The New Jersey online poker market has exhibited four consecutive months of growth.
Financials posted Friday by the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement reveal that the state’s two networks – Party/Borgata and WSOP/888 – took in a combined $2,151,232 in January, marking the first time the industry has generated upwards of $2 million since March of last year.
January’s monthly growth margin of 8.4% is the largest recorded gain since March, when revenue grew by 8.9%. However, whereas March’s growth was mostly a byproduct of having three extra days, any comparison between January and December is apples-to-apples.
As encouraging as this all sounds, New Jersey — and the rest of the online poker industry for that matter — is expected to post its best numbers in January, a month that benefits strongly from the blustery cold weather and a 31-day duration. Yet favorable seasonal winds were not enough to propel revenue to the heights NJ poker operators enjoyed in 2014, or even those of last January.
Not to mention, the gap between poker and casino continues to grow, with the latter setting a revenue record for the third consecutive month ($12,478,841) and growing by 34.6% year-on-year.
January figures encouraging, but don’t celebrate just yet
While a $2 million monthly take in any ring-fenced market as small as New Jersey is certainly impressive (especially amid the general decline of the global industry), the sobering reality is that New Jersey online poker was a bigger money maker last year.
In January 2015, the industry generated just shy of $2.3mm last January. This year’s statistics represents an annual decline of 6.4%.
Not only that, but from December 2014 to January 2015, revenue grew by 11.7%, a full 2.8% more than from December 2015 to January 2016.
Granted, January, like December before it, was a warmer than average month, with observed highs of over 40 degrees in 19 out of 31 days. That may have played a role in the market’s inability to eclipse last year’s figures.
But the presence of the Borgata Winter Poker Open, and the added attention brought to it via the live streaming of key events — as well as the two-day blizzard that sent liquidity soaring — was expected to have a greater impact than it did. These variables’ inability to do so strongly suggests that in the absence of a serious shakeup, the market will be hard pressed to grow, and may even continue to experience modest decline.
Luckily, that shakeup might be coming soon.
Big changes on the horizon
I’m inclined to believe that this year’s revenue curve will bear only a surface resemblance to last’s, as starting this month, the industry is expected to undergo a sea of changes:
- On February 28, Party/Borgata will host the fourth Garden State Super Series. After stumbling through the first two iterations of the series, the operator seemed to find a working formula, as the GSSS III was a marketed success.
- The Borgata may be severing ties with bwin.party. New bwin owner GVC appears to have little interest in preserving its U.S. foothold at the present time, evidenced by its decision to allow PartyPoker to return to 21 grey markets.
- PokerStars is poised to relaunch in New Jersey sometime this half. A likely scenario is emerging where the operator forges a partnership with the Borgata. The pairing of the world’s largest online poker operator with the state’s premier casino could spell a sharp revenue uptick.
- New Jersey could forge interstate compacts with New York and Pennsylvania. Don’t expect these to go live in 2016, as neither state has even passed online poker legislation, but should the New Jersey player pool eventually be expanded to over 40 million players, it opens up a slew of money making possibilities.
Borgata still king in New Jersey
In an expected result, the Borgata maintained a healthy lead over Caesars for the market share crown. At $1.19 mm, the Borgata generated 55.8% of online poker revenue, despite averaging fewer cash game players on every day of the month (as per data recorded by Poker Industry Pro via PokerScout.com).
Not only that, the Borgata killed it on the online casino front, bringing in a record breaking $3.37mm in revenue for January, nearly $500k more than runner-up Tropicana.
I’d expect Borgata to maintain around a 55-45 lead in February, before increasing its position by a few points in March, thanks primarily to the GSSS IV.
That’s not to write Caesars off, as WSOP.com continues to host a clever promotional schedule, with aims on attracting recreational players. Whether they can acquire poker hobbyists at a faster clip than they’re bleeding them is the question.
Let’s hope they can, as last year online poker revenue fell by 11.0% from January to February.