Legal online poker sites in the U.S. experienced record player volume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As live casinos shuttered, poker players in New Jersey and Pennsylvania took to the online streets. Sweepstakes poker sites like Global Poker also reached new heights in tournament and cash game attendance.
With live poker rooms starting to re-open across the nation, what does the future look like for online poker in the U.S.?
PokerStars PA Surges
Pennsylvania’s legal online poker market is still in its infancy, with the state’s lone platform, PokerStars PA, launching in November 2019.
As live casinos in the U.S. began closing down due to COVID-19 in mid-March, PokerStars PA numbers began to move up. According to revenue reports from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), March 2020 marked a record month for PokerStars PA, with the site earning more than $3.13 million in revenue.
Casinos across the U.S. were shut down for the entire month of April 2020. That proved to be a boon for PokerStars PA, which brought in more than $5.25 million in revenue in that time.
That figure set the all-time revenue record for any single month in the history of regulated online poker in the U.S. State-regulated online poker went live in the U.S. in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware in 2013.
Does The Next Poker Boom Happen In Pennsylvania?
The record-setting month for PokerStars PA happened in a state that just joined the legal online U.S. market. Poker players in the Keystone State have an appetite for poker, as the state hosts several live poker rooms across more than a dozen retail casinos.
“Obviously the lack of live options during a pandemic has inspired players to scratch their itch online,” said Chad Holloway, Head of US Live Reporting for PokerNews. “As the newest state to launch online poker operations, there was already a marketing push in Pennsylvania when brick and mortar venues shut down, so I think that inspired more people to give playing online a shot.”
PokerStars PA rolled out an enticing tournament lineup for Pennsylvania grinders in April and May.
The Pennsylvania Spring Championship of Online Poker (PASCOOP) ran from April 4 through April 20, with a $2 million guaranteed prize pool across the 96 PASCOOP tournaments. That guarantee was far surpassed, as the combined PASCOOP prize pool ended up at more than $3.1 million.
The May 17 Pennsyl-MANIA tournament set even more records for PokerStars PA. The $200 buy-in event drew 2,774 entries for a $515,964 prize pool, both state records.
Outlook For Online Poker In Pennsylvania
PokerStars PA has plenty more in store for Pennsylvania players, with a $750,000 guaranteed Summer Series beginning June 18.
WSOP and 888Poker appear set to launch a WSOP-branded online poker platform in Pennsylvania as well. A potential WSOP/888 site is already approved for launch by the PGCB, with the date for the debut of that product pending.
Retail casinos in Pennsylvania began re-opening in early June, but the PGCB mandated that live poker rooms in the state must remain closed for now.
Poker pro Landon Tice, who plays both live and online poker, sees the closure of live poker rooms as a boost to the online industry.
“More of the live players are now forced to play online, if they do want to play poker, for sure,” Tice said. “Games have definitely been better for winning online regs because of it.”
Tice contends that even when live poker rooms fully resume operations, the online market will retain some of the live regulars that moved to online play during the pandemic.
“When live comes back, I think the people who play online will still play,” Tice said. “Games might be a bit tougher, but still definitely beatable, for sure.”
New Jersey Online Poker Push
Record numbers hit New Jersey’s state-regulated poker sites as well during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) reported an all-time high in monthly revenue for April 2020. The state’s trio of poker networks (WSOP/888, PokerStars NJ, partypoker NJ) brought in a combined total of nearly $5.15 million in revenue.
That total shattered the previous record of $3.63 million, set just one month earlier in March 2020. May 2020 saw revenues decline from the record-breaking April totals, but still resulted in more than $4.5 million in revenue, the second-biggest month in New Jersey history.
Holloway covered the partypoker US Network Online Series, which ran in May on the partypoker NJ network.
“The turnout has been decent but of course limited to those inside New Jersey’s borders,” Holloway said. “It’s exciting to see the BetMGM Network — BetMGM, partypoker US, and BorgataPoker.com, all come together for these series, which are slated to run throughout the summer. It’s also exciting to think about what it could grow into if and when other states start to offer online poker.”
What Does The Rest Of 2020 Look Like For US Online Poker?
Sweepstakes poker site Global Poker, which operates in virtually every US state, experienced big player traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
The platform’s signature weekly tournament, the Sunday Scrimmage, drew all-time records for Global Poker in April. Cash game traffic across all stakes surged in April and May as well.
Holloway says both live regulars, as well as new players, have flocked to online poker sites during the pandemic.
“I think it’s a combination of both,” Holloway said. “I’ve had my pulse on the poker community as of late, and from what I can garner off social media and various groups, it seems the increased traffic is a mix of new players who were looking for a new social and competitive outlet during their downtime, as well as regular live players looking for a way to scratch their poker itch.”
As live poker rooms resume operations across the US, however, will the recent explosion of online poker in the US hold?
“I don’t think so given the lack of legalized and regulated options in the USA,” Holloway said. “However, I do think it could help accelerate change moving forward as land-based casinos in states across the country are hopefully paying more attention to the online space.”
“While casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware continue to make money online during the shutdown, casinos in other states are left high and dry. I like to imagine they’re regretting not pushing for online gaming earlier, and will be more inclined to do so moving forward.”