The New Jersey border, that is.
After nearly two years online, NJ online poker players remain an island, with only those physically located within the state able to play at NJ-regulated online poker sites WSOP.com, 888, Borgata Poker, and PartyPoker NJ.
Meanwhile, the activity levels at regulated poker sites in NJ have steadily diminished as the market struggles to make up for players that leave the pool, drawing on an increasingly limited population of potential replacements to do so.
So what has to happen for that situation to change? And how long will New Jersey players have to wait?
Player pooling in the US
The most obvious and immediate opportunity for NJ online poker is pooling with one of the other two states – Nevada and Delaware – that offer regulated online poker.
There are a number of factors working in favor of such pooling:
- The dominant sites in DE and NV (888 and WSOP respectively) have a presence in NJ.
- 888 and WSOP utilize the same platform, making integration across the three markets a relatively easy task.
- DE and NV already share players, meaning the concept has been proven and the basic technological and regulatory questions have been satisfied.
There are also factors working against:
- Party / Borgata doesn’t have an obvious way to benefit immediately from such pooling, as they don’t operate online poker in NV or DE. Their motivation to push for such pooling may be limited, as it would provide an immediate boost to their primary competition (WSOP / 888).
- New Jersey and Nevada both appear to be positioning themselves to act as a regulatory hub for online gambling. That could complicate cooperation between the jurisdictions on this issue.
- Player pooling is simply not a regulatory priority for either state at this point. New Jersey especially is facing a long line of concerns that trump the pooling issue consider the current state of the land-based Atlantic City casino industry.
Ultimately, we believe that New Jersey will explore online poker player pooling sooner than later, especially given the continued declines in poker activity and revenue. If MGM or Boyd (who co-own the Borgata) launch online poker operations in Nevada, that could expedite the process.
International online poker pooling
DGE Director David Rebuck has repeatedly indicated that his agency has broached the subject of player pooling with regulators from international gaming jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom.
International player pooling is far more appealing than inter-state pooling for an obvious reason: the international player pools dwarf the player pools of U.S. states offering regulated online poker.
Of course, international player pooling is more complicated from a technical and legal perspective. And while New Jersey player would gain access to a big chunk of the global player base – including PokerStars.com (pending launch), 888, and bwin.party – there would still be big gaps created by operators with an international presence but no link to the New Jersey market, a list that includes the iPoker Network (and members like UK powerhouses bet365 Poker and William Hill).
We expect that once PokerStars launches in New Jersey, the conversation surrounding international player pooling will begin to heat up. But we don’t expect a resolution to that conversation anytime in the next year or two.
Online casinos could build bridges
While poker dominates the discussion of player pooling, it’s quite possible that we could see NJ’s online casinos lead the way on the issue.
That’s because there’s already a strong precedent in the United States for gambling crossing state borders in order to power massive jackpots. The most obvious example is the state lottery, where products such as Powerball draw players from across the country into a single prize pool. But there are also less-known examples of casinos sharing player pools across state lines, including a recent agreement between Nevada and New Jersey to link progressive slot jackpots in order to create more tantalizing totals.
When approached from that angle, it’s not difficult to imagine online casinos in New Jersey such as Caesars Casino online pushing for cross-border cooperation should a state like Pennsylvania (where Caesars also operates) make good on its attempts to regulate online gambling.
It’s also conceivable – albeit perhaps a bit more complicated – that a NJ online operator with international brand connections (such as Betfair, Virgin, or even PokerStars) could seek to create pooling between their international player base and their NJ player base. These operators could see potential not only in larger slot jackpots, but also in the broader player pools that could help elevate the growing class of online casino products with a multi-player element.
Image credit: Lucian Milasan / Shutterstock.com