PokerStars Announces 4-Table Cap On Online Cash Games — But For Now Not In New Jersey

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A major shakeup to PokerStars‘ platform was announced Tuesday by the worldwide online poker leader.

The company announced via its blog that it has reduced the maximum number of cash game tables you can play at simultaneously from 24 to just four. The decision was done with the recreational player in mind, the firm said, as the move will have a greater impact on those who try to play for an income. PokerStars said that the change will apply to markets all over the world, including its .com sites.

According to PokerFuse, the change hasn’t been applied to New Jersey, though it’s reasonable to expect that to be a strong possibility down the road. In the U.S., PokerStars is currently only available in New Jersey, though it has plans to soon launch in the state of Pennsylvania as well. Those two states are expected to eventually share their respective online poker player pools.

The change not being applied to New Jersey makes sense given the lackluster traffic on that platform. One would be hard-pressed to approach 24 cash game tables at once on that ring-fenced site, which generally doesn’t have more than 200-250 cash game players at a time, but once other states join the fray, it appears likely that a similar cap will eventually be applied to the U.S. market.

The decision to drastically drop the maximum tables to four came after testing a six-table cash game maximum in Italy last year, PokerStars said. Table caps for all other games, including Zoom poker, sit-and-gos, and multi-table tournaments, will remain unchanged (at least for now), according to PokerStars.

The cash game “ecosystem” needed help, according to PokerStars.

According to a PokerStars blog post from last year, 99.7% of its users play six tables or less at a time.

State of poker revenue

It’s no secret that online poker, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, has seen much better days.

Earlier this month, PokerStars reported that its worldwide online poker revenue through the first six months of 2019 was $411,649,000, down 11% from $462,856,000 from the same period in 2018.

PokerStars possesses around 70% of the worldwide online poker market.

However, winnings from its other verticals were up big, with total revenue of $1.21 billion during the first two quarters representing a more than 50% year-over-year gain. Other forms of online casino gambling, including sports betting, are an increasingly better business for the company. Poker now accounts for just 33.7% of the firm’s total online gambling revenue.

The challenges for online poker are being experienced in the U.S., once the dominant iPoker market.

Through July, Resorts Digital Gaming, PokerStars’ partner in NJ, reported $4,257,509 in poker rake, down 15.2% from $5,021,192 during the same period in 2018. It was $5,999,074 through the January to July of 2017. PokerStars launched in March 2016 in the Garden State.

New Jersey has three online poker operators, the other two being Borgata and Caesars. Borgata’s online poker revenue of $3,032,357 through July of this year was down 15.4%. Caesars, which is the only one of the three operators that can pool players between New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, generated $5,430,216 in online poker rake through the first seven months of 2019, up 23.9% year-over-year from $4,381,126. The WSOP.com platform is able to run online bracelet tournaments for those physically located in NJ, a major advantage for the platform.

Despite the challenges for its poker vertical, PokerStars expects it to stabilize after a rough quarter.

“Within poker, revenues were down 12% in the second quarter, or down 7% in constant currency,” Brian Kyle, the firm’s CFO, said in an earnings call this month. “In line with last quarter, we are experiencing low single digit poker growth in most markets offset by headwinds in certain disrupted markets. As a reminder, we will begin to lap the majority of the disruption from Q4 2019 onwards in poker, and continue to believe we will see low single digit growth in constant currency over the medium-term.”

As for the U.S. market specifically, the firm said it still sees an opportunity with poker, but sports betting is currently “far more mainstream” and “far more widespread,” another executive commented.

PokerStars’ goals with the 4-table cap

The decision to slash the maximum number of tables a poker player can play follows other changes in recent years that have gone against the interests of the shrinking segment of the poker community that is able to grind for a living. The changes come as the game has become harder to win at, thanks to the average skill level of players rising over time, though that’s merely anecdotal and there’s no publicly available data on how much better players are today than they were 5 to 10 years ago.

According to PokerStars, the speed of play at the online cash games has not been fast enough for many recreational players, who presumably are playing a single table, often from a mobile device. It is true that players sitting at a desktop or on a laptop grinding 24 tables can slow the speed of play down on some of their open tables, especially when faced with a key decision on one or more tables. On average, multi-tablers and single-tablers take the same amount of time, PokerStars said, but “multi-tablers’ deviation from this average is much higher.” That apparently is a big problem for recs.

In a similar move, PokerStars recently slashed the amount of time players have to make a decision. The firm said last year that “one of the most frequent comments we receive is that the games are too slow due to opponents taking too long to act.”

It’s a remarkable situation, as a little over a decade ago online poker was attractive because it’s much faster than live poker. Now, even online poker apparently isn’t fast enough.

“When we trialed this change in Italy last year, we chose a six-table cap as a hypothetical optimum number,” Severin Rasset, director of poker innovations and operations for The Stars Group, wrote in the blog. “We wanted to test the impact this had on our players, those who typically played more than six tables and the majority who played only one. After careful review of the results over time, we now believe that a four-table cap is, in fact, the optimum number to achieve our goals.”

The goal, according to Rasset, is ultimately to attract new players to the game.

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Brian Pempus

Brian served as a senior reporter and online content manager for Card Player Magazine for nearly a decade before joining USBets in October 2018. He is currently focused on legal and regulated sports betting and online gaming. He's an avid jiu-jitsu practitioner in his free time.

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