Online Poker Traffic Down 16% Since Start of 2013
A post titled “Hardly anyone playing on Full Tilt” on TwoPlusTwo.com piqued my curiosity this morning. I wondered how online poker, as a whole, is faring as we enter the 44th annual World Series of Poker and as the U.S. prepares to re-enter the online poker market.
The answer? Not so great.
Data provided by PokerScout.com reveals that the 7-day rolling average of “players online” at the 11 poker sites that currently exceed a 1,000-player 7-day rolling average – sites which combine to represent almost 80% of the market – declined by roughly 16% over the last six months. The decline was fueled primarily by steep losses at PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, though only two of the 11 sites showed any increase.
Full Tilt’s problems are not new. After a short-lived surge when it re-opened in November 2012, the site steadily lost players. By March 2013 it slipped to 4th in the traffic rankings, behind PartyPoker and iPoker. Since then Full Tilt has clawed its way back to 2nd place, though its gain in players has been offset by losses by previous 2nd and 3rd place sites PartyPoker and iPoker.
PokerStars’ player losses are more surprising. PokerStars’ share of the market, when its ring-fenced Italian, Spanish and French sites are included, has remained constant at roughly 50%. But traffic at the site is down approximately 19% since December 2012.
A six-month trend is really just a snapshot of the industry, but a 16% decline in that short of a timeframe indicates bigger issues overall for online poker. It also reveals why so many sites have recently made efforts to improve the experience (and customer lifetime) of recreational players. The sites have attempted innovations such as skill-matched tables, anonymous tables, and anti-ratholing measures – all features that are designed to slow the movement of bankrolls from weak players to strong players.
Those efforts may help slow the decline in online poker traffic, but whether they will reverse the trend is less clear. The boom of 10 years ago was fueled at least in part by expansion efforts into non-traditional poker markets outside of the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, like Brazil and Russia. All of the lowest-hanging fruit has been plucked from that tree. Remaining worldwide expansion efforts will be more difficult due to negative cultural attitudes about gambling, poor Internet connectivity, and/or levels of disposable income that aren’t sufficient to allow people to risk money playing online poker.
The market also isn’t well-served by the agonizingly slow and piecemeal, state-by-state return of online poker to the United States. A federal solution to that problem seems as unlikely as ever.
In the short term, the overall market numbers are not likely to improve over the course of the next two months. A large part of the poker world will attend the WSOP in Nevada during that time, where the only available online poker option at present is the fledgling Ultimate Poker site. WSOP.com is expected to launch its own real-money poker site during the Series.
U.S. sites would be well-advised to watch the trends of the ROW sites as they bring their own offerings to market over the course of the next year. Much of the U.S. industry seems to have pot-of-gold dreams about online poker and online gaming. The PokerScout numbers should be a cold splash of reality.