Ever since New Jersey launched its ring-fenced online gambling industry in November of 2013, the viability of the internet poker market has been questionable. After nearly two years, it’s become clear that the two operating networks are saturated with players. Now that 888 Holdings is set to complete an acquisition of bwin.party, the big question is…
What will 888 do with its Newfound Dominance in the Garden State?
888 already owns a monopoly on Delaware’s internet gaming sector, supplying the software for all three licensed operators and networking the online poker platforms into a single shared player base. In Nevada, 888 powers the only internet poker site worth mentioning, Caesars Interactive’s WSOP.com. But up until now, 888 has found itself playing second fiddle in New Jersey.
The Garden State’s #1 online poker network is Party/ Borgata; a combination of Party Poker and Borgata Poker, which share their players on a bwin.party powered platform. 888 is the software supplier of the state’s similarly networked 888Poker and WSOP NJ sites. While there are several other online casino operators doing business in New Jersey, these are the only four poker sites on the regulated menu.
Since last week, when the announcement was made that 888 completed negotiations to purchase bwin.party for $1.4 billion, the future of online poker in New Jersey has been up in the air. Once 888 takes over bwin.party, it will own all four of the Garden State’s internet poker operations. But how will the company handle the transition?
Continue Segregation or Omni-Network?
888 has a lot of options here. They could close down PartyPoker and/or Borgata, which wouldn’t make much sense. They could merge the traffic from PartyPoker and Borgata onto 888Poker and WSOP NJ’s existing network. Or they could choose to merge one site onto 888 and either close or maintain separation with the other.
An omni-merger onto a single network would make the most sense. Not only would it allow 888 to control the entire New Jersey population of online poker players through a single network, it would give the brand a much stronger leg up if and when PokerStars enters the equation.
It’s also possible for 888 to spend gross amounts of money merging the 888 and bwin.party platforms into one, but with many New Jersey online poker players already heralding Party as the inferior platform, the likelihood is negligible.
The position of The Borgata must also be taken into account. If the casino does not wish to be merged onto another network/software platform, it could force 888 into making a decision; either maintain BorgataPoker on the original bwin.party platform, or sever ties with the Atlantic City casino. Then again, cutting the apron strings would give Borgata the option of partnering with a potential future rival like PokerStars; an idea that could be tickling the hackles of Borgata heads already.
There is one other far-fetched possibility that 888 Holdings could be entertaining, and that’s the option of selling its entire US-based franchise to another party. It’s no secret that 888 has been disappointed with the performance of the US online poker market to date, not to mention the prevaricated regulation in other states.
888’s tri-state operation could be worth a pretty penny to the right buyer, but finding such a buyer could be easier said than done. Likewise, giving up on such a fortified stronghold in the US, especially when the international market is raking in plenty of profits for 888 to finance its American endeavors, doesn’t sound like good business sense to me.