Analysts have long speculated about the coexistence of online poker and live casino poker rooms in Nevada.
The recent World Series of Poker at the Rio showed the marriage might last.
In June, Nevada’s three online poker websites — WSOP.com, Ultimate Poker and Real Gaming — collected a combined $1.037 million in gaming revenue. It was the first time the state’s online poker community cracked the $1 million mark since gaming regulators began publicly releasing totals.
Caesars Interactive Entertainment — which owns both the World Series of Poker and WSOP.com — said website traffic increased upward of 40 percent in June, when the majority of the tournament’s 65 bracelet events took place in the Rio’s massive convention center/poker room.
Special promotions also drove players to WSOP.com.
“We became the No. 1 (Internet) poker offering in the country, outdoing the online sites in New Jersey as well,” Caesars Interactive spokesman Seth Palansky said,
The World Series of Poker broke two records during its 2014 run. The tournament drew 82,360 entries and paid out more than $227 million.
Some of the entries came through WSOP.com.
The tournament offered seats in live events to players who competed in online tournaments. For the Main Event — the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Championship — WSOP.com gave away 25 seats, a $250,000 value.
Poker players were able to deposit money at the Rio for both World Series of Poker and WSOP.com events.
Caesars Interactive offered laptop computers in the tournament area for players to compete in the online poker site’s various events.
The tournament also attracted players from 110 countries, many of which have legal and regulated online gaming.
“It was a successful summer all around,” Palansky said. “There were a lot of lessons learned on making this work.”
Before June, Nevada’s poker websites averaged $921,800 per month in revenue.
Ultimate Poker was the state’s first online gaming site, launching in April 2013. WSOP.com followed in September and Real Gaming went live in February. Wagering is restricted to computers and mobile devices in Nevada.
Ultimate Poker, which is majority-owned by Station Casinos, and WSOP.com have been the most active on the promotional front.
This year’s World Series of Poker was the first time the event was run in conjunction to its Internet version.
“I expect Caesars Interactive likely learned quite a bit during this past month in terms of how to effectively cross-market, drive new player traffic, online-offline tournaments, etc.,” Eilers Research gaming analyst Adam Krejcik said. “We expect the incremental impact to be even bigger next year.”
Krejcik said World Series of Poker and WSOP.com are a good example of land-based casinos and the online world complimenting each other and working in harmony. The key is for Caesars Interactive to still drive play from Nevada customers without the World Series of Poker.
Analysts also want to see if Nevada benefits from a shared-players agreement with Delaware that may launch this year.
There is also the faint hope that New Jersey, the only other state that offers online gaming, would join the multistate agreement.
Wells Fargo Securities gaming analyst Cameron McKnight said interstate agreements have “a host of complexities” to overcome, including payment processing, tax sharing and regulatory issues.
Internet gaming hasn’t been the windfall many expected.
In its first fiscal year, Delaware’s online gaming business brought in $1.2 million in revenue, according to state authorities, far below the $5 million target.
Through June, New Jersey’s six online casinos have produced $63 million in revenue. Most analysts predicted double that.
“Overall we would characterize New Jersey’s Internet gaming results as disappointing,” Krejcik said.
The other problem is that the poor results from New Jersey may influence other states considering legalizing forms of Internet gaming.
“It may have partially dissuaded its neighbor Pennsylvania from moving more hastily,” Krejcik said. “Most third-party Internet gaming forecasts for Pennsylvania and California remain absurdly high given the data we have seen from New Jersey.”
Caesars Interactive operates a WSOP.com site in New Jersey, along with five other sites on the same platform. The sites accounted for 29 percent of New Jersey’s total market in the first half of the year.
Ultimate Gaming, with just 6 percent of the market, operates the site for Trump Taj Mahal.
London-based H2 Gambling Capital, a research firm focused on Internet gaming, still says New Jersey can produce $370 million per year in online gaming revenue as long as initial headwinds are overcome.
Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow on Twitter: @howardstutz.