No one could quite predict the market trends of 2020 before the year began.
Industries such as aviation and hospitality have been sent into turmoil, while businesses that can provide digital services or online deliveries have skyrocketed.
Online poker falls into this category, providing digital entertainment across the globe. The industry has experienced serious growth this year, with increases in traffic and revenue figures reported by leading companies. This has led to what is now being touted as the second poker boom.
The first online poker boom
The first online poker boom started in 2003. The game had already been gaining momentum before, with live events like the WSOP gaining popularity and players joining increasingly secure and sophisticated online sites.
2003 was simply the year when it all came together. It was the perfect storm of publicity, accessibility, and a stroke of marketing luck that brought poker into the lives of millions.
Using special camera technology built into the tables, the WSOP coverage that year showed player’s cards face-up. For the first time, viewers could follow along with the action live and compare decisions to the actual cards. Before this, watching poker was a rather dull affair, but suddenly it became entertaining.
More importantly, the winner of the WSOP $10k Main Event in 2003 was not a professional player. It was a regular guy who qualified via an $86 online satellite and then went on to win over $2.5 million, live on TV, with cards face-up for all to see. His name was Chris Moneymaker.
Moneymaker’s win is almost a poker fable these days. In reality, it was part of the bigger picture of already existing growth. Yet that single win showed a mass audience that playing online poker was not only safe and legit but also potentially very lucrative.
Players flocked online to see if they could do the same and quickly found a world of online tournaments and cash games running all hours of the day.
The 2020 mini-boom
The first online poker boom lasted from 2003 until around 2006, and during that time, online player pools at least doubled each year.
Soon after, poker experienced legislation issues in the USA, which was a sign of more trouble to come in 2011 with “Black Friday”, which effectively shut down online poker’s operations in the USA. Since then, the international market has never quite reached the same heights.
This year, however, online poker has seen a growth not unlike in those early days, albeit for unusual reasons. In March 2020, online poker traffic in Southern Europe doubled in a matter of weeks, and gains were also significant on the international online market.
Many of the players who increased the frequency of their play during this boom are reportedly recreational players, who recently learned how to play poker and then took their new skills to the online tables.
This inevitably attracted more action from the top pros, who sensed that the tables were busier, the tournaments fuller, and the prizes bigger.
Players also moved their home games online, and major live events throughout the year have been held online, often for the first time, on top of the usual calendar of online series. These “live events” also brought in more gamers who would usually frequent the floors of traditional casinos.
All of this combined led to what has now been dubbed as the 2020 mini poker boom. This has seen the overall online market grow in revenue by 30% this year, with many individual sites reporting significant growth figures.
Online poker traffic peaked during the spring and early summer months but now looks to be climbing up again.
The latest cash game traffic stats for the European market show a growth of nearly 30% in just two weeks in November, similar to the figures back in March. Recently reported year-on-year figures for the international market tell a similar story.
These growth trends are also visible through analysis of national markets, such as in the US. For instance, New Jersey operators made a 90% increase in revenue in March when compared to the previous year.
In Pennsylvania, operators are set to report a 20-30% year-over-year growth. As an emerging market, some of this growth is natural, but numbers are skewed towards the months of March and April.
It’s never easy to find completely accurate figures to summarize the online gaming market, but the consistency of these numbers across time and across markets paints a picture for the overall rise of the online poker market in 2020.
What does 2021 have in store?
Good question. And not one that anyone can answer with any grace right now. The digital space has continued to grow, but perhaps it may not continue with the same velocity as it did in 2020.
It’s difficult to tell how much the current industry growth will continue once live events are back on at the casinos. The growth of online poker throughout 2021 will depend on circumstances.
It will also depend on legislation. UK and US policymakers have shown some concern over the growing popularity of betting and have banned betting adverts from TV and radio. They could take further steps if trends continue, acting as a kind of counterbalance to the mini poker boom.
There is, however, evidence that market growth will be sustained in the US. The Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement provides the potential for player and prize pool sharing across states where online poker is legal. Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have already joined, and Pennsylvania could be next.
Michigan is expected to become the next state to embrace online poker, perhaps as early as December, though current delays could mean a wait until early next year. This will significantly increase the size of the US market.
Online poker’s current mini-boom could continue into 2021, though it is likely to slow and flatten off as live events resume, and players take back the tables.