And now, just a week into 2020, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what US online poker will look like in the near future.
There were two big announcements to start the week, both of which indicate that online poker operators are beginning to position their pieces on the proverbial chessboard.
Leading the way was the Monday morning news that PokerStars entered into a partnership with a Michigan tribe to bring online poker and gambling to the Wolverine State.
That news was preceded by overt hints of an impending launch for the partypoker US Network. The speculation began after a screenshot of an email from betMGM was posted by poker social media guru Kevin Mathers, partypoker is targeting Q1 for an online poker launch in Nevada.
— Kevin Mathers (@Kevmath) January 5, 2020
These developments have excited the US online poker community.
Partypoker Coming to Nevada
Based on the screenshot posted by Mathers, it looks like WSOP.com’s Nevada online poker monopoly will soon come to an end.
Partypoker is also planning to launch in Pennsylvania, but Nevada is the only state that makes sense for a March 2020 US Network.
Pennsylvania hasn’t entered into an interstate agreement with New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, and the state’s regulators have taken an extremely conservative approach to anything that can even be remotely construed as “interstate” in the wake of the 2018 Department of Justice Wire Act opinion. As such, no one expects Pennsylvania to link up with other states anytime soon, let alone by March.
On the other hand, since Nevada is already compacted for interstate online poker, partypoker could link its New Jersey sites with a yet-to-launch Nevada site following testing and approval. And the company has already got the ball rolling on that front.
GVC, the parent company of partypoker, applied for and received a Nevada online poker license back in May 2019. The company may have held back a Nevada launch until it was sure another state would join the list of legal online poker states (thanks, Michigan!).
With Michigan and Pennsylvania, the opportunity to form a large US network, comprising four states and some 25 million residents is perhaps just 12-24 months away for partypoker.
PokerStars Announces its Michigan Partner
PokerStars was very active in Michigan when the state was discussing and ultimately passed an online gaming package. Representatives from The Stars Group appeared at multiple legislative hearings during the process to provide expert testimony, with the company seen as one of the driving forces behind the legislation.
What was unknown was who the online gaming giant had settled on as a partner. That answer came on Monday morning.
In its press release, TSG announced an agreement with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians Gaming Authority to offer online sports betting, casino, and poker in Michigan.
The agreement provides TSG with “first skin” access via the tribe’s online gambling licenses, meaning FOX Bet and PokerStars will be the flagship brands powering the Odawa’s online gambling sites.
“We are excited to announce this agreement with the Odawa tribe, which further strengthens our market access as we work to continue to build our FOX Bet business into one of the leaders in the emerging U.S. online betting and gaming market,” said Robin Chhabra, Chief Executive Officer, FOX Bet.
The tribe operates two of Michigan’s more than two dozen tribal casinos, Odawa Mackinaw City Casino and Odawa Petoskey Casino.
Where Does That Leave 888 and WSOP.com?
At the moment, the only online poker operator in the US capable of offering interstate online poker is 888, which includes Caesars Entertainment’s WSOP.com.
The reason? 888 possessed monopolies in two of the three online poker states, Nevada and Delaware.
Neither Nevada or Delaware boasts a large population, around 3 million and 1 million respectively, but that represents nearly a third of the total interstate population before Pennsylvania’s online poker launch.
What that means is the other New Jersey operators are pulling from a market of 9 million people while 888 had access to another 4 million people, including the hotbed of poker players that is Nevada.
As more states come online and link up with the existing states, 888’s advantage will be eroded.
The impact of access to Nevada’s player pool is negligible if you have a network that also includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan (more than 30 million people).
And as partypoker is demonstrating, with other states in play, Nevada might be a state that is suddenly worth fighting for, rather than simply conceded to 888.