Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

More articles by Dan Podheiser

PokerStars in New Jersey just won't be the same

3 March 2016
By Dan Podheiser

My online poker "career" began long before I made my first deposit onto when I was 18 years old. But that day in late May 2007 – when I used my own debit card, with my own verified information, to make a $100 deposit from my bedroom in New Jersey – was significant. I could now play online poker whenever I wanted.

Less than a week after I made that first deposit, I was deep in an $11 buy-in tournament. When I made the final table, likely around 1 a.m. (on a school night), I had a virtual rail of friends who were cheering me on and talking strategy on AOL Instant Messenger.

I ended up hitting my first "big" score on PokerStars that night, winning roughly $2,300 in a heads-up chop. For a senior in high school just weeks away from graduation, that was a lot of money. Most importantly, it meant I finally had a decent bankroll, and I was going to grind on PokerStars all summer long.

Almost nine years later, PokerStars is getting set to return to New Jersey for the first time since Black Friday, April 15, 2011. That was the last time I, like almost all U.S. poker players, played a hand on PokerStars. On March 21, Garden State residents will get the chance to play on PokerStars again – this time in a legal, regulated environment.

But it won't be the same. It will never be the same.

The New Jersey market

New Jersey's regulated online poker industry launched to the public on Nov. 26, 2013. I spent that entire week in the Garden State for Thanksgiving, and it gave me the chance to test the sites in their first few days of operation.

In the beginning, there were kinks to be worked out, for sure, especially regarding geolocation (the security system that ensures players are, in fact, located within the borders of the state). But by now, New Jersey has a fully functional and efficient online poker marketplace.

The action just isn't that great.

New Jersey online poker sites generated $2.15 million in revenue in January 2016, split almost evenly across the Borgata Online Poker/Party Poker New Jersey ($1.2 million) and - New Jersey/ Poker New Jersey ($950,000) networks. That total revenue figure is a decrease of 6.44% compared to January 2015.

Peak traffic for real-money cash game players on Borgata/Party over the last two weeks averages just 300 players, according to PokerScout. Average peak traffic at the WSOP/888 network over the same period is only a little better, at 465 players. And speaking from first-hand experience, the games – from NL$100 and up – are filled with regular players when they do run. "Bum-hunting" is rampant across heads-up tables, as well.

And while the New Jersey sites continue to run tournaments with guaranteed prize pools (Party/Borgata is guaranteeing a $150,000 prize pool in its $215 Garden State Super Series Main Event on Sunday, March 13), the numbers are not exactly exciting, especially when compared to PokerStars' $10 million Sunday Million 10th Anniversary guarantee, set for the following Sunday.

But don't start getting excited about all the action you're going to be seeing at PokerStars, New Jersey poker players. The company's New Jersey operations will be segregated, just as Party/Borgata's and WSOP/888's are.

The question, then, is: What will PokerStars' impact be in a state with a population of fewer than 9 million people, in a market that has seen its growth stagnate after an initial surge of excitement?

My two cents: PokerStars probably won't grow the New Jersey market by any significant measure, at least in terms of cash game revenue. But the global online poker brand could very well steal a lot of traffic away from its competitors.

There's a good chance that if you're interested in online poker and live in New Jersey, you're already playing on one of the state's regulated sites. And there's an even better chance that you've heard of PokerStars, or likely even remember playing on the site before Black Friday. That brand recognition alone will cause most poker players in New Jersey to at least give PokerStars a shot.

The first few weeks will be crucial. Can PokerStars' customer service team provide excellent support? Will there be enough liquidity across all of PokerStars' games – from its "Spin & Go's" to 5-Card Omaha – to give players confidence that they can always come back and find other players to play the game they want to play? Will the geolocation be flawless?

If PokerStars can execute all of that, in addition to a flood of marketing and promotions, I think they'll have no problem getting to the top of the rankings in New Jersey.

But for players expecting it to be like the good old days – back when an 18-year-old kid could play any game, at any time, against thousands of potential opponents – they will be sorely disappointed. PokerStars won't revolutionize the New Jersey market by any stretch, but they'll certainly alter the landscape.

I know I will fire up PokerStars the next time I'm in New Jersey. And you can expect a full review when I return.

PokerStars in New Jersey just won't be the same is republished from