This article was written for 4flush.com by Robert DellaFave @DivergentGames. Robert is a game designer and avid poker player. He is well known throughout the industry and also writes for several online poker publications
New Jersey’s iGaming market might be just over three months old, but Sunday felt like the first day that online poker was truly back.
Three weeks ago, Party Poker took a calculated risk by announcing that on March 2nd, the guaranteed prize pool for its Sunday Major would be doubled to 100k. Already the biggest weekly tournament in New Jersey, Party’s announcement was met with cautious optimism, most feeling that the site would struggle to exceed its guarantee.
Party proves naysayers wrong
And then something magical happened. Approximately 45 minutes into late registration, over 600 players had already signed up for the Party / Borgata hosted event. By the time registration closed at 8 pm. 786 players had joined the “Party,” utterly obliterating the set guarantee by a staggering $45,410.
Back in PokerStars heyday, crushing guarantees by 50 percent or more was fairly commonplace. But New Jersey’s nascent iGaming market has notoriously struggled to fill up seats to their Sunday Majors.
Case in point: Up until February 2nd, the Party / Borgata Sunday Major failed to draw more than 277 runners, never exceeding its guarantee by more than a relatively scant $1,245. Its competitors experienced even bigger troubles, with some drawing less than half the required players necessary to fulfill their comparatively modest benchmarks.
So what changed?
Scheduling and structure changes revitalize player interest
Days before announcing the one-off event, a representative from Party Poker proclaimed that the 50k Guarantee would be undergoing radical changes. The overhaul, which included an earlier starting time, the removal of several unnecessary early blind levels and a more top-heavy payout structure, were the product of player feedback on the Two Plus Two forums.
Response to the changes were initially mixed, but after Party made a few additional tweaks to the blind structure the remaining holdouts quickly changed their tune, evident by the 378 entries for the February 9th iteration of the Major. It was this notable increase that likely prompted Party / Borgata to take a shot at something bigger. And it paid off.
Party’s risk benefits the online poker community at large
While Party’s nearly unprecedented feat is a major victory in and of itself, it’s the future ramifications it could have on NJ’s burgeoning iGaming market that have pro-gambling proponents chomping at the bit. Consider the following statistics:
- Thus far, the largest prize pool for a paid entry online tournament in NJ was WSOP’s $250k guaranteed Online Championship. However, in order to meet the guarantee WSOP had to toss in $86,000 of its own money, proving the iGaming market wasn’t quite mature enough for a $500 buy-in tournament. Party’s incremental step up was widely more successful, and may prompt other sites to introduce more gradual changes.
- Registered entries for Sunday’s Major were up across the board. Ultimate Poker $20k Guarantee exceeded its guarantee for the first time in its rather brief history. WSOP’s $25k ($200 + $15) drew 171 runners, amounting to a $34,200 prize pool, and even 888poker’s lowly $10k guarantee made the mark, albeit only by $730. It goes to show that players participating in one Sunday Major are inclined to play in several others.
- The 100k guarantee had a positive impact on cash game turnouts. According to Pokerfuse Pro via PokerScout, 7-day traffic averages on Party / Borgata were up significantly.
- For the first time, Party / Borgata’s major paid out less than 10% of the field. In total, 72 out of the 786 runners received a payday. A min-cash was worth $712.50 and 1st place received a generous $26,901.18, or approximately 18.5% of the total prize pool.
- The top three runners all received a five figure payday. A player that goes by the moniker “kobe4prez92” would take down top honors.
- The tournament ended at 3:14 am, running 10 hours and 14 minutes in total. Compare this to a month ago, when it would take approximately 250-270 players the same length of time to reach the finish line, often resulting in a winner being crowned around daybreak.
Party ran a plethora of satellites into the 100k, and it is widely believed that those with a $200 tournament ticket wisely waited until Sunday to use it – which could have partially accounted for the inflated numbers. That being said, no one expected the tournament’s previous entry record to be shattered by more than double.
Where does Party / Borgata go from here?
While my first instinct is to throw my arms up in victory and triumphantly claim the sky’s the limit, the harsh reality is that New Jersey boasts a population of 9 million, a significantly smaller market than what most online poker networks have access to.
What it does have however, is proximity to two of the largest cities in the United States: New York City and Philadelphia. Clearly this played a factor in Sunday’s record turnouts. Continue to expect players from neighboring states to make weekend trips to the Garden State for special events.
And given Party Poker’s aggressive marketing strategy, it would come as little surprise if the 100k, or at least a 75k guarantee, became its flagship Sunday Major. Conversely, it’s also possible that the 50k will stick around a while longer, with monthly special events interspersed in to retain player interest. Perhaps we even see a 200k or 250k make its way to New Jersey before long.
Either way, it would be foolhardy for Party / Borgata not to propel its latest victory into something bigger. The future prosperity of NJ’s online poker market may very well hinge upon it.
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