Nevada, Delaware Online Poker Player Pools Officially Merged

Yesterday, 888 Holdings plc issued its audited financial results for the fiscal year ending December 31st, 2014. In the summary, the “Recent Developments” section contained this, almost throw-away, line:

Successful deployment of shared poker network across states of Delaware and Nevada in March 2015 creating significant competitive edge for 888 and its operating partners

Really, 888 did that? Well, if by “did,” we are talking about “that very day,” then yes, yes it did.

Last night, the highly anticipated sharing of Nevada’s and Delaware’s online poker player pools finally became a reality. In the works for more than a year, Nevada and Delaware are the first states to allow their residents to be seated at virtual tables alongside people located in the other state. We had believed that players would actually get to cross virtual borders and play on sites located the partner state, but right now, it appears that Delaware players will still have to keep to Delaware sites and Nevada players will still only be allowed to play on Nevada sites. I would guess this would change at some point, but for now everyone will just have to be happy to have combined player pools, no matter what site people actually inhabit.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Delaware Governor Jack Markell Sign the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement Photo: Robert Craig, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Delaware Governor Jack Markell Sign the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement
Photo: Robert Craig, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

This big moment in United States online poker history has been building up since the end February 2014, when Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed the “Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement,”(MSIGA) which permitted exactly what happened today: the merger of state player pools for online gambling.

At the time the deal was signed, Governor Markell said, “We don’t know how the online gaming industry will evolve over time, but it does make sense to think long-term about ways to position our states to take advantage of future growth.”

Nevada was the first state in the U.S. to legalize and regulate online gambling and the now-defunct Ultimate Poker became the first regulated online poker room to launch in the country back in April 2013. State officials envisioned great things. Governor Sandoval said of MSIGA, “This agreement will harness the vast potential and reach those possibilities, leveraging them in ways that will greatly benefit our states’ respective economies while promoting industry growth and preserving consumer confidence in the integrity of the gaming industry.”

This interstate gaming compact was made possible, perhaps ironically, by a bill that aimed to shut down online gambling in the United States, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). While it stopped, or at least slowed, the flow of funds to and from illegal internet gaming sites, it did allow individual states to legalize and regulate online gambling within their own borders. The UIGEA also said that states that did so could enter into interstate gambling compacts, similar to how most states have joined together in multi-state lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions (Nevada is actually one of the few holdouts).

Nevada and Delaware certainly need this. Despite its first-mover advantage, Ultimate Poker is dead, leaving WSOP.com with a virtual monopoly in Nevada (South Point’s RealGaming has but a pair of cash-game players, according to PokerScout.com). That might be great for WSOP.com, but with a seven-day average cash-game player count in the low-to-mid 100’s, it is not worth much celebrating. Nevada needs other states to come onboard. But while Nevada may not be the most populous state (ranking 35th with an estimated 2.8 million residents), Delaware is downright tiny (900,000). PokerScout has its weekly player average at only seven. SEVEN. Thus, adding Nevada is huge. To illustrate the significance of the merger, during the six days leading up to yesterday, the peak player count for all of Delaware never got over 34. On March 24th, it was 313.

Delaware has three online gambling sites, each tied to one of the state’s three racinos (casino / horse racetracks). They all use 888’s software as does, not coincidentally, WSOP.com. 888 plans to launch its All American Poker Network at some point, but for now, the only sites combining player pools are WSOP.com and the three Delaware sites: DelawarePark.com, DoverDowns.com, and HarringtonGamingOnline.com. Last year, 888 announced that it will launch its own branded poker room and one for the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas, both to be put on the All American Poker Network along with WSOP.com. It appears that this is still the intent, it just has not happened yet.

Though the Delaware poker rooms have a wide variety of casino games, only poker will be shared between the two states, mainly because only online poker is legal and regulated in Nevada. It may also become law at some point, as AB 414 was recently introduced in Nevada that would make any interstate gaming compacts the state enters into poker-only.

Almost all poker tables can be shared between the two states. Right now, the only ones that are not are fixed-limit tables, which have been temporarily removed from WSOP.com because of technical problems. Additionally, PocketFives.com reports that while most tables will be linked between the states, any promotions, including WSOP satellites, that are exclusive to WSOP.com will continue to be exclusive to WSOP.com. Other sites will not be able to piggyback.


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