On July 17, 888 Holdings acquired competitor bwin.party for a price of $1.4 billion, granting 888 Poker an even greater stranglehold on the current U.S. online poker market.
Already the only operator to offer licensed online poker in the U.S. states of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, the deal allows 888 to take over bwin.party’s agreement with the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City that has cultivated the largest regulated online poker player pool in the United States.
Many industry experts believe that the acquisition could result in legitimate competition between 888 Holdings and Amaya Group, which currently owns the world’s largest online poker site, PokerStars, as well as Full Tilt.
PokerStars, whose parent company was unable to acquire bwin.party in spite of a similar bid, still holds a significant advantage traffic-wise, with more than five times the global player pool than 888.
PokerStars Entry into New Jersey Market in 2016?
For more than a year, various media representatives, public officials and online poker operators have speculated that PokerStars’ entry into the regulated New Jersey market is imminent. The timeline has been moved back several times, with the most popular opinion being that PokerStars will enter the Garden State in 2016.
This is due in part to the fact that the state of New Jersey’s online gambling laws do not include “Bad Actor” language, which could hinder online poker sites’ entry into other statewide markets if they operated without a license following the passage of the UIGEA in late 2006.
Regardless of when and if PokerStars becomes a licensed online poker operator in New Jersey, serious challenges remain in the U.S. online poker market. Online poker revenues in the U.S. have severely under-performed compared to the lofty expectations many analysts had when now-defunct Ultimate Poker opened its virtual doors to players in Nevada in April 2013 as the first legalized online poker offering in the United States.
Will U.S. Online Poker Players Benefit from 888’s Buyout of bwin.party?
888 Poker will now hold a virtual monopoly in the United States, which many believe will result in a more focused marketing effort to attract players to legalized online poker in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.
Effective bonus offers and other incentives to U.S. players in those three states have been sorely lacking, with most of the larger buy-in tournaments and cash games frequented by a high percentage of professional or regular players.
Poker economies rely on an steady influx of casual players to sustain them in the long-term, and renewed marketing efforts by 888 could be the key to increasing traffic along with mainstream interest ahead of PokerStars’ New Jersey presence, but many questions remain.
For one, some are skeptical that regulated online poker can thrive in the United States without larger states such as California entering the picture. Others (including 888 Holdings Executive Chairman Brian Mattingley — who would be faced with direct competition from PokerStars once it goes live in New Jersey) are hoping that PokerStars will generate significant mainstream interest in regulated online poker due to its reputation as a marketing and player-pool behemoth.
What do you think?