PokerStars Pushes Mobile App in U.S.
Earlier this week, many U.S. account holders received an email from Events at PokerStars touting the free PokerStars Mobile poker app. Featuring a banner photo of tennis superstar Rafa Nadal looking at his smartphone (presumably playing on PokerStars), the email noted that “players in America” can experience “all the excitement of PokerStars.net” on iOS and Android devices.
In truth, the PokerStars.net app has been available for U.S. Android devices since at least early March. It’s unclear why the U.S. marketing push of the app lagged its availability by a month.
The timing of the email comes less than a week after Zynga launched ZyngaPlusPoker, its first real-money poker product, in the United Kingdom. PokerStars has long eyed Zynga warily. The PokerStars on Facebook play-money poker product that launched in early February was likely a defensive maneuver by PokerStars against Zynga’s play-money poker dominance and its incursion into real-money gaming.
As social gaming, mobile gaming and real-money gaming continue to converge, PokerStars may be attempting to build brand awareness in play-money poker players. Although “freemium” play-money players are notoriously difficult to convert to either paying customers or full-blown real-money gamblers, they represent a growth segment for a market that already picked most of the low-hanging fruit over the last decade.
PokerStars is also seeking to return to the U.S. real-money poker market early next year. The company’s parent, Rational Group, is seeking permission from New Jersey gaming regulators to purchase the Atlantic Club casino.
While such a purchase would give Rational Group a live venue in the U.S. like its London, Macau, and Madrid venues, it would also allow the company to enter an exclusive pool of potential applicants for New Jersey online gaming licenses. Operation of online gaming in New Jersey is restricted by law to Atlantic City casinos. There are only twelve casinos in Atlantic City, several of which are operated under one overarching brand (for example, Caesars).
Rational Group filed its application for an Interim Casino Authorization with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in January. However, John Brennan of the Bergen Record determined last month that Rational Group’s application is not yet complete. The DGE therefore hasn’t begun to review it yet, nor has the statutory 90 days for review been tolled.
If the purchase is approved, Rational Group should look to bring both of its real-money poker brands, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, back to the U.S. That likely won’t happen before early 2014.