A New Argument for Online Poker Legalization Emerges: Poker Tourism

Steve Ruddock : May 11th, 2016

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In an effort to highlight the ancillary benefits that would accompany the legalization of online gaming,  John Pappas, the executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, invoked the term “poker tourism” during his testimony in front of the Michigan Senate Regulatory Reform Committee on May 4.

During his remarks Pappas explained the symbiotic nature of online and live poker, and how online poker has been a historical driver of live poker venues and events.

Here is part of what Pappas told the Michigan Regulatory Reform Committee on this subject:

“Online poker will also be a unique driver for tourism in Michigan. The coupling of the online game with the state’s tribal and state-licensed poker offerings will make Michigan the mid-west centre for regulated poker. It will bring first class poker tournaments to the state drawing players from all over the country and even the world. This type of “Poker Tourism” will fill hotel rooms and restaurants and can be strategically planned to enhance commerce during times of the year when traditional tourism is off its peak.”

This is an interesting new argument being proffered by online poker advocates, and could become a very powerful argument  - alongside the potential tax revenue and the consumer protections legalization of online poker would create – if it can be framed properly.

But what exactly is poker tourism? And perhaps more importantly, how can we present it in a way that is credible and easy to understand?

Defining poker tourism

Poker tourism is the tourist dollars that will be spent by participants in a live poker event. Dollars that would go elsewhere (to some other state hosting a poker tournament perhaps) were it not for these events, which in theory, will occur more often, and in greater scale, in locales with legal online poker.

Will online poker really lead to more live tournaments?

I’m going to tackle this second aspect of poker tourism first, as it may seem like a bit of a stretch. Before you dismiss the role of online poker when it comes to attracting players to live poker tournaments, consider for a moment the live events PokerStars has already planned in New Jersey after just a couple months in the market. First, there is this week’s Run It Up: Resorts Rumble event being hosted by Jason Somerville. Second, there is the live finals of the Americas Cup next month, which is an international competition PokerStars holds, and one that will potentially feature players from Canada to Brazil.

Were it not for their emergence in the New Jersey online poker market these events would be held elsewhere.

Another point to consider is the number of online satellite qualifiers a casino send to live events. In-state players will qualify, but they are also likely to spend more liberally. Furthermore, if a casino corporation has a presence in multiple jurisdictions with legal online poker they have the opportunity to run satellites to major brick & mortar poker tournaments in multiple states.

We have also seen Borgata time its major online tournament series so that they run during the casino’s large Borgata Poker Open tournament series.

Basically, there is little doubt that legal online poker brings about an increase in live poker events.

How do we measure poker tourism?

There are several things to consider when it comes to the amount of money a visitor may spend while in town for a poker tournament:

  • Hotel bookings;
  • Restaurant and retail sales, as well as potential gaming;
  • Added shifts and employees for hotel and casino employees;
  • Friends and family, as well as fans, turning up for the tournaments.

The upcoming Run It Up Reno event at the Peppermill Casino in Reno, Nevada (also being hosted by Jason Somerville) is a great example of a live tournament’s ability to pull in visitors from out of town, state, and even country. Peppermill Casino offered a special room credit for the first 200 people to book multi-night stays during the series, and they went through those really fast. This is a clear indication that Run It Up Reno is bringing a lot of visitors to Peppermill and Reno.

Continuing on this line of thought, those visitors will need to eat while they’re in town, and they may do some shopping and gambling too. If they bring their spouses, or a group of friends, that means even more visitors, and more tourism dollars being spent.

Consider for a moment the PokerStars PCA in the Bahamas, or the PokerStars Grand Final in Monte Carlo. Forgetting all of the preliminary events for a moment, how many of the 1,000 entrants in the main events of these tournaments are from these exotic locales? The answer is very few, most are well-heeled tourists that are ready to spend.

And as Pappas noted in his testimony, a savvy casino could strategically use live events to bolster revenue and visitors during historically slow periods. In fact, this was the reason Benny Binion hosted the World Series of Poker in the dead of summer… it was the slow time for Vegas.

This influx of out of town visitors also allows the casino to expand its marketing base (most casinos require a player register for a VIP Player’s Club card to enter a tournament.

Bottom line

Poker tourism is an interesting new argument in favor of legalization and regulation of online gambling, and one I hope the Poker Players Alliance and other advocates continue to refine.

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