There’s a worry whenever an online poker site launches, particularly in a singular jurisdiction with a limited player pool, that the lobby will be populated by tumbleweeds.
That was never likely to be the case with PokerStars in Pennsylvania, given the combination of the ’Stars name built across nearly two decades and the hunger in PA for online poker after more than eight years without it.
Still, bumper-to-bumper traffic was no guarantee. After all, online poker interest in neighboring New Jersey has been flat, at best, the last few years.
So it’s been somewhere between thrilling and relieving for the industry that, from the moment the first cards were dealt on Nov. 4, Pennsylvania poker players have shown up.
“We’ve been really pleased at the levels of participation in all our game formats since launch,” Matt Primeaux, president of FOX Bet (PokerStars’ sports betting partner site), told Penn Bets this week. “We’ve had cash games and sit & go’s running around the clock, with good traffic particularly in mid-stakes games.”
Room for Zoom
The numbers support Primeaux’s satisfied comments. Whereas PokerStars in New Jersey is averaging about 80 seated cash-game players at any given time, with a typical weekday peak of about 250, during the third week of action in Pennsylvania the average number of players was 425 and the peak was a shade over 1,000.
Even at 8 a.m. today, at what you’d expect to be a sluggish time, the 249 players at the PA cash tables was right on par with the peak figures in NJ.
At any of the small or medium stakes, there are several no-limit hold’em cash tables in action at any given time, and during prime-time hours, more than a dozen full tables can be found at a given blind level. And when you’re consistently enjoying that sort of liquidity, it means the site can sustain “Zoom” games, in which all of the players at a given stakes level are combined into one player pool and shuffled from table to table the instant they’re out of a hand, enabling them to play without ever having to wait for cards to be dealt.
The Zoom games have proven popular in other states and countries, but they wither if there aren’t enough players are logged on.
Pennsylvania’s version of PokerStars launched without a Zoom product. That appears poised to change.
“It’s absolutely our intention to bring Zoom to Pennsylvania,” Primeaux said. “We are still looking at our overall mix of games based on early player preferences. We fully expect to adjust the poker offering based on what players are telling us with their play. We take being the only legal option for poker players in Pennsylvania seriously, and want to drive the best game experience possible.”
You down with MTTs?
It’s too early to say what else will be added to the Pennsylvania menu. As was the case at launch, the sit & go options remain limited to heads-up “hyper” games and six-handed “turbo” games, strictly in no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha. The Spin & Go variation — a three-handed, winner-take-all sit & go that begins with a slot-machine style spin to determine the prize amount — remains unavailable in the Keystone State, and PokerStars is not providing a timeline on those yet.
That’s due in part to the ’Stars brass dedicating a great deal of its focus to multi-table tournaments.
The Sunday tournaments are generally exceeding guarantees, and Primeaux and his colleagues proudly announced the state’s first major poker series, the Pennsylvania Championship of Online Poker (PACOOP) seven days ago.
“Our primary goal with PACOOP is to bring a diverse tournament series to Pennsylvania,” Primeaux explained. “We’ve added a range of buy-ins which gives players the chance to jump in to a tournament and try a format they might not otherwise have considered. We then wanted to celebrate our arrival with a giant series guarantee of $1 million, which could very well increase if we see positive trends on the early participation rates.”
The main event begins Dec. 16, stretches across two days, costs $300 to enter, and comes with a $100k guarantee. Satellites to the main event, via sit & go’s and MTTs, are currently running.
Other than the Zoom scoop, it sounds like players might have to wait until after PACOOP is over for more major PokerStars additions.
“We’re obviously excited and thinking towards PACOOP right now, so a lot of our focus over the next few weeks will be dedicated to making sure we get that right for our players,” Primeaux said. “In terms of our day-to-day offering, we’ve said from the beginning that we don’t expect Pennsylvania to be a cut-and-paste exercise. Each jurisdiction is different to the next, so the most important thing for us will be to review how players are interacting with our offering, listen to their feedback, and tweak accordingly.
“We have lots in store for PA, maybe even something for Christmas,” Primeaux teased. “Who knows. You’ll just have to wait and see!”