Is The US Set To Experience A Boom In Online Poker Satellites?

November 17, 2017
Is The US Set To Experience A Boom In Online Poker Satellites?


When Chris Moneymaker turned $86 into a World Series of Poker Main Event package through a PokerStars online satellite series, then went on to win the title and $2.5 million, it altered the American poker dream forever. Qualifying for live events offering the chance at life-changing money for pennies on the dollar through online poker satellites had always made perfect financial sense. Suddenly, it was a major part of how the poker industry worked.

Professional players built bankrolls and reputations winning satellite seat after satellite seat. In the meantime, online poker sites flourished, raking qualifiers every step of the way. Online poker started out small. Online satellites helped it grow big.

Built by online poker satellites

As a prime example, PokerStars’ own European Poker Tour was built on the back of online satellites. It started out as a small tour for poker enthusiasts in Europe. It grew into the richest poker tournament series in the world. Particularly once PokerStars started running a robust online satellite program surrounding each event

In fact, the EPT got so big, it spawned different live tournament series around the globe. Each followed that same online satellite model.

In the years following Moneymaker’s win, the American poker dream was alive and well. Up until the US Department of Justice effectively shut down online poker in America, charging the industry’s biggest operators with various illegal gambling and money laundering offenses. Until then, players from across the country qualified for events around the world in big numbers.

The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure

There is no better example of this than the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

The event has been held annually in Nassau since 2005.  The flight from New York to Nassau is less than three hours. January weather in the Bahamas makes for a nice escape from the Winters of the heavily populated Northeastern United States. As a result, Americans have always flocked to the PCA.

In fact, PCA Main Event fields have traditionally been about one-third American. Plus, those numbers always included a good percentage of online satellite winners from the US.

The three largest PCA Main Events in history were recorded in 2009 (1,347 entries, $12,674,000 prize pool), 2010 (1,529 entries, $14,831,300 prize pool), and 2011 (1,560 entries, $15,132,000 prize pool). This was all before April 15, 2011, the day the DOJ shut the door to online poker, and PCA qualifiers, for US players.

It was only by a crack, but that door finally opened up again this year.

Online poker satellites return to the US

PokerStars returned to the US in the Spring of 2016. That’s when it entered the legal and regulated online poker and casino market in New Jersey. This year, PokerStars NJ ran a $1,000 PCA Qualifier guaranteeing one $15,855 PCA package. It also ran satellites into the qualifier and freerolls into the satellites making it possible to win that PCA package for nothing. The American poker dream was suddenly back. However, PokerStars hasn’t been the only one trying to revive it.

The newly launched playMGM New Jersey online poker site recently teamed up with World Poker Tour and the MGM Resorts International property Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada to offer online satellites into the $10,400 WPT Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic coming up in December. The site has small satellites running into a series of five $535 Bellagio Super Satellites to the WPT Bellagio Five Diamond. Three satellites are still upcoming. Each has one $12,000 event package guaranteed.

The New Jersey online poker market

Numbers for the New Jersey online poker market have been less than impressive since its November 2013 launch. The state’s online gambling operations have combined to average $20 million a month in revenues this year. However, online poker only represents 10 percent of that. If there has been one lone bright spot for operators, it has been online satellites into live events.

Borgata’s regular cash game and online poker tournament offerings barely scrape by. However, the satellites into live events on the property always draw big. In fact, online poker satellites have been sending hundreds of qualifiers into seasonal land-based events at Borgata since the market opened.

In the Spring of 2015, Asher Conniff became an online satellite legend. He won an online satellite seat into the $560 Borgata Spring Poker Open opening event and won it for $203,231. Two weeks later, he accidentally entered a $1,600 online satellite for the $15,000 WPT World Championship. He went on to win the seat and the WPT Championship for another $937,683.

PokerStars has not had the same success satelliting players into its live events in New Jersey. However, that may be more of a function of marketing and a lack of a year-round physical presence in the state than anything else.

On the other side of the country, the WSOP online poker site has been stepping up the number of satellites it runs into live WSOP events every year since launch. It has been successful.

The future of online poker in America

New Jersey recently signed on to share online poker liquidity with Nevada and Delaware. Plus, Pennsylvania passed online poker and casino legislation last month. The law includes language allowing the state to enter that same agreement in the near future. There are a number of other states also considering similar laws.

For the first time in a long time, there’s hope the online poker market in the US is poised to grow. Now, with the number of online satellites into live events already on the rise again, the American poker dream is being revived right along with it.

There may never be another poker boom like the one in the wake of Moneymaker’s historic 2003 WSOP Main Event win. However, if online poker operators in the US continue down the path they have started on, a boom in online satellites into live events around the country is not just possible, it’s likely.

And it’s likely the kind of thing that can keep both the live and online poker markets in the US healthy for years to come.

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