Is It Time For an Online Bracelet?

The Games You Need to Know

The online poker scene in the United States is an interesting anomaly. The state-by-state progress of legislation has created smaller factions struggling to survive on smaller player bases. This is no surprise to anyone involved with its progress over the past five years and unfortunately, this is the reality for now. While New Jersey slowly gains momentum and hits six figures in player pool, Nevada has leveled out and is strongly relying on the tourists to get involved in the action in order to boost their revenues.

Online BraceletIt’s a tough sell, isn’t it? Come to Vegas where you can go out at the hottest clubs, spend some time in the casino, eat in great restaurants and lounge at the pool. Perhaps one of the last things people will think about is spending time in their hotel room and playing online poker. There needs to be a reason for tourists to get involved, an incentive that keeps them away from the live felt for a short period of time.

Well, it’s an unlikely immediate solution, but why not make 2014 the year to offer the first online World Series of Poker bracelet. Everyone knows and understands that WSOP.com is the brand to beat in Nevada. The state is the home of the biggest poker festival in the world and those four letters carry strength well outside the poker circles. Like it or not, this idea will eventually be a reality, but if I’m the WSOP and am carefully crafting my 2014 schedule, inserting an online event might be a stunt worth trying.

PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker is the best of the best when it comes to online tournament series, but even the biggest in the world might do a double take if a piece of WSOP gold is on the line. The opportunity for so many players, who developed their games online, is something they won’t let pass by and there’s no doubt that this one event can single-handedly find new users in a Nevada player base that could desperately need the infusion.

Here’s how I’d go about it:

  • Timing: There were 79,471 entries in the entire 62-event 2013 WSOP and from May until July, Vegas is the hub of the biggest poker action. The industry loved and grew exponentially because of online poker and an event like this will definitely appeal to the younger demographic who maintains the majority of WSOP participants. I’d offer the event on WSOP.com in Nevada and save money in terms of WSOP resources by offering an “off” day on the live felt. Encourage players that if they want to play in the WSOP today, they need to do it online. WSOP staff and dealers work their butts off during the summer and I’m sure they’d love an extra day somewhere to relax. Make it later in the Series and offer live and online satellites to boost the entries.
  • Timing Part 2: Organizers could also take the unorthodox approach and schedule it at the same time as a live low buy-in event and encourage players in the massive field to multi-table. I think that option might just be a little too greedy.
  • But what about New Jersey? Obviously this is among the most troublesome issues with this proposal. You have the majority of your potential player base in a state where they cannot participate due to the geo-location restrictions and the intrastate markets. The solution here is to offer prize packages out to Vegas through satellites, just like the old days. This isn’t the main event $10K buy-in, but small-stakes players would love this opportunity and they’re more likely to enter a $10 satellite for this event than a $500 for the main event. Oh, and by getting these players out to the Rio, there’s a good chance they spend more money on your property in live WSOP events.
  • Guarantee it! We know the guarantee carries some big weight in the poker world and offering a bracelet event should be the biggest and brightest moment of the online year for WSOP.com. If we look back at the 2013 WSOP, the $1,000 events had entry numbers from 1,000 to 4,000 players. Looking at WCOOP for a comparison, their $1,000 no-limit hold’em events had between 1,210 and 1,821 players, and that included an international base. Considering that the WSOP will have many of these players in attendance, I’d aim for a $1.5 million prize pool and be thrilled when 1,500 players show up.
  • Promote it: With the biggest and best in the world looking for action, the guarantee is achievable and I think the marketing team would rally behind it. This would be the biggest online tournament in the history of the U.S. market and using their multiple venues around the strip, in New Jersey and in related content on WSOP.com, getting the word out should be easy. On top of all of this, it might be time to call in a favor to the game’s biggest stars to get them involved. If you tell Phil Hellmuth that he can win his 14th bracelet online, you can be sure he’s going to play and tell the world about it … and everyone will want to bust him.
  • Execution: One thing online sites with live casino partners love to do is combine their biggest initiatives and, with a bracelet on the line, this would fall into that realm. The tournament would begin online and play down until the final table when the tournament would be paused in order to bring the nine finalists to the Rio and the feature table to play down to a champion. It’s the best of both worlds.

Now, this isn’t the cure-all for the Nevada online sector, but it could be a good reminder for former players to get back in the game. The majority of American online poker players prior to Black Friday hasn’t returned to the felt, but this might be just the thing that entices them. The WSOP can take a pretty big stand here and offer something that will drive a buzz that we haven’t seen in quite some time. By adding an event of this stature, WSOP.com will have a really strong two-month stretch of online games and reinforce to business leaders and legislators that this is a viable field.

There’s no question that the focus of this year’s Series will be on the $1 million One Drop and the Main Event, but now, the poker dreamers and casual players who began their journeys in the small stakes looking to become the next Moneymaker can try once again with a reasonably small buy-in and a bracelet on the line. This isn’t about watering down the bracelet with another venue to win WSOP golf, but about fishing where the fish are. It’s time to get the online game back on its feet and the 2014 WSOP is the perfect place to start.

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February 2014