Now that we’re getting closer to a level playing field, I think we’ll see more consolidation — like with tournament guarantees, player pools, and things like that. In an exclusive podcast interview with pokerfuse, BetMGM Director of Poker Luke Staudenmaier predicted that the province’s online poker market will eventually settle into a market with a few comparatively-sized operators.
As a practical matter, the decision by Ontario regulators to start off as a ring-fenced market put BetMGM at a disadvantage. Unlike PokerStars, it hadn’t operated in Ontario’s gray market for years. BetMGM, therefore, didn’t have an existing player pool — it introduced itself to Ontarians on April 5, one day after the market launched.
“Ontario has been an interesting one, at least from my perspective,” Staudenmaier said of the market. “Joining on day two was almost a disadvantage for poker.
“It’s not the same for [online] casino or sports since they don’t rely on player pools or the size of a player pool. The fact that it wasn’t a clean shift from unregulated to regulated made it a little difficult in the early days. It’s been a bit of a slow burn, just in terms of bringing players over and keeping them when they can go across the street and play the Sunday Million [on PokerStars], for example.
“Now that we’re getting closer to a level playing field, I think we’ll see more consolidation — like with tournament guarantees, player pools, and things like that. It’ll end up more like the Michigan or New Jersey markets, where there are three relatively-sized operators.
“Poker is Meant to Complement” Other Verticals
Despite being half owned by UK-based gaming conglomerate Entain, BetMGM was a US-only brand until April when it launched in Ontario. (MGM Resorts International owns the other half).
But one week after BetMGM launched, Entain brought its bwin and partypoker brands to the province — effectively creating a three-skin poker network in Ontario to go head-to-head with 888, PokerStars, and (eventually) GGPoker/WSOP.
The addition of bwin and partypoker was a boon to BetMGM because they had operated in Ontario’s gray market for years and had built a player base that could keep the network closer to rivals that were also formerly operating offshore — especially PokerStars.
BetMGM’s strength is sports and casino, and they have a lot of pull when it comes to acquiring new players. But Staudenmaier said BetMGM also brought something to the table for bwin and partypoker — namely its strong position in online casino gaming and sports betting.
“The way that we think about poker in terms of the wider business is that it’s more complementary — as opposed to GGPoker as primarily poker,” he said. “PokerStars was primarily poker for the first 15 years or so. But BetMGM’s strength is sports and casino, and they have a lot of pull when it comes to acquiring new players.”
Staudenmaier added that “poker is meant to complement” the other verticals.
“We have opportunities to cross-sell in both directions. The casino business is going to grow, grow, grow over time. Making sure that we are allowing the opportunity for those synergies to happen is important.
“In all of our markets, [online] casino is present as well and they are crushing it. That is reflected in our success in certain states. Michigan and New Jersey, in particular, are very strong for casino. Pennsylvania is certainly weaker for poker, but you could possibly argue that not having a land-based property in Pennsylvania is an impact there, too.”
BetMGM Poker PA, BetMGM Casino PA, and BetMGM Sportsbook PA all operate under the land-based casino license of Penn National’s Hollywood Casino Morgantown — a mini casino that opened its doors last December, but a retail sportsbook at the facility is operated by Penn National’s Barstool brand.
Listen to the full episode of the pokerfuse Podcast with special guest Luke Staudenmaier »