Operators of just about every online poker and gambling site the world over are continuously on the lookout for ways to convert social gamblers into the real-money variety. Tapping into just a small fraction of the massive social Internet poker and gambling market could mean a windfall of monumental proportions.
Unfortunately, the effect of Black Friday on online poker in the United States has undoubtedly forced a good number of former real-money players to make a transition the other way –from real-money poker to play money. Hopefully, that will change in the future as ipoker regulation spreads throughout the U.S., with a prediction of 20 regulated states by 2020 forecast by Morgan Stanley not long ago.
In the meantime, U.S. online poker players who are keeping their skills sharp while competing for play chips are apparently in abundance. Evidence of that is the recent play money World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) at PokerStars.
Play Money Multi-millionaires
A recent running of the PlayWCOOP Main Event saw 208 players fork over a buy-in of 50 million play money chips that created a prize pool of 9,360,000,000. That’s not a typo and I didn’t accidentally lean on the ‘0’ key on my keyboard. It’s 9.36 billion.
Outperforming the play money field was U.S. player ‘Divus,’ who earned the title of PlayWCOOP World Champion, along with 957 million in play chips. Divus invested nearly 4 and 1/2 hours of his time to lay claim to bragging rights as play money champ, but told PokerStars Blog that he would much rather compete on real-money tables.
After scooping that record number of play chips, Divus admitted to being hopeful that “real-money play on Pokerstars will be available in the USA again eventually. In the meantime, I like to enter play money tourneys to practice and for fun.”
Divus is due to get his wish, as the approval of PokerStars to operate online poker in New Jersey is anticipated shortly. Industry insiders and players are banking on that approval to be followed by regulation in other states. It may take a while to play out, but that appears to be the direction the industry is headed despite the efforts of the anti-online gambling crowd led by Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
PlayWCOOP ran in conjunction with the real-money WCOOP, the first time that PokerStars hosted such a play money extravaganza that included a full menu of tournaments similar to that found in the real-money poker lobby. Odds are that it won’t be the last, considering the success achieved.
Five U.S. players made the final table and the smart money would likely be wagered on the likelihood that Divus is not alone among his fellow countrymen at that final table in wishing that his online play had more at stake financially than play money chips. I’m sure PokerStars has the actual numbers and it would certainly be interesting to know how many regular U.S. play money online poker players at the site are refugees from real-money action due to Black Friday and/or the fear of playing for real-money at unregulated sites in the U.S.
Do Play Chips Have Any Value?
For those unfamiliar with amassing, say, 50 million in play chips to be able to compete in a tournament such as the PlayWCOOP Main Event, PokerStars readily provides 1,000 in free chips to anyone who registers. Should that chip stack fall below 100, more free chips (1,000) can be had with a simple mouse-click as many as three times per hour.
Players do actually purchase play chips to compete at the play money tables, with $1.99 good for 350,000 in play chips. Larger packages are available at the rates of $4.99 for 900K, $9.99 for 2 million, $24.99 for 7.5 million, $49.99 for 30 million, and $99.99 for 75 million.
According to that pricing chart, Divus’ first place prize of 957 million is worth well over $1,000. However, per the Terms and Conditions at PokerStars, “Play Money chips are designed for entertainment, as well as to help beginners and intermediate players get familiar with poker rules, tournaments and ring games.” As such, those play chips “have no monetary value, and cannot be cashed out, sold or converted into real money.”
Social Gaming Booming
Recent estimates put the value of the social gaming market in the U.S. at over $5 billion by 2015. Poker competes with the likes of CandyCrush and Farmville in that space. Somewhere around 60% of that $5 billion total is generated by the purchase of virtual goods that have no actual value to consumers.
With regard to play money online poker, PokerStars is looking up at industry leader Zynga Poker. The latest estimates by PokerScout show Zynga more than doubling the play money online poker player traffic of its main rival by averaging 38,500 to the 14,500 of PokerStars.
As a comparison, the play money traffic average at Zynga Poker alone is more than the real-money traffic of the top 20 poker rooms and networks worldwide COMBINED. That includes PokerStars and its average of 18,000 real-money players. Social gaming, be it online poker or whatever, is worth big bucks.