“Eligibility for New Jersey players in WSOP.com online gold bracelet events has yet to be determined.”
For a lot of East Coast poker grinders, that’s the sentence that stands out from last week’s World Series of Poker release about the 2019 online bracelet schedule.
The WSOP has chosen to exponentially expand its online bracelet event offerings this year. After debuting the concept in 2015 with a single $1,000 buy-in tournament that drew 905 entries and ended with a final table played live at the Rio, the experiment was repeated in 2016 and drew 1,247 entries. In 2017, the WSOP branched out with three online events at $333, $1,000, and $3,333 price points. And tournament organizers bumped it up to four online bracelet events last year, adding a pot-limit Omaha tournament.
So in four years, the WSOP has hosted nine online bracelet events.
Now the World Series brass has decided to host nine in a single summer.
And the expansion comes at a precarious time for interstate online poker. New Jersey players accounted for 13.4% of the entrants in last year’s final three bracelet events (a breakdown for the first event was not available), and the poker world has no idea if that community is going to be wiped off the WSOP board.
Player pool concerns
In January, the Department of Justice issued a new opinion on the Wire Act of 1961, and that opinion is widely interpreted as not allowing online poker hands to be played between competitors in different states.
Shared liquidity across states is vital to any hopes of online poker growth in America.
For casino games played against the house, the number of players in the field is irrelevant. For games played against other players, such as poker or fantasy sports, a plentiful player pool makes a huge difference.
WSOP.com and sister site 888.com last year became the first in the regulated online poker era to combine liquidity across multiple states, and those sites surged past PokerStars as the leader in the New Jersey as a result. And of the 2,193 entrants in the final three online bracelet events of 2018, 293 played from New Jersey.
Various states, including New Hampshire and New Jersey, are pushing back on the DOJ opinion, and many experts question whether it can be enforced. But for now, shared liquidity is very much in question — as the line from the WSOP release about eligibility for New Jersey players indicates.
Some could see the WSOP expanding from four online events last year to nine this summer as an act of defiance against the DOJ ruling. Then again, the open questioning in the press release of eligibility in New Jersey would seem to contradict such a theory.
It’s a massive question mark hovering over this summer’s WSOP offering. Not only did NJ players beef up the player pool considerably last year, but there’s a chance Pennsylvania players could get in on the action if the DOJ opinion is agreed to be toothless.
It’s logical to predict that WSOP entry numbers will drop, per event, compared to 2018 if Nevada is the only state in the mix, and rise significantly, per event, if both NJ and PA players are firing bullets.
As it so happens, today is the first day of a major WSOP.com series, awarding 13 WSOP Circuit rings in 13 days. For now, shared liquidity is live, and players in NJ and NV can compete in these tournaments.
Specifics of the schedule
The nine online events on the WSOP calendar range in buy-in from $400 to $3,200. Seven of them allow for up to three re-entries, one has unlimited re-entries, and one permits no re-entries.
All nine tournaments start at 3:30 p.m. Vegas time and figure to run into the wee hours of the morning. (The conclusions will be especially late for East Coast players if they can enter.)
There’s one PLO event; everything else is no-limit hold’em.
One thing that stands out about the schedule is the consistency. There’s an online bracelet event every Sunday of the WSOP, from June 2 through July 14.
For serious online poker players, being able to treat these bracelet events like Sunday majors for seven weeks is a big plus.
There are also two Wednesday tourneys dropped in, on June 19 and July 3.
Is this expansion a good thing?
As a general principle, growth is good. But there’s always a point at which you risk going too far and watering down the product.
With nine online bracelet events in a single summer, there’s definitely a chance of losing what made winning a WSOP bracelet online special. At what point is winning one of these no more distinctive than claiming a PokerStars WCOOP title?
Then again, the WSOP’s priority isn’t to protect the sanctity of the bracelet. It’s to provide an opportunity for poker players and to generate interest in the game and revenue for its parent company.
More online events is a pure positive for the players, whether they want to play in all of them or pick and choose the ones that best fit their schedule and bankroll.
But the timing for going so big with nine tournaments would be better if the player pool was about to expand to more states. Instead, it might be on the verge of contracting. The WSOP is trying to modernize and make maximal use of the technology available, but a law written 58 years ago, reinterpreted by a DOJ that isn’t exactly what you’d call progressive, threatens to limit the upside.