How Has WSOP Nevada Fared Since Ultimate Poker Left The Industry?

January 8, 2016
How Has WSOP Nevada Fared Since Ultimate Poker Left The Industry?

It’s been just over one year since Ultimate Poker shuttered its Nevada online poker room, effectively granting a virtual monopoly in the state.

Some operators in such an enviable position would be content to rest on their laurels and let the action come to them, but WSOP NV opted for a more aggressive approach, leveraging its recognizable brand and financial resources to reach new customers.

Occasional misstep aside, the operator’s strategy proved effective, and today, WSOP NV boasts more players per capita than almost any other ring-fenced operator.

Here’s a look back.

When there were two Nevada online poker sites

As difficult as it may seem to believe now, there was a time when WSOP NV only held a slim market share lead over Ultimate. In fact, throughout most of 2014 (the live Series aside), WSOP NV rarely controlled more than 60% of cash game traffic.

The site’s liquidity was hit particularly hard in the aftermath of the 2014 World Series of Poker. According to Poker Industry Pro via PokerScout, by mid-September 2014 WSOP’s market share lead had dwindled all the way down to just over 55%. The fight for online poker supremacy was officially a two horse race.

Ultimate’s outlook  in New Jersey was bleaker, as the site struggled mightily amid much fiercer competition. In September 2014, the inevitable came to fruition: Ultimate threw in the towel.

Slightly more surprising was Ultimate’s November 2014 announcement that it was also leaving Nevada. Still, given the slow pace of regulation in the US and the underperformance of the already minuscule Nevada market, Ultimate’s departure from iGaming hardly came off as a complete shock.

At the time of Ultimate’s shutdown, the site boasted a daily average of approximately 50 cash players. Unsurprisingly, WSOP NV lobbied hard to the UP player base, and within a month had captured virtually all of the traffic UP ceded when it left. That in and of itself was a remarkable achievement, as most industry experts (myself included) expected some leakage, and a least a temporary shrinkage of the Nevada market.

Delaware merger for online poker

Liquidity on WSOP NV stagnated throughout much of late 2014 into 2015, as Nevada did not enjoy the same seasonal uptick as most of the industry — presumably due to the warm winter weather.

Then in March, headlines broke as Nevada and Delaware officially pooled players across state lines. As expected, the merger produced a small yet notable liquidity surge, although it’s assumed that most of the new traffic came from Delaware, as the First State had significantly more to gain from a merge with Nevada than the other way around (Delaware was averaging roughly 10 cash game players at the time of the liquidity sharing agreement).

By mid-May, traffic on the new Nevada-Delaware network was approximately 15% higher than it was prior to the merge.

Then the 2015 World Series of Poker happened.

WSOP marks a new high

With no real competition to worry about, and having learned valuable lessons from the year before, WSOP NV was in an enviable position heading into the 2015 WSOP.

Ten days into the Series, traffic on the online site soared to its highest point in history, having climbed 20% from May 26 to June 5. Liquidity took a moderate tumble in late June, as players who had little aspiration to play the bigger live events packed their bags, only to surge once again in early July when a new flock of players gravitated to the Rio to participate in the Main Event.

On July 4 weekend WSOP NV, and possibly the entire US regulated industry, celebrated its finest hour. That Thursday, the first ever Online Bracelet event attracted 905 players in creating an $859,750 prize pool — by far the largest in the nascent industry’s history.

This was followed by the 25 Seat Scramble WSOP Main Event mega-satellite on July 5 — a tournament that shattered its ambitious guaranteed prize pool and bested then-unprecedented turnout figures for the same event a year earlier.

The Scramble and Online Bracelet events combined to produce a spillover effect on to the cash game tables, and by July 6, 7-day average cash game tables reached another all-time high (227).

A different kind of record was set back in June, when according to WSOP Head of Online Poker Bill Rini, WSOP NV generated more revenue than the entire Nevada market combined did in June 2014.

In the aftermath of the WSOP

As expected, liquidity dipped rather drastically in the weeks and months following the Main Event. Three months after traffic reached its annual high water mark, volume was down 25%.

Still that’s a far cry from the 40% liquidity stumbled in the aftermath of the 2014 Series. The diminished traffic can likely be attributed to a combination of increased brand awareness, stronger promotional offerings and the growing popularity of Twitch poker streamers, several of whom — Dutch Boyd and Dan O’Brien to name a few — stream WSOP NV tournaments and cash games exclusively.

2015 a growth year for WSOP NV

After rebounding beginning in late September into October, cash game liquidity has been relatively stable, with daily averages hovering between 160 to 185 players. In the past year, liquidity has climbed 24% — another remarkable achievement in light of the general industry downtrend.

At present, WSOP NV boasts just over 65 average cash game players per 1 million population. By comparison, the entirety of the New Jersey market — which consists of two online poker networks and four sites — features only 39 players per million. The figures in other ring-fenced regions such as Italy are even lower (37 per million).

Granted, Nevada possesses a key advantage over other ring-fenced regions in that the state is a popular tourist destination, especially among gamblers. However, there’s little denying that WSOP NV must be doing something right in order to support a higher frequency of players than entire industries do in more population-rich regions.

Should WSOP upgrade its platform, tweak its tournament payout and blind structures and improve further upon its already robust promotional schedule in 2016, another annual increase of 25% doesn’t entirely feel out of the question.

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