New Jersey online poker players have been patiently waiting for a major development, and last Friday they finally got one.
It was then that NJ Gov. Chris Christie announced that New Jersey will soon be combining its players with those from Nevada and Delaware.
Although hardly on the scale of another state legalizing online poker, the interstate pooling agreement marked the most significant victory for the regulated US online poker industry since PokerStars NJ launched back in March 2016.
And with it will come a slew of benefits to those who grind it out on legal sites.
Cash game liquidity will receive a nice uptick
Pending the launch of new sites in Nevada, the sole beneficiary of the liquidity sharing agreement will be 888, which operates via the WSOP NJ/888 network in New Jersey, and the WSOP NV/DE network across Nevada and Delaware.
Current PokerScout figures show that WSOP NV/DE averages 140 cash game players versus 85 for WSOP NJ/888. Combine the two and we’re talking 225 players on a single network — a figure the industry hasn’t seen since the Borgata/Party network put up similar numbers in the earliest days of the NJ market.
However, the final number stands to be even larger as in online poker, liquidity begets liquidity. This is especially true in this scenario, as there is a three hour time difference between Nevada and New Jersey, meaning the prime time window for playing poker will be lengthened by at least that amount.
All told, a 20% liquidity bump above the additive liquidity is not out of the question, bringing average traffic up to 270 players, perhaps topping 300 during peak months.
Should GVC launch a Nevada site via MGM or another casino and merge that traffic with Borgata, combined 888 traffic will likely take a hit. But it’s just as likely that overall US online poker traffic will spike even higher. Having two powerhouses present in multiple states could also prove beneficial from a competitive standpoint.
A third major player in Nevada would likely tip the scales over the saturation point, possibility resulting in diminished overall traffic. We’ve witnessed this phenomenon in New Jersey, where despite the addition of Pala Poker, playMGM, and PokerStars since March 2016, industry traffic has been on a near continual downslide.
New formats? Maybe
At present, the dominant format on 888 is No Limit Hold’em, with a smattering of Pot Limit Omaha, and even fewer Omaha Hi/Lo, Stud, and Fixed Limit games running.
I would expect at least PLO games to run almost around the clock once the compact goes live, and for Stud and O8 games to run with at least some frequency.
The range of available stakes may also increase, with more mid-stakes ($1/$2 – $5/$10) games running, and perhaps the occasional $25/$50 game.
I’m more skeptical when it comes to the proliferation of fast-fold games. Even when NJ online poker first launched, and cash game averages were flirting with 600, fast-fold games did not run with any regularity. And since, fast-fold lobbies have been a barren wasteland, except when PokerStars NJ hosts a promotion tailored specifically toward fast-fold play.
It’s difficult to see a network of only 300 players supporting the format, although post-merger, it at least becomes a possibility. For now, however, it’s something of a moot point, as 888’s US-facing poker sites do not even offer fast-fold as an option.
It’s “guaranteed” that MTT traffic will rise
Those expecting weekly $100,000 guaranteed tournaments on the combined 888 network may be sorely disappointed. Two years ago, it may have happened, but recently there’s been a trend toward diminished guarantees, coupled with a stronger reliance on re-entries.
Currently the biggest Sunday major on WSOP NJ/888 is a $40,000 guarantee. It’s just $20,000 on WSOP NV/DE. Both networks support a variety of other majors, but the guarantees for them generally top out between $10,000 – $15,000.
That said, I do believe the combined network will support the largest regular weekly guarantee in legal US online poker history, perhaps as high as $75,000, with secondary majors guaranteeing up to $25,000. The time window that nightly and weekend majors run should also increase.
Also, with the merger should come the first truly meaningful MTT series for 888 players in NJ in what seems like forever. Suffice it to say, that even if WSOP NJ/888 doesn’t introduce a single new series, New Jersey players will automatically gain access to Nevada’s version of the WSOP.com Online Championships, which guaranteed $850,000 in 2017 and stands to guarantee well over $1 million once the NJ/NV/DE networks are combined.
Worth mentioning, is that should GVC enter Nevada, the Garden State Super Series (it’ll probably receive a new name) may regain some of its lost prestige. Currently, the series guarantees just $375,000, down from over $1 million during the Borgata online poker network’s heyday.
Summer swoon? What summer swoon?
Typically, during the summer months online poker liquidity dips to its lowest point of the calendar year. However, the Nevada market has been exempt from this phenomenon, largely due to the influx of poker tourism during the live World Series of Poker.
In fact, the period from late May through mid-July tends to be the most fruitful period for WSOP NV. With the merger, the NJ online poker market will also gain some immunity from the summer swoon.
The merger also opens up other possibilities for NJ players, namely they may gain access to WSOP NV’s exhaustive qualifier schedule for live WSOP events. Not to mention, the possibility looms for New Jersey players to play for online bracelets, all without having to hop on a flight until the live final table.
The bottom line
While the online poker liquidity sharing compact between NV/NJ/DE won’t necessarily be a game changer, it does open up doors for players from all three states. Expect larger major guarantees, more and bigger one-off series, longer periods of peak activity, and possibly more diversity on the cash game front once it goes live.
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