A lot of people have been speculating about how the New Jersey market would have been shaped if PokerStars would have received a license to operate in the state. Most of the speculation begins with the assumption that PokerStars would have been the market leader.
I’m not so sure I agree with that as a starting premise. Not that I totally discount it either. It’s certainly one of several different likely outcomes.
However, it’s the fact that so many people are so quick to dismiss the other potential outcomes that makes me take a step back and question whether that’s a wise approach.
First off, I think many in the poker media and more than a few players don’t take into consideration that PokerStars would have had to operate under the same laws and regulations as all of its competitors in New Jersey.
PokerStars would have the same geolocation issues and deposit issues as everyone else. All the operators in New Jersey have to use DGE approved geolocation providers. And banks that are currently declining deposits coded as gaming transactions would still decline properly coded PokerStars deposits as well.
Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to log into PokerStars NJ and see 10,000 people online and a $1 million guaranteed Sunday tournament because they wouldn’t be able to pool their worldwide player base with New Jersey.
So when people discuss how PokerStars would have fared in NJ, are they perhaps thinking of a different PokerStars than the one that would have existed in a licensed and regulated NJ environment?
Granted, PokerStars has built a world-class brand and their customer service is top-notch. Their software and backend are better than average but they’re not revolutionary. And they’ve been around a long time and have certainly acquired a lot of know-how.
But, pre-Black Friday, outside of it’s most elite tiers, most players would have received a better deal playing on Full Tilt or several other competitors that had more lucrative rakeback/loyalty programs.
Nor has PokerStars ever really been known for being overly generous with reload bonuses or throwing around cash. In fact, I think one could argue that PokerStars isn’t even casual player friendly.
If you turn back the clock to 2004, 2005, or 2006, PokerStars had established itself mostly as a tournament site. It was half the size of Party Poker on a good day but wasn’t really posing any sort of real threat. When Party exited the US market in 2006, PokerStars became the largest benefactor of all of these US players looking for a new home. And when many of the European and ROW (rest of world) players saw all of this liquidity forming around Stars they followed the fish.
Before this big market shake-up, ROW, especially Europe, had pockets of sites that had decent liquidity and catered to specific markets. PokerStars did okay but in many (if not most) markets outside of the US, Stars was usually trailing local brands or sites like Party.
Stars then used all of that cash they were generating, thanks to Party’s exit from the US, to overwhelm existing European and ROW markets. Poker sites that had been doing quite well for several years suddenly were faced with a competitor who was flooding the market with cash.
My point for the little trip down memory lane is that PokerStars’ current success isn’t based on having won over the market with their software, customer service, or tournament offerings. If they had pulled out of the US with Party back in 2006, my guess is they would currently be a par with sites like 888 in terms of size and reputation.
So the question becomes, without all of the advantages they acquired from Party’s exit from the US market, being forced to compete on completely equal footing, and facing equally deep-pocketed competition, is PokerStars really the slam dunk everyone thinks it is?