Long before PokerStars reentered the United States online poker market via New Jersey, analysts anticipated the company would dominate the market. Despite PartyPoker/Borgata and WSOP/888 already having built a following in the state, PokerStars was expected to grab a significant portion of those players.
Initially, that is what happened. PokerStars launched in New Jersey on March 21 and immediately boosted the entire market by nearly 20 percent. And PokerStars had the lion’s share of players, pushing WSOP/888 into second place and PartyPoker/Borgata into a somewhat-distant third.
But that initial excitement faded. By May, the initial boost began to fade. And by June, WSOP/888 began to surge due to big promotions and the World Series of Poker action in Las Vegas. End-of-June figures showed a 20 percent decline of the overall market from May to June, some of which can be attributed to a natural seasonal downturn. PokerStars, however dipped 32 percent month-to-month.
As for cash game traffic, WSOP/888 promotions continued to show results in cash game traffic increases, while PokerStars stayed relatively flat from May to June.
What happened to the PokerStars domination?
New Market Realities
PokerStars dominated the global online poker market for many years. Even in newer regulated markets like Italy, France, and Spain, PokerStars garners the most players due to a number of factors, such as name recognition and promotions.
While New Jersey players were excited to be able to play on PokerStars again, many were somewhat disillusioned by recent changes to the VIP program and the heavy focus on recreational players. Sites like WSOP/888 and PartyPoker/Borgata had already figured out how to cater to the players in that small bit of the new American market, and many players stayed loyal to those sites.
The limited poker population in New Jersey was going to require PokerStars reach out in new ways to attract new players. It did that in some respects by bringing their top pros to Resorts and hosting weekend activities at Resorts during the launch period, and an emphasis on lottery-style Spin & Gos was a successful promotion. But considering the limited audience available in New Jersey, a few grand gestures were not going to be enough.
It may be the case that PokerStars is content with a solid portion of the New Jersey market and plans to capitalize on other states like Pennsylvania when they join the fray. Long-term goals are a given with a company as experienced as PokerStars/Amaya.
However, innovation is going to be the key to expanding the US online poker market in general. Considering the new, slow, and limited regulatory environment, growth is not going to be a product of another natural poker boom, rather it must be spurred by new ideas.
PokerStars – or any online poker site that wants to forge a new path in America – must explore ways to tap into certain demographics and appeal to an audience that has yet to make its mark on the game. That is going to require thinking far outside of the usual box and looking to social gaming for clues as to how to attract large numbers of new players.
Bingo has done it. What was once considered a game played by the elderly on a lazy Sunday afternoon has recently experienced a boom by appealing to younger crowds. It has become a nighttime destination for groups of friends, and the online bingo games are growing at a record pace. Bingo became fun again, and it happened when bingo operators – both live and online – reached out to new demographics.
Can online poker do the same? Is PokerStars willing to take some chances with mainstream marketing in entirely new directions?
Time will tell. Until then, expect uninspiring revenue numbers and cash game traffic figures out of New Jersey from PokerStars and its competitors, at least until Pennsylvania and other states legalize, launch, and share.