If the U.S. online poker industry was a baseball team, then the recent launch of PokerStars in New Jersey was akin to the manager calling his injured top slugger off the bench to pinch hit in Game 7 of the World Series.
Basically, it wasn’t over, but U.S. online poker needed a bit of momentum.
With no discernible progress since 2013, the U.S. online poker market was in desperate need of an injection of enthusiasm.
Rather than more operators launching, the market has been winnowed to just two active operators across the three states that have legalized online poker: Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. (That number increases to three if we include the largely inconsequential Real Gaming in Nevada.)
But in the words of Yoda, “there is another,” or more accurately, others.
There are several potential operators sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the right conditions to launch a legal online poker site in the United States, and join:
Here is a look at some of the online poker platforms that could be launched in the U.S. down the road, what they bring to the table, and where they might debut their wares.
In September of 2015, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement granted a transactional waiver to PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. At this time, only the PokerStars brand has launched in New Jersey. Whether we will see a Full Tilt branded online poker site in New Jersey is anyone’s guess, but at present, if nothing changes, it seems doubtful.
Furthermore, it’s somewhat unclear what PokerStars’ long-term plans are for Full Tilt.
Amaya (the parent company of Full Tilt and PokerStars) has combined the player pools at Full Tilt and PokerStars in the global market (and consolidated most of the staff at the previously separate sites). That might signal an impending selloff of the redundant product that they first acquired in July of 2012.
The overarching issue with Full Tilt in the U.S. is the company’s post-Black Friday travails, which led to U.S. poker players waiting upwards of five years to receive their Full Tilt balances. The ongoing repayment process, along with Full Tilt’s struggles in the global market following its relaunch by PokerStars, casts serious doubt about the strength of the Full Tilt brand.
On the other hand, should Amaya decide to spin off Full Tilt, and the new owners (smartly) rebrand the software, it could be a solid asset to unleash in the U.S. market. Full Tilt is considered the second-best software in online poker, trailing only PokerStars; in some people’s eyes, it’s the other way around.
Where we could see Full Tilt resurface in the U.S.: Anywhere online poker is legalized.
Pala already possesses real-money online casino and online bingo products in the New Jersey market, and there are longstanding rumors that Pala could soon unveil an online poker product in New Jersey too. Thus far it hasn’t come to fruition.
The rumor with the most legs points to the relationship between Borgata and its current online poker partner, bwin.party, being on shaky footing. If that partnership is dissolved, the most obvious choice to replace PartyPoker would be Pala, whose online casino and bingo sites already operate under Borgata’s license.
That being said, if Pala Poker doesn’t materialize in New Jersey, it will certainly be part of the California market, should that state ever pass a bill legalizing online poker.
Where we could see Pala’s online poker product unveiled: California or New Jersey.
Rumors of a potential online poker product coming out of online gaming giant Gamesys, who happens to be partnered with Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, have been swirling for several years. One rumor had them partnered with the Pechanga Tribe in California, but that rumor has since been quashed.
However, even though nothing has panned out in the U.S., the company launched a jackpot-style Sit & Go game in the UK earlier this year.
With the success of jackpot Sit & Go’s, and the format’s non-reliance on liquidity, it would be surprising if the product didn’t make its way to the low-liquidity New Jersey market in the not-too-distant future. In New Jersey, Gamesys could potentially roll it out as part of its iCasino offerings, or as a singular online poker offering.
The larger question is whether Gamesys plans to go all-in on online poker, and create a full platform with multiple games and formats. That we do not know.
Where we could see Gamesys launch a U.S. online poker site: Most likely New Jersey, or perhaps California.
Churchill Downs Interactive
Churchill Downs had big designs on the U.S. online poker market a few years ago, spending a reported eight figures developing an online poker product back in 2013 and 2014. Unfortunately, with legalization at a standstill, Churchill Downs Interactive appears to be scaling back a bit, as it closed Bluff Media and Magazine last year (CDI acquired Bluff in 2012). It has placed more emphasis on its TwinSpires.com online horse racing site and Big Fish social games.
Still, CDI is likely just biding its time. The company is formally partnered with Oceans 11 and Crystal Casino in California, making it extremely likely that CDI will first plant its online poker flag in the Golden State.
Where we could see Churchill Downs: Most likely in California
NYX is currently teamed up with several successful online casinos in New Jersey (Resorts, Golden Nugget, and Harrah’s). At present, however, NYX doesn’t appear to be interested in launching an online poker site in the United States.
This may seem odd, considering NYX possesses an online poker platform (NYX bought OnGame from Amaya). The truth is that OnGame is simply not up to the current industry standard, particularly if it were to be rolled out in a hyper-competitive and small market like New Jersey or Nevada.
Another option would be for NYX to acquire a better product in lieu of overhauling the OnGame software in an effort to make it a viable option. As noted above, Full Tilt is one possibility, but beyond that the pickings are rather slim.
Where we could see NYX: Unknown
HDPoker was supposed to be a game changer, but the product developed by Siena Casino subsidiary Z4 Poker is only available as a Facebook game at this point. It doesn’t look like it has any intention of launching in Nevada (or anywhere else) in the near future.
HDPoker is a cross-platform poker product that is aesthetically pleasing and pretty functional for a platform that is essentially in a prolonged beta-testing phase. My understanding is that there are a lot of features and functions in HDPoker’s software that no one has seen yet.
A bit more video game-like and graphically intense than online poker players may be accustomed to, HDPoker has a lot of customization options. If it’s ever launched as a real-money online gaming platform, I think it will catch on.
Where we could see HD Poker: Possibly in Nevada