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PokerStars Prize Pools Up About 25% Since Pooling Michigan With New Jersey

Competitor BetMGM Poker, meanwhile, hints at combining with other states in 2024




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From the moment PokerStars launched the first regulated online poker site in Michigan on Jan. 29, 2021, its tables and tournaments were restricted for nearly two years to players located within the state competing against other players located within the state.

Those limitations were lifted at the start of 2023. Thanks to Michigan entering the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), PokerStars was able to begin combining its customers there with rounders in New Jersey, where PokerStars debuted as a regulated site in 2016.

The impact was immediately obvious in New Jersey, where PokerStars’ share of the state’s online poker revenue leapt in the first month of 2023 from 27.1% to 40.3%.

A recent report by Pokerfuse indicates a similar bump in Michigan — both for ‘Stars and for the state’s online poker action as a whole. The cash game traffic, based on a 90-day moving average, increased statewide from 262 seats to 311 year-over-year (up 18.7%), and PokerStars’ traffic improved from 128 seats to 187 (up 46.1%), according to Pokerfuse.

PokerStars is also seeing quantifiable gains in multi-table tournament field sizes since interstate player pooling began, as PokerStars VP for North America Steve Preiss explained to MI Bets this week.

“Tournament prize pools are tracking up about 25% so far for 2023,” said Preiss, who before coming to PokerStars was a longtime member of the poker media and served as head of poker operations for international operator GGPoker. “This isn’t that surprising. More players equal larger fields and prize pools. This is one definable area where the players are benefiting.”

‘We could use another state or two in the pool’

Preiss also confirmed that “all in all, we’ve seen cash game growth,” but he seems more focused on the potential of what lies ahead than on the upticks he’s observed in 2023.

“We’re very excited to see how this grows in the coming three to five years, hopefully building to more U.S.-only events that mirror the huge success we are seeing for PokerStars players in Europe,” Preiss said of tournaments specifically. “How great would that be for the market and players?

“Across the board, everyone had high expectations for the benefit of shared liquidity,” he continued. “It’s safe to say that in some areas, shared liquidity has met expectations. In some, we could use another state or two in the pool to hit the more ambitious expectations some analysts had.”

Enter West Virginia — not the most sizable of states (population: 1.76 million), but one that is moving in the right direction online-poker-wise, having recently entered the MSIGA.

Pennsylvania’s size would make it much more attractive to PokerStars and other operators, but as that state’s government has yet to act on the matter, ‘Stars will seek the growth opportunities that present themselves.

“Any state that opens up and wants to participate in shared liquidity will be of interest not just to us, but to all online poker operators,” Preiss said when asked about West Virginia joining the pool. “We’re evaluating the opportunity for 2024.”

BetMGM next?

Michigan online poker players have two other options in addition to PokerStars: and BetMGM Poker. Neither one, however, has opened up interstate liquidity involving Michigan yet.

For BetMGM, which runs ring-fenced poker games in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in addition to Michigan, there are strong indications that player pooling will begin in the new year.

“BetMGM understands our players’ appetite for merged and expanded player pools,”  BetMGM Director of Poker Luke Staudenmaier said in a statement to MI Bets. “We always continue to work on improving our product and in 2024 we expect to demonstrate the true potential of BetMGM Poker from an online and omnichannel experience.”

Staudenmaier didn’t come out and declare interstate pooling is coming in 2024, but you don’t have to strain your eyes to read that likelihood into his statement — especially when combining his statement with BetMGM issuing a business update Monday, where the 11th page of a 22-page slide presentation contains the words “poker shared liquidity launch imminent.”

While the online poker sector waits to see when BetMGM will advance and what WSOP (which already pools between Nevada and New Jersey) will do, PokerStars is encouraged, but far from satisfied, by the response in Year 1 of Michigan-New Jersey pooling.

“Shared liquidity,” Preiss said, “has been able to deliver on the expectations externally communicated to players — ‘More Games, Bigger Prize Pools.’ We’ve been able to leverage that particularly well in our tournaments, both the main schedule and in series. Additionally, in tracking cash game traffic across liquidities there is a clear advantage in the increased scale we now have in running more games across more stakes despite what seems to be overall shrinkage in the U.S. regulated online poker space.

“Shared liquidity has clearly enhanced our offering and attractiveness of the proposition we can provide across Michigan and New Jersey, but we are still working toward further market growth.”

Photo: Jesse Warren/Getty Images