Post Black Friday Online Poker Grades
In just a few weeks, it will have been a year since the most infamous day in online poker history. On April 15th of last year, a day that has come to be known as Black Friday within the poker community, the U.S. Department of Justice targeted the three largest poker rooms servicing American customers. The result was a dramatic, overnight change to the online poker landscape.
Since that day, we have witnessed the complete downfall of Full Tilt Poker which had been the second largest online poker room. The Cereus Network, home to UB and Absolute Poker, has also fallen completely off the face of the earth. The only one of the three targeted sites which is still presently functioning is PokerStars. They have lost 14% of their traffic since this time last year according to PokerScout.
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So with the void created by the downfall of Full Tilt and the Cereus Network, what sites have stepped up to seize the vacant online poker market share? And which ones have dropped the ball on the opportunity of a lifetime? This week, we'll be grading a few various online poker rooms on how they've done capitalizing on the post-Black Friday online poker landscape.
888 Poker (A)
888 Poker's player base has increased an impressive 77% year-over-year. This boost makes them far and away the winners of the post-Black Friday world. 888 accomplished this in large part thanks to aggressive marketing and enticing bonuses. They award players $8 free, no deposit required, simply for signing up at their site. This "free money" strategy is a great way for building business. By giving players a chance to try your real-money product for free, they'll be more likely to use you when a day comes that they decide to make a deposit to play online poker.
Another noteworthy reason for 888 Poker's success is the work they've put in to improve their software. Their software product has improved significantly over the years and today is one of the best platforms on the market. Their PokerCam games are unique within the industry and give players a chance to see their opponents in real-time during gameplay. Additionally, 888 Poker has employed an aggressive customer service strategy. Their approach of proactively reaching out to players has probably had a positive impact in helping retain customers and encourage deposits.
Party Poker (C-)
It's hard not to feel a sense of disappointment at Party Poker's performance since Black Friday. Once the largest online poker room prior to exiting the U.S. market in 2006, Black Friday was the day Party Poker had been waiting for. On a single day, their two largest competitors were cut down at the knees. This could have triggered the right momentum for them to reclaim their position as the top online poker room. Unfortunately, their player base has grown just 20% since this time last year. BWIN.PARTY's stock jumped 30% on the London Stock Exchange the day following the Black Friday indictments. But within less than four months, the stock was actually 28% below its pre-Black Friday position. Today, the stock sits at just slightly under its closing position on the first day of trading after Black Friday. Contrast this with 888 Holdings whose stock is up 39% after its post-Black Friday boost.
Party Poker could have been more aggressive about player acquisition after Black Friday. They ran a "rake-free tournaments" promotion which was nice, but this had little significant impact on the size of their scheduled multi-table tournament offerings. They have also received criticism for treating affiliates (online advertisers) poorly, hurting a major pipeline source for players. One is left wondering if Party Poker would be wiser to allocate fewer resources towards targeting allies and instead make efforts to improve their unspectacular online poker software.
iPoker (Titan Poker) (C-)
The iPoker Network, home to sites such as Titan Poker and Poker770, has experienced just a 13% boost in player volume year-over-year. In a year when they, the largest online poker network, could have seized a massive chunk of market share, they have remained nearly flat! One has a hard time recalling a single enthralling promotional or marketing strategy employed by any of the major iPoker skins since Black Friday. Sites like Titan Poker deserve credit for boosting the size of their first-time deposit bonus to a very impressive 200% up to $2,000, but outside of this, you can't even say for certain that the powers that be at iPoker are even aware Black Friday occurred. They're a great online poker network, it's just a shame to see that they have thus far failed to capitalize on Black Friday's opportunities by mounting any sort of a substantial run at becoming the largest online poker room.
OnGame (Betfair Poker) (F)
The OnGame Network has somehow lost 21% of it's traffic since last year. If you didn't know any better, you might think they were indicted on Black Friday too just by looking at the numbers. This is another knock on BWIN.PARTY's post-Black Friday performance as they are the owners of the OnGame Network. It would seem wise of them to merge the two networks and make a concerted effort at overtaking PokerStars. Obviously there are complications to such a merger, like needing to ensure existing OnGame skins won't offer rakeback on the newly formed network, but if they can get it done it would firmly cement them as the number two online poker room and position them to gradually encroach on PokerStars' territory in the years ahead.
Unfortunately the 3-D graphics online poker room PKR also scores very low in their post-Black Friday efforts. Their player base has dropped by 25%. A small site like this is precisely one that should have had an easy time doubling their traffic after Full Tilt went down just by going big on a really nice promotion that would have been too hard for players to pass up. But no such investment was made at PKR and they have slipped when they could have thrived.
Merge Network (B)
An article on post-Black Friday online poker room performance would be amiss without mentioning the Merge Network which has boosted their player base by 85% to become the leading U.S.-facing online poker room. But in mentioning them we have to strongly recommend steering clear of this site. They are basically a rogue criminal enterprise doing precisely the same things that led to the demise of Full Tilt and the Cereus Network. Additionally, payment processing complications leave players waiting weeks for a cashout check. So while Merge is technically the winner of capitalizing on the post-Black Friday U.S. market share, we'd strongly encourage our readers to keep their money elsewhere. If you live in the U.S. there is unfortunately not a single online poker room that you can justifiably have any confidence in right now.