Well it’s official: PokerStars NJ has now been a part of the NJ online gambling industry for over a year.

Unfortunately, the entrance of the world’s largest operator hasn’t meant much for the market’s piddling online poker cash game traffic. That is roughly in the same place now as it was when PokerStars opened its doors last March.

But that’s doesn’t necessarily mean the industry hasn’t made strides in the past 12 months. They’re just in other — and some would say more integral — areas of the business.

Cash game traffic then vs. cash game traffic now

According to Poker Industry Pro via PokerScout.com, NJ online poker cash game traffic was sitting at an average of 316 concurrent players in the week leading up to PokerStars’ March 16, 2016 arrival.

During that same timeframe this year, liquidity hovered right about 350, marking a 10.8 percent increase.

However, this uptick must be taken with a grain of salt. PokerStars is in the middle of hosting a month-long 1st Year Anniversary Special event. More than one event on the schedule encourages players to mix it up at the cash game tables, thus artificially inflating liquidity.

Not to mention, cash game volume has tumbled over the past week — presumably due to PokerStars shifting its promotional focus back to tournaments. In the past seven days, rolling seven day averages have plummeted from 345 to 308.

The big picture in NJ online poker

Turning to the big picture, the cash game trends over the past 12 months have followed a nearly identical pattern to those of the 12 months prior, with just a couple exceptions:

  • There was a big uptick in liquidity from mid-March to early April 2016, that did not occur the year prior. This surge was precipitated by the entry of Stars.
  • The seasonal swoon was more dramatic, but because liquidity was starting from a higher point, it never dipped below its 2015 low point.
  • The 2015 seasonal uptick began in early November. Last year, we had to wait until early December for traffic to really pick up.

Excluding the two week period immediately following Stars’ launch, the high and low points for cash game liquidity were remarkably similar in the pre- and post-PokerStars eras:

  • March 2015 – February 2016: High point of 393 on November 20, 2015; Low point of 273 on September 19, 2015
  • March 2016 – February 2016: High point of 400 on January 1, 2017; Low point of 281 on September 12, 2016

Suffice it to say, once the novelty of PokerStars’ entrance wore off, there hasn’t been much to get excited about on the cash game front. Little to no positive movement has been the story.

Other metrics yield more positive results

In terms of gross gaming revenue, PokerStars has had a more significant impact, as industry revenue is up 13.8 percent in the past year.

Of course, much of those gains can be attributed to the site’s highly publicized return. But even still, there hasn’t been a month in the past year in which industry revenue hasn’t grown by at least five percent, with eight-percent growth or higher a common occurrence.

These figures carry even more positive weight when one considers that during the year prior, year-over-year revenue was down in 11 out of 12 months, and by double digit margins in eight of those months.

So how exactly did the industry manage to generate so much more revenue when cash game traffic was relatively flat?

The short answer is that cash game traffic isn’t everything. That is especially the case nowadays, when operators must rely on a variety of formats to keep their heads above water.

Tournaments

On the chart, notice the large spike in October. That month, year-over-year revenue shot up 24.9 percent. It just also happened to be the same month that PokerStars ran it’s $1.1 million+ guaranteed NJCOOP.

Never before has a single tournament series had such a profound impact on industry revenue. PokerStars’ ability to draw tournament traffic during its one-off events is clearly one of the operator’s biggest strengths. And there’s no reason to believe this we won’t see similar upticks when it hosts events of this nature going forward.

Spin & Go’s

One of the primary reasons why revenue climbed by a larger percentage than cash game traffic is because PokerStars introduced its popular Spin & Go format to the NJ online poker market.

We can’t pinpoint how much revenue these slot machine/poker hybrid games generate on a monthly basis. But we can say that with clarity that’s Spin & Go’s are both the highest raked game that PokerStars offers. It’s also the format that runs with the most regularity.

If that’s not a profitable combination, then nothing is.

Live events

PokerStars has helped the industry grow in ways that aren’t measured on revenue charts, namely via its live events.

In 2016, PokerStars collaborated with its online gambling partner Resorts AC on two occasions. The first, RunItUp: Resorts Rumble, occurred just two months after PokerStars launched, and was designed to be more of an introduction than a full-fledged tournament event.

The second, PokerStars Festival Resorts (Oct. 29 – Nov. 6, 2016) focused more on tournaments, but attempted to engage players via a variety of other events.

Unfortunately, not all that many players showed. This was no fault of PokerStars, who clearly pulled out all the stops. Instead, it was more a reflection on the average Resorts gambler, who may not be overly familiar with poker because Resorts doesn’t have it.

Despite the poor attendance, both of these events pushed the online poker awareness needle in the right direction. Any continued efforts could result in even greater awareness, and subsequently increased revenue for both PokerStars NJ and Atlantic City in general.

Robert DellaFave

About

Robert DellaFave is involved in the legal New Jersey online gambling industry in a number of ways. Not only does he contribute to a variety of online gambling publications focused on regulated US online poker and online casino sites, he is also a game designer.