By all accounts the first weekend of regulated online poker in Michigan was a win.
PokerStars Michigan, which launched Friday a week after online casinos and online sportsbooks hit Wolverine State cyberspace, is currently the only legal poker site in the state. For the company, Michigan follows launches in New Jersey (2016) and Pennsylvania (2019).
Poker players on the popular poker forum TwoPlusTwo reported more than 200 cash game players on Friday night, though it’s unclear what the peak was. On Monday night, the traffic on the site was about 1,550 players, according to another forum poster. It appears the traffic has been steadily growing over the past several days, with another poker player on the forum stating that there were 1,200 early on Sunday.
“At almost 1.6k players now,” another poker player said late Sunday. “That’s 1,000 more than yesterday.”
In an effort to attract new players in the opening weekend, PokerStars ran at least two freerolls with $2,500 in free money, according to another poker player. According to online comments, it appears the cash games and the multi-table tournaments were about equally popular on the opening weekend.
In a presser last week, PokerStars announced a “Michigan Championship of Online Poker” (dubbed MICOOP) series is “coming soon.” Some of the tournaments will offer guaranteed prize pools.
Comparison with Pennsylvania launch
Like in Michigan, PokerStars is the only regulated online poker site in the state of Pennsylvania.
In the Keystone State, PokerStars launched on a Monday, making it a bit challenging to compare the initial traffic. People obviously have more time to play poker on the weekend. The COVID-19 pandemic also is keeping people at home more so than in late 2019 when PokerStars launched in Pennsylvania, so Michigan surely received a boost from that.
With that said, PokerStars’ launch in Michigan came virtually out of the blue, with the Michigan Gaming Control Board putting out a press release just minutes before PokerStars’ scheduled launch. That’s not the ideal rollout if you want to have a huge Day 1. Also, Michigan’s population is smaller.
PokerStars’ peak traffic on Day 1 in Pennsylvania was more than 700 players. There was a bit more buildup for the Pennsylvania launch, but the official announcement in the state was also basically last-minute.
Bottom line: It appears PokerStars’ launch in Michigan is about on par with its Pennsylvania launch.
Despite the fanfare of the first weekend of PokerStars in Michigan, the Pennsylvania site was busier. According to tracking from PokerFuse, at around mid-day on Sunday PokerStars Pennsylvania had about double the traffic as its sister site in the Wolverine State.
It takes time for a poker site to get the message out that it’s live and to get players to sign up.
In New Jersey, where PokerStars is one of three regulated online poker platforms, the traffic was about half of what it was in Michigan.
The three ring-fenced PokerStars markets would be much better off if they could essentially combine into a single player pool across state lines.
That is on the table, as Michigan, like the other two states, has allowed its gaming regulators to enter into multi-state online poker arrangements. Doing so could help grow traffic in a way that goes beyond just adding the traffic numbers together. Larger player pools, especially for the tournaments, which means greater prize pools, can cause traffic to balloon rapidly.
It’s a similar dynamic with the multi-state lotteries like Mega Millions and Powerball. The larger the prize gets, the more people take a stab at playing.
Online poker liquidity sharing among Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey could come sometime later this year, with regulators in all three states providing scant updates from behind the scenes.