How Well Did This Year’s WSOP Integrate Live And Online Poker?

Steve Ruddock July 14, 2015 1526 Reads
Caesars WSOP Nevada New Jersey online

In 2014, Caesars and the World Series of Poker made a concerted effort to integrate their legal WSOP.com online poker room into the World Series of Poker.

Satellite tournaments were available in both Nevada and New Jersey, and according to WSOP.com Head of Poker Bill Rini, some 200 seats to various WSOP tournaments were won online.

Additionally, for the first time WSOP brass not only expressly allowed players to play online poker while simultaneously playing in WSOP events, they encouraged it.

This year, Caesars and the WSOP sought to build on the groundwork they laid last year. Let’s see how they did.

Technical and logistical improvements

A waiver from the Nevada Gaming Control Board allowed players at the Rio to play in the same tournament even if they were on the same IP address – typically a no-no in Nevada and most regulated markets.

WSOP.com launched its mobile app in August of 2014 (the Android app was released in October 2014). So unlike last year – where players intent on playing online and live at the same time needed to bring a laptop to the table – in 2015 players were able to log on to WSOP.com in Nevada from their phones and tablets.

Daily online satellites to the next day’s tournament(s) were available, which helped boost the total number of online satellite winners at WSOP.com from 200 in 2014 to 500 in 2015, according to Rini.

Technical and logistical improvement  grade: B+

Tournaments go off without a hitch

It’s a bit scary, but being free from technical difficulties is one of the best things you can say about a major online poker tournament in the newly-regulated U.S. markets. WSOP.com pulled off not one, but two big events.

On July 2, 2015 Caesars hosted the first-ever online bracelet tournament in World Series of Poker history. When all was said and done, 905 players paid the $1,000 entry fee to take part in historic tournament at WSOP.com.

Several days later, on July 5, 2015, WSOP.com hosted a second online tournament, a satellite tournament with at least 25 seats to the World Series of Poker Main Event guaranteed. This satellite tournament, dubbed the “Scramble,” ended up awarding 30 seats, as 1,260 players (a total of 1,667 entries) parted with the $200 entry fee.

That’s a $62,000 prize-pool increase over last year, despite a slightly cheaper price point of $200, compared to $215 in 2014.

More importantly, both tournaments went off without a hitch.

The results of these two tournaments demonstrate what legal online poker brings to the table, and how land-based casinos can incorporate online poker into their list of offerings, beyond it being simply another revenue stream.

And this is only the beginning. Imagine what type of “Scramble” WSOP.com could run if they offered online poker in New Jersey, Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, and New York?

If Nevada is capable of awarding 30 seats, how many could be handed out if the satellite scramble was accessible to twenty times as many players?

If online poker was available across the country, it’s not hard to imagine 10,000 players winning a seat into World Series of Poker events instead of the 500 that did so in 2015.

Tournament integration grade: A

Cash games

In 2014, the World Series of Poker led to a major spike in cash game traffic, as WSOP.com experienced a 39% increase in cash game traffic from the start of the 2014 WSOP to its peak during the Main Event.

In 2015 the increase was less dramatic at 28%, but that number doesn’t tell the entire story.

First, during the 2014 WSOP, the Nevada online poker market had yet to be consolidated. Ultimate Poker was still up and running and it’s likely many UP players jumped ship to WSOP.com during the 2014 WSOP because of the traffic increase.

Additionally, WSOP.com’s average cash game traffic at the start of the 2014 WSOP was just 110.

At the start of the 2015 WSOP it was around 170 players, due to market consolidation and the pooling of players with Delaware. This means the 39% surge in 2014 accounted for a little more than 40 players, and the 28% surge in 2015 is closer to 50 players.

Cash game integration grade: B-

Looking ahead

Despite the success, online/live synergy is far from complete. Here’s just one way the WSOP could take it to another level.

Since the online bracelet was extremely well-received, and with many of the player complaints coming out of the 2015 WSOP having to do with logistical issues (long lines for food, parking, bathrooms, and registrations), the WSOP might consider moving some portions of certain WSOP tournaments online.

This does several things:

  1. Frees up space at the Rio.
  2. Cuts down on overhead.
  3. Eliminates many of the logistical problems associated with large field starting flights.

If we want to keep poker and the WSOP profitable, and allow for virtually unlimited growth, this would seem like a solid way to go about doing so.

There will of course be some major pushback, but to quote Harold Wilson, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

So how exactly do I envision this working?

First , you would have to determine which events should have the starting flights occur online. My opinion is all Day 1’s for the smaller buy-in NLHE events and all opening round matches of heads-up events would be a good place to start.

Next you would have to decide at what point the tournament goes offline. This could be the end of Day 1, When the money bubble bursts, or even the final table in some instances.

The WSOP could also set up designated tournament areas at different Caesars properties where online play could be supervised.

Upshot

Land-based casinos  are finally waking up to the reality that online poker isn’t a siphon that will pull players out of their poker rooms. The opposite is true, as the WSOP has discovered over the past two years.

In fact, it can be argued that online poker is the most effective marketing tool a casino has at its disposal.

Image Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

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