When PokerStars first announced that this year’s World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) was going to feature an unprecedented $51,000 buy-in Super High Roller tournament, I found myself asking “what’s the point?” The guarantee was a mere $1 million, meaning that they anticipated a field of around 20 players, and you wouldn’t expect it to include any weak players, although PokerStars is now trying to soften things up a little by offering multi-stage satellites starting from absurdly low stakes, all the way down to 1 FPP.
My conclusion at the time was that the rationale for the tournament had to be primarily as a marketing gimmick; the buy-in and extremely tough field would make it poor value for all but the very best online professionals, and with only a few dozen players expected and a $1000 tournament fee, the take for the site will be too small to be worth it. On the other hand, as long as they could actually draw out the requisite 20 players and not have to post an overlay, hosting the highest buy-in online tournament ever seemed, to me, like an easy way to get tons of articles written about the site and the WCOOP series.
Such was my thinking at the time, but just now, PokerStars has announced what may be their real plan to monetize the Super High-Roller, which is by offering betting lines on some of the confirmed entrants through the sports betting side of the PokerStars client.
Sports betting became available through PokerStars as of this spring, although only for certain regions, such as the United Kingdom. This is the first time that lines have been offered for a poker event, but the Super High Roller format makes for the perfect opportunity to do so, as the tiny field and recognizable names makes setting the odds a manageable task for the site, while offering a tempting proposition for poker fans who were thinking of railing the event anyway.
Looking at the odds being offered, you can see just how stacked the field is and how narrow everyone’s edges are. There are a total of 20 players being offered – conveniently the exact number of players needed for the guarantee – at odds ranging from 12-1 for Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moorman, up to 16-1 for Sorel Mizzi, Ben Sulsky, Jason Somerville, Dan Smith and Mike Watson. As you can see, the difference between the most and least favored is not huge. The full betting sheet is as follows:
Jason Mercier – 13.00
KidPoker (Daniel Negreanu) – 13.00
Moorman1 (Chris Moorman) – 13.00
PokerNoob999 (Tobias Reinkmeier) – 15.00
lechuckpoker (Igor Kurganov) – 15.00
philbort (Phillip Gruissem) – 15.00
mrGR33N13 (Daniel Colman) – 15.00
CrownUpGuy (Fedor Holz) – 15.00
wizowizo (Ole Schemion) – 15.00
Ike Haxton – 15.00
ZeeJustin (Justin Bonomo) – 15.00
ElkY (Bertrand Grospellier) – 15.00
Mrsweets28 (Phil Galfond) – 15.00
Timex (Mike McDonald) – 15.00
Isildur1 (Viktor Blom) – 15.00
zangbezan24 (Sorel Mizzi) – 17.00
Sauce123 (Ben Sulsky) – 17.00
Danny98765 (Dan Smith) – 17.00
jcarverpoker (Jason Somerville) – 17.00
SirWatts (Mike Watson) – 17.00
Unfortunately, you can also see that the offering is quite dismal in terms of value from a bettor’s perspective, with 20 candidates and all of them paying 16-1 or worse; using an online calculator, I found that the house edge on these lines is nearly 25%, and that’s assuming that no other players sign up or have a chance to win. For comparison, the sites I’ve looked at offering odds on the November Nine WSOP Main Event final table have house edges between around 10% and 16%; even these are quite high, though it’s normal for the house to take a large edge on futures markets like these.
Given the house edge, the high variance of poker and the strong track records of all the players involved, I really can’t imagine there being any long-term profitable betting opportunities here, but I don’t think that will prevent some people from taking a shot. In terms of entertainment value, it’s clearly tempting to place a bet through the same client you’ll be using to watch the action, and casual poker players who haven’t done much sports betting may not recognize just how poor the odds being offered are.
Of course, we’ll never find out from PokerStars just how much action this generates or how much they make on the deal, but I could imagine it exceeding the $20,000+ in rake that the tournament will generate. No one’s likely to be betting large sums at the odds being offered, but PokerStars has a huge user base, and only needs to convince a small percentage of those users to put a few dollars down. I still think that the main point of the tournament for them is as a marketing tool, but this is clearly a potentially large source of revenue for them that I hadn’t considered, and it looks like they’re going for max value with it.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.