As the fallout from Poker Black Friday continues, it’s been interesting to observe how this has impacted the online poker industry, both on poker sites that were targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the sites that (for now) are free from prosecution. The first and most obvious effect is a leveled out poker world since the indictments, a world where even the smallest pokers sites have gained a leg up on the competition; at least until they too have to process cashouts in front of the watchful eye of the DOJ.
One of the quickest ways we can see just how much the poker landscape his changed since Poker Black Friday is by taking a look at the guarantees and prize pools from what is now referred to as “Grey Sunday” on PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. The Sunday Million on PS had been running with a $1.5 million dollar guarantee for some time now, and on Sunday, the guarantee had been dropped to just $1 million. With a massive amount of bargain based satellites and intense marketing for the revamped Million, they were able to make the guarantee, but with one catch; the prize pool only managed to reach $1,295,000, which fell well short of their original guarantee, and also signaled a 22% decrease in traffic for the biggest of the major online poker tournaments. The Sunday Second Chance experienced a decrease of 48%; barely clearing the guarantee of $125,000 by just $24,800 and far away from clearing the original guarantee of $250,000. So, PokerStars was harmed pretty badly by the absence of American players; what about Full Tilt?
Full Tilt Poker Impact
Full Tilt Poker showed varied signs of decrease, although the FTOPS series may have helped save their major Sunday tournament. The FTOPS #1, which had its guarantee decrease to $1 million, with 6,953 entrants, had a hefty 28% reduction from the last FTOPS #1. More unsettling signs of decline were found in other FTP events like the Sunday Mulligan. Last week, that tournament cleared 1,000 players. This week? It barely cleared 325, settling at 340 entrants, a whopping 66% decrease from the week before and a sure sign that a decline is coming in the next few weeks with no promises for massive guarantees in the future.
So we know now that the tournament action of the sites have been hurting, but what about overall traffic? Full Tilt had more of a cash game following on their site, so seeing overall traffic numbers is a more telling stat for just how badly they’ve been impacted by the DOJ action. Looking at Poker Scout, we can see that PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker both had a very sharp drop in their average player traffic on cash games. It looks as if Full Tilt has lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-22% of their cash game traffic on site, while PokerStars has lost somewhere between 12-15%. It seems to indicate that PokerStars has a greater international cash player base, whereas FTP struggles with losing a bigger US Player base.
The U.S. Market – What’s Left
Looking at the stats from other sites either still open to the U.S. after being indicted by the DOJ or sites that avoided it, traffic doesn’t look to be promising. Only three networks; Cereus, Merge, and Cake, were able to show 1,000 players in their cash game traffic. Many of these sites, including Doyle’s Room and Sportsbook, still accept U.S. players, but the methods for making deposits into your account are a little more complicated than what the average player is used to.
The Non-US Market
For non-US players, the DOJ has really leveled the playing field as far as options available. Poker rooms like Party Poker and Titan Poker have found small spikes in their traffic since the indictments, and many of the smaller sites in the international realm, like Sky Poker, are already snatching up former PS/FTP pros in an attempt to gain validity and lure the non-US base of PokerStars and Full Tilt. The non-US rooms don’t have indictments hanging over their heads and are a more attractive and safe option to some non-US players.
Expect outlets like Bwin and Zynga to capitalize on what’s left of the American poker market by getting themselves aligned properly with the U.S. government and marketing to U.S. Players to the position themselves for a post-regulation poker boom. Zynga already boasts traffic well over a quarter of a million players of their free money accounts; even getting just 10% of that traffic to switch over to real money play would make them a leading force in the online poker industry as their customer base is built is established with their play money site.
Traffic across the board has no choice but to plummet, between 20-40%, depending on how localized the presence is for any remaining site. Savvy and swift poker room managers will find ways to keep their traffic stable in the wake of the DOJ indictments, and some American rooms will thrive, be they old standbys or new rooms altogether. One thing is for sure, though; until U.S. regulation comes to online poker in the United States, traffic will never fully recover to the golden days of 2005-2011.