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New Jersey was years into establishing itself as the United States online market leader by the time PokerStars entered the fray in March of 2016. Though PartyPoker/Borgata and 888poker/WSOP had already established themselves as the lifeblood of the small yet growing online poker industry, but the approval of PokerStars in late 2015 led to much speculation that the largest poker site in the world would change the game.

When it launched on March 21 of last year, PokerStars did so with a few glitches in the software but a team of employees eager to work out the bugs and strive to become the new market leader. There were a wide range of limit games – from $0.02/$0.04 to $10/$20 – and a number of poker variations available, as well as SNGs starting at $0.25 and soaring up to $500 buy-ins. Of course, there were big Sunday tournaments and the lottery-style Spin & Go games, in addition to a corresponding online casino site.

Players immediately took to the new offerings, and cash game traffic rose quickly for PokerStars, while PartyPoker dipped 20% and 888poker 30% on the first day. Action evened out over the coming weeks and months, however, and while PokerStars mostly stayed atop the three-player race for players, 888poker/WSOP stayed strong in second position, and PartyPoker/Borgata suffered the most with a dip to little more than 20% of the market.

Productive Addition to Growing Market

The United States started from scratch after Black Friday with the slow – sometimes VERY slow – ratification of state laws to establish online poker markets. Nevada and Delaware were the first to launch online poker sites, and the two did sign an interstate agreement to share online poker traffic, but it was New Jersey that took over when it launched. The strong gaming market in Atlantic City and number of online gaming options in New Jersey quickly propelled it to the top and the one by which all future states would be judged.

When PokerStars entered the market, it certainly added its own unique flair. The lottery-style SNG games, unique tournaments, substantial guarantees, and trademark software made players feel as if online poker was on its way – again, slowly – to what it once was in America. And the bonuses and promotions set it apart from the two already-established sites.

PokerStars did run a successful inaugural NJSCOOP tournament series in May of its first year, complete with an impressive $1.1 million in event guarantees to outdo its opponents’ previous series. And in the fall, the NJCOOP did even better with $1.2 million in guarantees, which was surpassed by enough to put the total prize money awarded at just under $1.5 million.

The site also tried to bring its new live series to Atlantic City via PokerStars’ partnership with Resorts Casino. The November PokerStars Festival New Jersey had big plans and flew its Team PokerStars Pros in from around the world to participate. But a disappointing overall turnout produced results far below expectations. Players who attended were impressed with the operator’s efforts, but the lack of players in tournament seats made it unprofitable for those who did show up.

A Big Site with Big Dreams

PokerStars didn’t make it to the top of the global market with a single effort. It took years of competing and establishing itself, and the operator seems ready to do what’s necessary to find the same result in the burgeoning US market.

In celebration of its first-year anniversary, PokerStars ran several significant promotions, which will likely result in higher-than-normal cash game traffic when the March numbers are calculated. New players were offered $50 to try the site, a substantial reload bonus was offered, and the celebration was highlighted by the new NJ City Series of tournaments, boasting of a $50K guaranteed Main Event. And the grand finale will be a bigger Big Sunday on April 2 with a special $100K guarantee.

Beyond the current promotions, PokerStars is likely to step it up in the coming months. With the exception of a slow period during the World Series of Poker months when many poker players leave New Jersey in favor of Las Vegas, PokerStars undoubtedly has big plans in the works.

Look for another NJSCOOP to be announced soon, likely to be held in May again, and the post-summer online surge will probably see another NJCOOP and another attempt at a live series, this time with more planning, increased player input, and new initiatives to draw the players to Resorts. PokerStars enjoys being at the top of the game, and with the potential of states like New York and Pennsylvania legalizing online poker this year, PokerStars wants to show that it can do more than survive — it can thrive in the new market settings.

As PokerStars noted in its press release about the first-year anniversary, “One thing players can be certain of as PokerStars NJ starts its second year is the commitment it has to creating even more memorable milestone moments for poker lovers.”

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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