PokerStars dipped into the New Jersey market in the spring of 2016 and made its presence known. The largest online poker operator in the world had no trouble garnering a solid following, which allowed its NJSCOOP in the spring to become the new standard for New Jersey online poker tournament series.
As PokerStars remained in contention for the top spot in the burgeoning market, it planned a double-header for October and November. The NJCOOP was to run from October 14-31 with $1.2 million in guarantees, the highest yet for any New Jersey series, and that was to overlap with the first-ever PokerStars Live Festival. The Resorts Casino in Atlantic City was transformed into poker heaven for players from October 29 to November 6 with live poker tournaments, arcade-style games, and even a charity event.
While NJCOOP performed quite well, the players did not go to Resorts in person for the Festival. Despite the wide array of activities offered and the presence of Team PokerStars Pros from around the world, many events were cancelled due to a lack of buy-ins. Even the Main Event only garnered 208 players and a prize pool barely exceeding $200K.
PokerStars did everything to roll out the red carpet for players, and they simply did not show up.
But leave it to the ever-optimistic Lee Jones, Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars, to look at the positives of the event and think about the future. In fact, he is confident that there will be another event in New Jersey in the “relatively near future.”
We did speak to Jones about the event, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Festival and PokerStars’ future in New Jersey.
PokerUpdate: What was your overall impression of the first PokerStars Live Festival? What were the standout good and bad aspects?
Lee Jones: My overall impression was that it was certainly a success as an event. PokerStars brought the complete gaming experience to New Jersey with a variety of online and live events and promotions. Yes, the attendance was perhaps lower than we’d hoped, but it’s a brand new event and our very first in New Jersey; we always knew it was going to be something to build from. Our primary focus was on providing the ultimate and complete gaming and customer experience. There were a lot of highlights, including the quality of the set-up (Resorts worked hard alongside the PokerStars team to ensure all standards were met and even surpassed), the relationships we built with the people at Resorts, Jason Somerville’s Run It Up events, and the Chad Brown charity tournament. From my perspective, the event ran smoothly, and (crucially) the players who were there had a really good time. One vital measure of any event’s success is: “Did the attendees enjoy themselves and feel they got good value for their money?” I think the answer to that is an unqualified yes, and that’s an important point.
PokerUpdate: With people praising the return of PokerStars to New Jersey for so long, why do you think they failed to show up in significant numbers for the live events?
Jones: Players from the tri-state area and further afield from Resorts Casino Hotel came to experience our first live PokerStars Festival in New Jersey, which overlapped nicely with our record-breaking New Jersey Championship of Online Poker (NJCOOP) tournament series. NJCOOP ran flawlessly and offered players several weeks of first-class poker, and this merged with the first few days of the Festival. There are a number of factors that may have impacted our numbers such as:
- This was the first ever live event we have held in New Jersey and our first time back to the U.S. in five years – a brand unknown to many players. That will be a gradual process and will grow over time. We really don’t have an established live brand presence in the U.S. This event will help re-establish that brand presence, and we’ll continue working on that in the months ahead.
- The Festival also clashed with a number of competitor events that kicked off around the same time and also with key events, such as the US Presidential elections and the World Series baseball games.
Player response has been extremely positive, however, and we look forward to continuing to bring PokerStars events to New Jersey.
PokerUpdate: Some said the internet connection wasn’t good enough to play the NJCOOP events from the hotel. Is there anything that can be done about that in the future?
Jones: In fact, some people were actually streaming on Twitch from their hotel rooms – which requires far more bandwidth than simply playing online. That said, there are “hotter” and “colder” spots for wi-fi in the hotel, and we’re working with Resorts to ensure that people who are there to play poker online are put in the hotter spots. It’s worth noting that the wi-fi in the tournament area and on the floor where the tournament was held was rock solid and plenty fast – we had no complaints whatsoever there.
PokerUpdate: What would you say to poker players who said there wasn’t enough marketing done for the Festival?
Jones: I’d say, “It’s a learning curve.” We did a lot of research and pre-event planning and activity, but this was always going to be a bit of a test. We hadn’t done a live event in the U.S. in over five years, so our marketing strategy was more suited to our European events than to the Eastern seaboard where we were. We’ve obviously learned important lessons there and will plan differently for the future. For instance, there is a culture of offering guarantees on major tournaments in that region, and we may have to adapt to that culture.
PokerUpdate: Is PokerStars likely to try another New Jersey tournament series in some form?
Jones: I can’t make any promises, of course, but I think it’s extremely likely that PokerStars will be organizing another event in New Jersey at some point in the relatively near future.
PokerUpdate: I wrote about it the Festival and blamed players for not supporting the initiative and opportunity. Do you have any comment on my choice to blame the players?
Jones: I don’t think it’s my or PokerStars’ place to be telling journalists what they should and shouldn’t write, outside factual inaccuracies. I also hope that as we learn to speak to new players in this new region we’re functioning in, that they learn more about us and want to come and play next time.