After a stagnant couple of years, the US online poker took the spotlight a bit in November and December. That ranged from big numbers in Pennsylvania to legalization in Michigan to Daniel Negreanu signing a new sponsorship deal.
That also includes the Justice Department continuing to argue that the Wire Act applies to online poker and gambling. Despite that, PokerStars PA’s big numbers in its debut tournament series show there is a demand for more poker in the US.
With all this in mind, here’s a look at some of the news in the world of US online poker.
Michigan goes all in for online gaming – including poker
Four states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Delaware) currently allow online poker in the US. The industry received some extra momentum in December when online gaming was legalized in Michigan.
That includes sports betting, casino games, and online poker. As far as poker, the legislation allows the following:
- Online casino and poker licenses for Michigan’s three commercial casinos and 23 tribal properties.
- One online casino brand and one online poker brand per casino, up to two total brands each.
However, like Pennsylvania there isn’t a provision for interstate compacts. In both states, that could change depending on the outcome of Wire Act litigation. As of now, only Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have shared liquidity through WSOP.com.
West Virginia also legalized online gaming and poker in 2019. However, as a state with low population a shared liquidity market would be vital to its success.
It remains to be seen if Michigan’s market could find similar success as Pennsylvania. With a population of about 10 million, Michigan about 1.1 million more people than New Jersey.
Wire Act continues to hinder growth, interstate compacts
Also in December, the Department of Justice extended its deadline for operators to come into Wire Act compliance. That date has now been extended to June 30.
The DOJ has argued that the Wire Act extends to other forms of online gaming beyond simply sports betting. That was in direct opposition to an Obama-era DOJ opinion and the issue is now tied up in court.
The New Hampshire Lottery Commission filed suit and won the first round to reverse that opinion. The lawsuit is now back in court on appeal and the fight is expected to extend into the summer.
That could again be a problem for New Jersey players trying to compete in online World Series of Poker events. The deadline is about halfway through the WSOP, but Online Poker Report notes:
“Also included is a stipulation that the grace period could end 60 days after final judgment in New Hampshire.”
The series offered nine online bracelet tournaments in 2019, the most ever to date. That number is expected to rise in 2020, but that hasn’t been made official.
Even if the court rules in favor of the DOJ, that grace period may at least allow players in New Jersey to participate.
PokerStars numbers shine in Pennsylvania
There was plenty of good news from PokerStars PA in November and December. The site’s first major tournament series, the PA Championship of Online Poker (PACOOP), attracted more than 12,600 entries. That brought over 1,700 cashes and a massive $1.6 million overall prize pool.
The $1.225 million guarantee was originally only $1 million, but the company increased that twice during the series. That success may be a sign of things to come in the state.
The largest first-place prize came in the $300 buy-in Main Event, which saw the $100,000 guarantee swell to $179,200. “Gyea08” turned a free entry into a $31,335 payday after topping a field of 639 entries.
Additionally, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reported the site brought in almost $2 million in rake for November. That includes $314,479 in taxes for state coffers.
“Our first month in Pennsylvania has really exceeded our expectations and it’s amazing to see so many players join the felt,” a PokerStars spokesman told USPoker. “One of the key things we have been taking on board is player feedback and we have tweaked bits and pieces to give players the games, stakes, and formats they enjoy most. PACOOP was no exception to this.
“We hope we can build on this very positive start and continue to bring poker lovers plenty more in the future.”
PokerStars and Unibet’s entrance into the market also helped account for a 55% jump in month over month November online gaming revenue.
Will PokerStars Live now make its way back to the US?
With so much success online in PA, there may be some signs PokerStars is considering a live tournament return to the US. The company released its PokerStars Live schedule recently without any US dates.
That doesn’t mean an American series couldn’t be added however. With a growing market in PA, could a live event be in the works for the Keystone State or even New Jersey?
“As we learn more about the needs and wants of our players in PA, it helps us in our thinking around how we can give them the best live experience,” the company spokesman noted. “We are working what that may look like at the moment so stay tuned for more in 2020.”
A few Platinum Passes for the PokerStars Players Championship next August in Barcelona have already been awarded in the US. The company confirmed it’s already working on more dates for American Moneymaker Tour stops in 2020.
Negreanu: GGPoker looking to move to US market
As USPoker reported in November, Daniel Negreanu has now become an ambassador for GGPoker. The former face of PokerStars told USPoker recently that he’s become the defacto marketing arm of his new sponsor.
He also believes the company has created some great software and his role will be to get the word out.
“Here’s the deal, they’re a bunch of software geeks who just created the best software by far,” he said. “Marketing and doing all that stuff, that’s not their forte. So I’m coming along to help with that. And then we’re going to start to put people in place who’ve been there, done that, and really know what they’re doing.
“From a gameplay perspective and from the systems angle, they’re on the ball. And marketing is something that they’re just handing over to us.”
As Negreanu noted in November, that may include playing on the site in Asia and other markets.
The company is also working to move into new markets and that may include legal jurisdictions in the US. Because GG has a limited number of executives, Negreanu believes movement could be made more quickly.
“They’re already working on it,” Negreanu said. “And they’ll have a good shot at the licensing because it’s just one guy and that makes it a little easier.”