When the first sites eventually launch, licensed and regulated online poker will be new in Pennsylvania. However, it won’t be brand-new across the United States. States including Nevada and New Jersey have had licensed and regulated online poker up and running since 2013.
Four years is a long time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Any potential online poker operators in PA would be smart to follow the example set by sites there. Here are four lessons PA online poker sites can learn from New Jersey and Nevada:
#1: Start with a manageable online tournament series and grow
Borgata and partypoker’s online poker network in New Jersey tried to run a massive tournament series soon after launch. It fell flat on its face.
The inaugural and quite ambitious Garden State Super Series came with the promise of $1 million in prize pool guarantees over a two-week long schedule. However, the entire thing went down in flames. The series was marred by overlays and technical issues from the start. Eventually six events were canceled, including its Main Event.
Similar problems arose again in 2016. This time the GSSS featured a massive $1.1 million in guarantees over 75 events. It was ultimately filled with big overlays and geo-location issues that caused the cancellation of its Main Event and seven other tournaments.
The 2017 Garden State Super Series Fall Edition was scaled down substantially. It featured just a 14-event schedule and only $375,000 in guarantees. It went off without a hitch.
If the PA online poker market is going to learn anything from New Jersey, this would be a good place to start. It’s probably a good idea to make sure your software can handle an increased volume of players before you invite them to a big tournament series. Plus, you’ll want to have had a good chance to assess the market for big tournament series in the state before you move forward with seven-figure guarantees.
Staring with a series that’s small enough to handle, but still big enough to attract a good number of players with some decent guarantees is key. There’s always room to grow with the market in the future after you’ve pulled off a successful start.
Run online satellites for local live events
Asher Conniff’s win in the 2015 World Poker Tour Championship event at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was actually one of the greatest success stories in US online poker history.
In fact, it’s the kind of stuff Chris Moneymaker and his $86 online satellite into the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event is made of.
Conniff became an online satellite legend when he won an online satellite seat into the $560 Borgata Spring Poker Open opening event and took it down for a whopping $203,231. But it only got bigger and better two weeks later, when he accidentally entered a $1,600 online satellite for the $15,000 WPT World Championship and won the seat. As luck, and skill, would have it, Conniff went to win that WPT Championship for another $937,683.
They were likely before, but Live event satellites have certainly been the most popular tournaments on Borgata’s online poker client ever since.
In Nevada, the World Series of Poker-branded online poker site has increased the number of satellites it runs into live WSOP events every year since launch. In fact, traffic on the site is rather pedestrian throughout most of the year, until the months of June and July roll around, the WSOP descends upon Las Vegas, and the site’s rather robust online satellite schedule is at its peak.
If PA online poker sites learns one lesson from all this its that online satellites into local live events are a must. Online satellites into live events offer tremendous cross-promotional opportunities with land-based casino partners. Plus, there’s every reason to think they will be most online poker sites’ biggest draw.
Lower revenue expectations
New Jersey online gambling sites earned $245.6 million in gross gaming revenues in 2017. That was up almost 25 percent from the $196.7 million collected in 2016.
The numbers have gone up more than 20 percent ever year since the state launched legal and regulated online gambling in November 2013. Moreover, revenues have doubled since 2014, when the sites reported $122.9 million in online gaming revenue.
However, online poker revenues have always been less than ten percent of that. Total New Jersey online poker revenues in 2017 reached just $24.25 million. The numbers in Nevada and Delaware are substantially less impressive.
As long as PA online poker sites don’t blow their wad on advertising and marketing at launch, they can still find a way to be profitable pulling in upwards of $24 million in revenue a year.
The lesson to be learned here is to manage expectations to start. New Jersey has proven that online casino games are going to out earn online poker out of the gate, but there’s no need to worry. PA online poker sites must take the long-term view.
That means staying afloat while they’re operating in a fenced-in market, and even after they join the relatively small three or four-state shared player pool market. When the rest of the US market eventually opens up, the opportunity to turn online poker into an even larger revenue stream will be there for sites that have stayed the course.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel
The World Series of Poker has been running annually in Las Vegas, Nevada for almost 50 years. It is the biggest and richest poker tournament series on the planet. The WSOP-branded online poker site in Nevada has tremendous success associating itself with the live events in several ways. It runs online satellites into live events and even offers players the chance to win a WSOP bracelet online.
In New Jersey, Borgata is the premier live poker venue in Atlantic City and the entire East Coast. Borgata has far and away the busiest live cash game scene in the state. Plus, its seasonal tournament series are the most popular in the entire Northeast. They’ve got the World Poker Tour entry records to prove it.
As one would expect, the Borgata-branded online poker site has had great success running online satellites into its live events.
PokerStars’ epic fail
PokerStars entered the New Jersey online poker market in the spring of 2016. It’s NJ site immediately became the market leader. However, PokerStars has no real physical presence in the state. Partly as a result, it’s attempts at running a live event in New Jersey have failed miserably.
The site runs under the Resorts AC online gambling license. Resorts does not have a live poker room. In the fall of 2016, PokerStars made its first attempt to run a live event at Resorts. PokerStars Festival New Jersey entry numbers were disappointingly small, and several events were even cancelled.
PokerStars tried and failed again in the fall of 2017. The scaled-down PokerStars Megastack New Jersey two-event schedule featured $125,000 in guaranteed prize pools. In the end, the site was forced to pay out $31,000 in overlays.
The most successful live poker tournament series is in PA is Parx Casino’s Parx Big Stax. It runs five times a year and is a huge draw. There’s little doubt a Parx-run PA online poker site would find success helping promote the next one. Running online satellites would work as well
The same would hold true for a WSOP PA online poker site. That is, if the WSOP Circuit decides on a return to the state.
There is a real lesson to be learned from PokerStars’ example in New Jersey. It’s that any PA online poker sites not affiliated with a successful live tournament series already shouldn’t try to conjure one up out of thin air. Without a physical presence in the state already, it’s a recipe for disaster. Sites trying to survive on slim margins to begin with can hardly afford that.