Last year, the ambitious PokerStars Festival New Jersey was plagued by low turnouts throughout the 10-day series, spoiling what was an otherwise great return to the US market for PokerStars live events.
This year the company scaled back its Atlantic City live event to a two-event MEGASTACK event, called, The PokerStars Sunday Special Live.
In addition to paring down the schedule, reducing the buy-ins to a more “locals-friendly” price-point, and slapping a hefty guarantee on the two tournaments, the same problem that plagued the PokerStars Festival in 2016 reared its head during the MEGASTACK events: Low attendance.
As US Poker reported earlier this week, the two events boasted a combined $125,000 in guaranteed prize-money, and PokerStars was left holding the bag for $31,000 of it. The overlay equated to 25 percent of the prize-pool:
“The $220 Sunday Special Live event drew just 409 entries over four starting flights Oct. 6 and 7. With the fees removed, that left PokerStars $18,200 short of meeting the event’s $100,000 guarantee.
“The $120 Cheap and Deep event on Oct. 8 had a $25,000 guarantee, but the 119 entries it drew forced PokerStars to fork over more than half of that. No matter what kind of spin you put on it, a $13,100 overlay in a $25,000 guaranteed event is a big one.”
Is this a poker or a PokerStars problem in AC?
PokerStars attendance woes don’t extend to other Atlantic City tournament series.
The Borgata has no problem drawing huge fields for the Borgata Poker Open series it hosts multiple times a year, and Harrah’s AC has become a staple stop for the World Series of Poker Circuit Series.
Suffice it to say, the Atlantic City poker market is still strong.
Therefore, this seems to be a PokerStars problem, and there are several factors that are likely contributing to the company’s struggles in the market.
The PokerStars brand
Despite its history and continued global presence, the PokerStars brand had to be reintroduced to the US market. When it launched in New Jersey it had been roughly five years since PokerStars dealt a hand of real-money online poker in the US, or hosted a live poker tournament.
For a lot of people, PokerStars is a new online poker site and a new tournament option in the US.
Furthermore, the seasoned players that remember the PokerStars brand have a lot of overlap with the players angry with the PokerStars brand and some of the company’s recent moves.
These two factors are a double whammy for PokerStars branded tournaments in the US market.
October is off-season in Atlantic City
The timing of the event is also problematic.
October is off-season in Atlantic City, which means the city is a lot quieter than it would be in say June or July.
Couple that with the lack of direct flights to and from the city, and it’s apparent that an October tournament in Atlantic City relies heavily on locals coming out to play. Locals that likely play their poker at Borgata, Harrah’s, SugarHouse, or Parx.
Lack of a live poker room at Resorts
PokerStars is partnered with Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, which is one of two casinos in the city without a poker room.
The lack of a live poker room presents numerous problems:
- A live poker room can run satellites to the tournament series in the weeks and months leading up to it. These satellites could provide dozens or even hundreds of entries.
- A live poker room often has a built-in player base to market the upcoming series to.
- It makes the venue less appealing to poker players, as they’d have to go elsewhere to play cash games post-tournament.
- Any comps they might earn from playing in the tournament won’t be combined with future or existing points they’ve earned playing cash games.
PokerStars NJ’s small player base
PokerStars NJ is the largest online poker room in the state, but with average cash game traffic under 100 players, it’s not exactly a hopping online poker site.
Unlike the World Poker Tour or WSOPC events, online satellites are critical to the success of PokerStars live tournaments. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough online poker players in New Jersey to make it work.
PokerStars live events struggle in Atlantic City due to a convergence of factors, none of which will be easily resolved.
The product is good, now its just a matter of making it appealing to the market.