After major wins with the launch of online gambling in New Jersey and Nevada, efforts have largely stalled since. California seems like they’re stuck in an endless stalemate and other states like Pennsylvania not showing the rate of progress many expected after the launch of the first three in 2013 (although that could be changing in PA’s case).
But when regulation does take hold in more states – and it will eventually, especially once a big state like California gets its ducks in a row – it could quickly trigger action for other states and poker rooms.
One of the companies well positioned to make waves in the US regulated market when that happens is a company that has already done so with great success in New Jersey and Nevada — 888.
Who is 888?
888 got in on the ground floor of the online gambling industry by launching in 1997, before many had even heard of online gambling. Brands such as Reef Casino Club, Casino-on-Net and 888 became early industry staples. The company operating these brands adopted the 888 moniker in early 2006.
888 accepted U..S players through 2006, until the United States government passed the infamous Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act. At this point, 888 and other publicly traded US-facing online poker rooms and casinos decided to leave the market.
While U.S. facing poker rooms such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker thrived in the unregulated U.S. market, by comparison, many European poker rooms struggled in subsequent years. One exception was 888, which has continued to see growth while the rest of the industry contracted. A variety of factors have been attributed to 888’s success, but one of their greatest victories has been finding the right balance of putting more focus on recreational players while still giving high-volume grinders something to play for
888’s out-performance of the rest of the online poker market has continued in recent years. They now hold the number two traffic ranking according to PokerScout. This is especially notable given the fact that many of the other poker rooms with less traffic are networks that share player pools with many other online poker rooms. 888 has largely operated as an independent poker room throughout their history. 888’s has also seen much of their growth come from non-poker products such as casino and bingo,
Throughout their history, 888 has clearly demonstrated a global competence that has continued with their entry into regulated markets in the United States and Europe, which has further expanded their reach and influence.
888 Efforts in US Regulated Markets so Far
Due to the fact that 888 left the United States market shortly after UIGEA was passed, they hold a relatively easy path to operate in the U.S. regulated markets when they open up.
888 were the first to receive a license in the state of Nevada in March of 2013. The ubiquitous WSOP teamed up with 888 to provide the site’s software and is currently the only relevant online poker room in the state. Earlier this year, the Multi-State Poker Network was established by 888poker, linking the player pools of Nevada and the modestly-sized Delaware market, which players can play through DelewarePark.com, DoverDowns.com and HarringtonGamingOnline.com.
After Nevada launched in the middle of 2013, New Jersey wasn’t too far behind, going live in late October of the same year. Although Party Borgata initially pulled ahead, the 888-backed All American Poker Network was always on their tail and currently operates the largest online poker network in New Jersey. In addition to an 888 branded room, the All American Poker Network also currently houses the WSOP brand.
888 software is now featured on the two biggest online poker rooms/networks in the United States, operating in three different states. The establishment of the All American Poker Network leaves open the opportunity to link other states when they become regulated and choose to merge their markets to larger player pools.
Where is 888 Headed Next?
Since the early victories in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, online poker regulation has stalled elsewhere, including a well-publicized fight in California. The main factions are split on a couple of key points – the horse racing’s participation in the market and a bad actor clause aimed at PokerStars, which settled with the Department of Justice and has been approved to go live in New Jersey early next year.
On the federal level, big money interests including those from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and groups such as Focus on the Family, have attempted to turn back the progress that has been made at the state level and potentially ban all forms of online gambling in the U.S. as well as roll-back regulation in the states where there is regulation.
Thankfully there doesn’t appear to be broad support for the anti-gambling movement today like there was during 2006’s UIGEA push. And many online poker companies remain very optimistic about progress in the next couple years.
In a recent interview with Steve Ruddock, AAPN CEO David Licht remained very bullish about online poker regulation in the United States as well as AAPN and 888’s position in it.
Licht told OPR that he saw 2016 as the year the industry finally receives some movement in New York and Pennsylvania, with the latter showing recent movement. 888 and AAPN are well positioned in the state when it becomes a regulated market due to their partnership with Mount Airy Casino and Resort. The same is true of California. When a consensus is finally achieved, 888 and AAPN are poised to leverage their partnership with Bay 101 Casino.
Given how 888 and the AAPN have performed in regulated states thus far, not to mention the brick and mortar relationships that have and are being established, the smart money seems to be on side that 888 and AAPN will continue to be a force in the US regulated market. This is especially true once states wholeheartedly embrace the revenue and consumer controls that comes with regulated gambling.
And about the elephant in room that is PokerStars launching in New Jersey? Licht doesn’t seem too concerned about PokerStars taking much of their market share, indicating that it will be a net positive for both the AAPN and 888.