A couple of weeks ago, I was the moderator for a panel at the SBC Digital Summit. The topic was ”Poker to the Rescue?” referring to whether online poker revenue can replace sports betting revenue now that there are no major sports events to bet on.
Because of the pandemic and the lockdowns, people are spending a lot more time at home, and there is a much bigger demand for different forms of home entertainment. Who has not watched Tiger King on Netflix by now, for example? Video games and online bridge sites attract new customers and experience a lot more traffic.
In the online gambling industry, different products have been affected very differently. With all major sports leagues paused and significant sports events cancelled or postponed, sports betting has taken a big hit. In some countries and areas, horse racing has helped fill the void. In others, racetracks have shut down too.
They say that all roads lead to the casino, and online casinos have certainly seen a significant increase in revenue over the past couple of months.
And online poker is suddenly so popular again that it feels like a second poker boom, fifteen years after the first one. PokerStars 14th Anniversary Sunday Million in March attracted 93,016 players and generated a prize pool of $18,603,200, 51% more than the anniversary tournament a year earlier. It was early in the lockdown period. Had it been at the end of April, I am sure it could have been even more substantial. A couple of months ago, Global Poker, a US-facing online poker room, often had an overlay in its weekly $50k flagship tournament. At the end of April, Global Poker ran a $500k guaranteed tournament that generated a prize pool of $643k. That is more than a 1,000% increase.
Live poker tournaments have become more and more popular in the last decade, with WSOP and BSOP setting new records every year for total prize pools and the number of participants. The biggest WSOP Main Event ever is still the 2006 event, which was in the middle of the (first) poker boom when a large percentage of the players had qualified on different online poker sites. But last year’s WSOP Main Event had 8,569 players, making it the second biggest Main Event ever, this time with a minimal number of online qualifiers.
The demand for online poker is not only significant from players but also from sportsbook operators who had decided not to offer online poker. They are now approaching the poker networks, which will have a hard time integrating new operators quickly enough. That is quite a change from six months ago when Microgaming announced that they would close their poker network, one of the oldest poker networks, in May 2020.
What will happen when the lockdown period is over, and sports betting is back? First, I am sure sports betting will quickly come back. Even with Euro 2020 and the Olympics postponed, the sports leagues will fill the gap this summer. Unfortunately, I think live poker will suffer for a long time. It will be difficult, and maybe more expensive, to travel, and therefore many live poker tournament players will move online, at least for the next year or so. I am also sure many of the new and returning online poker players will keep playing. After all, poker is a great game.
Jonas Ödman is a poker consultant and the mastermind behind anonymous poker. You can contact Jonas via LinkedIn.