determined, players flocked to WSOP’s dedicated forum on Two Plus Two and Twitter, in the hope of receiving answers to their numerous questions and concerns.

At first, Head of Online Poker at WSOP.com Bill Rini directed players to WSOP’s server outage policy. It states the following:

“Tournaments that are in progress will be cancelled and the prize pool will be divided equally among all the players that are still in the tournament. Players who busted from the tournament prior to the connectivity issue remain unaffected.”

More.

WSOP.com then stated that players affected by the outage would be issued a refund. I’m assuming this was in reference to tournaments not already in the money.

At the time of the outage, I was railing the final table of WSOP’s nightly 10k Guarantee. The server disconnect occurred when there were nine players remaining. I had the liberty of speaking with the chip leader, “Fresh Guac” shortly thereafter.

Possessing over 25% of the chips in play, he was outraged over WSOP’s server outage policy, as by ICM calculations he would be entitled to significantly more than one-ninth of the remaining prize pool.

Unfortunately, as indicated by Rini’s postings on  Two Plus Two, the tournaments didn’t cease when the servers went down, making the process of reconciling each player’s chip count exceedingly difficult.

Confusion and outrage abounded.

The Aftermath

I received an email from WSOP.com the next day stating that “All players involved in tournaments during the outage will be refunded their buy-in as well as any re-buys and add-ons.”

Again, that hardly solves the problem for tournament players already in the money, as in the case of the aforementioned 10k Guarantee.

Ultimately, I learned from “Fresh Guac” that WSOP paid the remaining runners of the 10k Guarantee prize money corresponding to their relative chip position when the server went down.

As chip leader, “Fresh Guac” received the first place prize of $2,800.

That’s not exactly a fair solution either, as it benefits the chip leaders significantly more than the short stacks. But I suppose it’s a better solution than to divide the remaining prize money evenly.

As an apology for the outage and subsequent confusion, players victimized by the server disconnect will be invited to participate in a $20,000 freeroll sponsored by WSOP.com.

Note to WSOP.com: Next time your server goes down, please use ICM metrics to distribute the remaining prize pool. In my opinion, it’s really the only fair thing to do.

Traffic Report: NJ.PartyPoker.com beginning to dominate

According to PokerScout.com, online poker traffic is up moderately across the board, Ultimate Poker withstanding.

NJ.PartyPoker.com has increased its lead over nearest competitor WSOP.com by a slight margin.

More significantly, as of December 15th, more than 20,000 NJ iGaming accounts were created, bringing the total up to nearly 92,000. If this trend continues, the 100,000 milestone will be shattered by week’s end.

24-hour peak cash game traffic and 7-day averages listed below:

  • PartyPoker: 528 (240 average)
  • WSOP: 346 (150 average)
  • All American Network (888poker): 175 (65 average)
  • Ultimate Poker: 47 (22 average)

The All American Network experienced the biggest percentage gains (30 percent), while PartyPoker saw the biggest numbers increase (40).

Fledgling site Betfair failed to crack the top 75 online poker sites for a third consecutive week.

Going beyond cash game play, PartyPoker seems to be the only site where Sit & Gos get off on a somewhat regular basis. And whereas last week nearly 6,000 simultaneous users were logged on for Party’s Sunday majors, this week’s total eclipsed 6,500.

While its week-to-week volume increases are less than awe-inspiring, PartyPoker is beginning to assert its dominance in NJ’s iGaming market.

Whether or not WSOP’s recent server flub and PokerStars’ suspension will further reinforce its stranglehold on New Jersey’s top spot is yet to be seen, but early signs indicate that they will.

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Robert DellaFave
- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.