With WSOP Launch, 888 Solidifies Early Lead in Regulated U.S. Poker Market
The eyes of the poker media were on WSOP.com this week, as the site became the second to offer regulated online poker to players within Nevada’s borders after launching in the early hours of September 19th.
And while the launch of real-money poker at WSOP.com is certainly a milestone for parent company Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), it also represents a more subtle, yet equally critical, achievement for 888 Holdings – the parent company of 888 Poker.
888 software powering WSOP.com online poker site
That’s due to the fact that, under the hood, the real-money poker room at WSOP.com is a product of 888’s online poker platform. The technology, the software, the various features that comprise 99% of the online poker experience players will have at WSOP.com (including the dedicated Mac poker client) are all powered by 888.
As a result, the launch of WSOP.com for real-money online poker play in Nevada is in many ways the initial launch for 888 in the American market for regulated online poker.
And the agreement between 888 and Caesars will be not be limited to Nevada. The two companies have already announced that 888’s software will play a similar role in New Jersey when online poker goes live in that state, an event currently slated for November 23rd.
Whether the arrangement between 888 and the WSOP brand extends beyond those two states and into the next wave of states where online gambling regulation is considered likely – such as Pennsylvania and Illinois – remains to be seen. But even if the partnership were to cease immediately after New Jersey, 888 would still have gained an immensely valuable foothold in what most consider to be two of America’s most critical regulated gambling markets.
Company also holds the reins for online poker in Delaware
888 also occupies a strong position in the third state where regulated online gambling is set to soon become a reality: Delaware. There, 888 – along with partner Scientific Games – is essentially in the driver’s seat when it comes to online poker.
That’s due to the fact that 888 and Scientific were chosen by Delaware regulators to be the “primary vendors” for the software that will power state-overseen online gambling. Put in simple terms, that designation means that 888 will be able to control the choice of which online poker software platform Delaware residents use to play online.
It also likely provides 888 with some leverage and influence when and if Delaware seeks out partners for interstate compacts.
Positioned both as a software provider and operator
The range of partnerships 888 has already established in the U.S. would probably be sufficient to entrench 888 as a leading business-to-business provider in the U.S. regulated online poker market. But the company is choosing a unique track by pursuing not only a B2B strategy, but a business-to-consumer strategy as well.
The consumer side of 888’s U.S. operations is known as the All-American Poker Network (AAPN). And while deals with operators such as Caesars see 888 function solely as a software provider, the AAPN positions 888 as an operator with a standalone online poker network of their own.
That dual approach – acting as a B2B technology provider and direct-to-consumer operator – is more or less unique in the American market. Whether 888 can strike the right balance between acting as a partner and acting as a competitor is an open question. But for now, the strategy has ensured that 888 has a range of options in the American market that are arguably unmatched by any other player in the space.
US player pools separate from 888’s international sites – for now
While 888 has obviously developed a solid beachhead in the regulated market for online gambling in America, the bread and butter of the company continues to be the international sites operated by 888 for poker, casino, bingo and sports betting.
That portfolio has performed well for 888, especially over the last few years, where 888 Poker specifically has bucked industry trends by turning in steady growth in terms of both player liquidity and revenue.
Merging their nascent American operations with their international strengths is almost certainly a long-term goal for 888. But for the immediate future, we’re unlikely to see shared player pools between American states and international markets. When – and if – that changes could easily determine whether 888’s early lead in the U.S. market is a passing phase or something set to evolve into a more permanent position.