The long-awaited launch of online poker in Pennsylvania made headlines on Monday. However, it might be New Jersey poker players who are celebrating the most.
Rebecca McAdam Willetts, a spokeswoman for PokerStars, told USPoker last week:
“We are very excited to be bringing our most popular brands to Pennsylvania next week, subject to regulatory approval.”
Obviously, the successful completion of the testing phase is required before PokerStars receives the green light. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Pennsylvania poker players aren’t the only ones interested in this development.
The fledgling NJ online poker market has been waiting for more than three years for this news. The hope is PA online poker will eventually join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).
The MSIGA combines player pools between states. Currently, only three states are part of the agreement:
- New Jersey
Let’s be honest; while we’re excited for our neighbors to be able to play online poker at home, the reality is New Jersey needs PA poker players to help grow its struggling industry.
Will PA and NJ online poker markets pool players?
It is a possibility that PA and NJ online poker players will one day take a seat in the same virtual poker room. That day is likely far from reality, though.
Doug Harbach, director of communications for the PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB), spoke to Online Poker Report in August 2018 about the possibility of PA joining the MSIGA.
“While an interstate compact could certainly occur, at this junction I can’t predict or comment on the likelihood.”
It is fair to say that PA has not been the speediest when it comes to movement in the online gambling world. The Gambling Expansion Act became law in the Keystone State in October 2017.
Even so, it was December 2018 before the state accepted its first sports bet. Then, it was another five months before online sports betting launched. Once sports betting was online, online casino gambling in PA joined the party one month later.
As it stands, it took more than two years for the first online poker room to go into a testing phase. That doesn’t bode well for a speedy entry into the MSIGA.
What NJ online poker wants and needs PA
Over the last six years, real money online poker in New Jersey has been treading water. PA was the state closest to a potential online poker launch.
As such, NJ has been waiting patiently for poker in PA to come online and join the compact to boost the player pool.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that more players in the pool are a good thing. More players mean larger prize pools and larger prize pools mean more players.
New Jersey did combine player pools with Delaware and Nevada in the spring of 2018. Unfortunately, New Jersey didn’t benefit as much as some hoped, mainly because the population of the two states is only around half of NJ.
PA’s population, on the other hand, is nearly 50% bigger. If PA joins the compact, the player pool in NJ could more than double practically overnight.
It’s no secret; online poker rooms are not the segment of the NJ online casino games that are bringing home the bacon.
Looking back at yearly revenue further, it shows a clear declining trend.
While 2019 isn’t over it, it doesn’t appear the trend will change. Over the last 12 months, online poker in NJ has seen a decline in revenue of 4.74%.
A combined player pool could be the catalyst to change the course finally.
Lessons PA could learn from six years of NJ online poker
Over the last six years of NJ online poker, only one year (2016) resulted in a year-over-year increase.
As mentioned throughout this article, what we’ve learned from watching online poker over the last few years is that poker thrives when the pool of poker players grows.
It’s evident when online poker rooms run big online tournament series with big guarantees. NJ online poker revenue usually gets a bump from tournaments such as:
- Fall Online Championships on WSOP.com
- NJCOOP on PokerStars NJ
During these big tournaments, poker players in the region, including PA, travel to New Jersey to play online. Cash games are usually better and tournaments often smash the guarantees.
For a few short weeks, it seems as if online poker is finally gaining momentum. Then the tournament ends, and it is more of the same lackluster and uninspiring results.
There was a period on the 2018 calendar when one big tournament came after another. The numbers reflected what might be the result of player fatigue.
What makes a big tournament series great is its uniqueness. The World Series of Poker, which is held every summer in Nevada, is a perfect example.
When another tournament is scheduled for the following week, the fear of missing out is lost, and it soon becomes just another game. From a business perspective, it is not a sustainable model.
What PA could learn from NJ is:
- Build a viable player pool and invest in growing it.
- Create a calendar of events that complements competing poker rooms.
- Join the MSIGA.
Why NJ players should hold off celebrating PA’s online poker news
Most NJ poker players have focused their attention on Pennsylvania joining the MSIGA. The potential for new players is huge.
If, however, PA doesn’t join the MSIGA right away, the NJ poker pool might suffer.
While there isn’t any concrete data, players from PA are thought to be driving across the border to play online poker in NJ. Certainly, this is true during big tournament weekends.
Some of the traffic may diminish as PokerStars PA and other online poker rooms offer games and tournaments closer to home.
Currently, PokerStars NJ offers NJCOOP during the middle of October. It is fair to say that it is one of the biggest online tournaments in the Garden State.
More than likely, PokerStars PA will eventually offer a PACOOP. If it does, it would be good business to do so before or after New Jersey’s event. That way, both states could benefit from cross-border traffic.
There is no doubt that PokerStars launching in Pennsylvania is great news for online poker. But it becomes better news when it joins the MSIGA.
Until then, we’ll be watching to see how online poker in PA impacts the NJ online poker market.