The past year hasn’t been very kind to New Jersey online poker.

Overall, online poker saw declining player fields, tournaments struggling to make the guarantees, and less game choice thanks to fewer players.

Even so, NJ online poker had some shining moments. These moments highlight the potential of the online poker market as we head into 2019.

Here’s a look back on the top five New Jersey online poker headlines for the year.

1. WSOP Online Bracelet Events

This summer saw the World Series of Poker make history when New Jersey poker players were able to play for their slice of WSOP glory from the comfort of their own home.

The annual WSOP opened its doors less than a month following the launch of shared liquidity. It provided New Jersey players a chance to sit down on the virtual felt at WSOP.com alongside players in Nevada to battle for gold.

A WSOP gold bracelet is the dream of every poker player, amateur and professional alike. The dream is now more accessible. If that isn’t enough of a highlight, one of those bracelets landed on the wrist of Matt Mendez.

Mendez, a full-time, stay-at-home husband and father from rural New Jersey, walked away with more than $135,000 in the $565 Pot-Limit Omaha 6-Handed event.

In total, 107 New Jersey players participated in the second of four online WSOP events. That figure represents about 16 percent of the field. It is true, NJ poker players have claimed gold bracelets in the past, but Mendez was the first to do it while in the Garden State.

The WSOP bracelet events were wildly popular. Expect more online bracelet events in living rooms across New Jersey in the summer of 2019.

2. The inaugural WSOP Online Circuit Event

For two weeks in September, just about every poker player in New Jersey sat down at the inaugural WSOP Online Circuit Event.

The event exceeded WSOP.com’s wildest dreams.

Following the event, Bill Rini, head of online poker for Caesars Interactive Entertainment, commented on the appeal of the tournament series to PlayNevada.

“We were actually quite surprised at how well the event performed. We were aware that a lot of players wanted something like this on the schedule but we were truly blown away at the draw.

“We thought our guarantees were fairly in-line, but when every event is doubling or tripling the guarantee, it shows we underestimated the demand.”

When all was said and done, WSOP.com awarded 13 gold rings, over $1.6 million in prize money, and two seats to the WSOP Global Casino Championship.

And even though WSOP.com awarded the first gold ring in an Online Circuit event in February, the tournament series marks the first full Online Circuit event and the first time New Jersey players were able to participate.

3. The launch of shared liquidity

There is a reason the World Series of Poker and WSOP.com are responsible for two of the top five headlines, and that is because it is the only operator able to take full advantage of shared liquidity.

Poker players in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey combined into one player pool for the first time in the US regulated online poker market. Expectations were high, and initially, shared liquidity appeared to be living up to them.

The player pools combined on May 1. The World Series of Poker opened its doors at the end of May, so the dust didn’t have time to settle for a few months.

Once it did, though, shared liquidity didn’t do much for the fledgling New Jersey online poker industry. New Jersey poker players are not necessarily loyal to one online poker platform. Instead, they hop around to the platform hosting the latest major tournament series.

Even so, the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement is an essential step in returning online poker to its former glory. Unfortunately, that glory will have to wait until more states get on board.

4. PokerStars awards NJ poker players Platinum Passes

On the heels of the WSOP.com Online Circuit Event, PokerStars NJ launched its own major tournament series. NJCOOP (New Jersey Championship of Online Poker) consisted of 47 events and guaranteed more than $1.5 million in prize money.

However, everyone had their eye on earning one of three Platinum Passes. The highly-coveted Platinum Pass has been the talk of the tournament world for the last year. Everyone wants one, and PokerStars has found some creative ways to award them.

PokerStars announced it would be giving away at least 300 Platinum Passes to the PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship (PSPC) in January 2019. Each Platinum Pass is worth $30,000 and includes:

  • $25,000 entry to the PSPC event
  • Six-nights at Atlantis Resort, Nassau, in The Bahamas
  • $2,000 in travel expenses

Most Platinum Passes were awarded onsite at one of PokerStars global live events. So, the announcement that three passes were coming to New Jersy created some serious buzz.

Three lucky New Jersey poker players will be basking in the Bahamas sun come Jan.:

  • Anthony Maio, Moneymaker Special Tourney winner
  • Tenzin Chakdor, PSPC Main Event All-in Shootout winner
  • Andrew Canfield, PSPC Entrants All-in Shootout winner

5. Poker and online sports betting share wallets

The biggest story in the NJ online gambling market this year was the launch of NJ sports betting. Granted sports betting has little to do with online poker other than a potential player crossover.

We’re counting on the crossover to influence poker trends positively —especially as we near 2019. Maybe not a lot, but these days every little bit helps.

Two online poker platforms are taking advantage of sports betting fever by combining their wallets between their verticals.

BetStars NJ and 888 Sportsbook saw an opportunity to capitalize on its existing customer base to grow its NJ online sports betting platform. Additionally, it is counting on the popularity of sports betting to filter into their casinos and poker rooms.

Making it easier for sports bettors to fire up their poker client can only end up helping online poker. These days it only takes a few extra players sitting down in a game to impact the trends positively.

2019 is just around the corner

While 2018 had some good moments, there is no doubt that the beleaguered poker industry could use a do-over. A fresh start in 2019 might just be what the doctor ordered.

As we enter the New Year, more states will entertain the idea of gaming expansion legislation. While it may not have a direct impact on NJ online poker, there is no denying that the more states that legalize online gaming, the better it is for the health of the overall industry.

Now, that is worth raising a glass to.

Kim Yuhl

About

Kim Yuhl is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about poker culture and the online gambling industry. A part-time member of the poker media since 2013, Kim recently sold her marketing business to write full-time while traveling around the world. You can learn more about her work and travels at kimyuhl.com.