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Has Online Poker’s Popularity Decreased Following Casinos Reopening?

Everyone that has ever had so much as a passing interest in poker knows that this game’s boom period lasted for about three years, from 2003 to 2006. It came on the heels of the movie Rounders attaining cult status and amateur Christopher Bryan Moneymaker winning the main event of the 2003 World Series of Poker. Yes, for those not in the loop, that is this player’s actual last name. It is not a moniker or a nickname concocted for branding purposes.

Following the US government passing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, pretty much all online gambling activity within the US borders became illegal. However, the top three poker sites chose to ignore this law and still accept American players. That led to the event referred to as Black Friday when the domains of Full Tilt and PokerStars, the best sites to play poker online at that time, got shut down. In August 2012, a federal judge decided that poker is a game of skill, and this sector got up and running again. However, it could never capture its previously attained heights. That is until 2020.

Last year, due to stay-at-home and social distancing measures, online gambling activity blew up across the board, including poker-wise, leading many to conclude that we may be on the cusp of a new boom period. Virtually all operators noted a rise in player numbers. Nevertheless, many gambling companies feared that once land-based venues got back to business as usual, these impressive figures would return to pre-pandemic levels. Let us do a quick dive below and see if recently released operator figures proved or refuted this hypothesis.

The Pandemic-Induced Poker Boost

The ongoing pandemic began to unfold at a global level in March 2020. It was during this time that most governments issued lockdowns. These entailed forcing gambling establishments to shut down along with most hospitality venues. That led to online gambling, despite the connectivity issues of customers, sky-rocketing on account of a lack of entertainment options.

Per research from Global Poker, all US operators noticed a sizeable surge in new player activity. The percentage of debuting card gamblers jumped across North America by a staggering 255% once the lockdowns started. In general, all poker activity in this industry saw an average increase of above 40% in only one month post public safety-health measures getting announced. Even countries where gambling is partially taboo, like Armenia and Belarus, had to change existing laws to satisfy local gamblers’ appetites. They did so as they did not want them playing on foreign platforms, causing them to lose massive tax revenues.

In March of this year, Flutter Entertainment, the parent company of PokerStars, announced that revenues generated by this brand increased by 25% in 2020. Sans the government-issued measures, Flutter Entertainment also credited its improving focus on conquering the US market and its Rakeback deals for its more than impressive 2020 achievements.

How Did Online Poker Fare After the Return of Physical Rooms?

Brick-and-mortar gaming establishments and card rooms almost everywhere re-opened their doors during the mid or late-summer of 2020. However, in most regions, they relaunched operating at half-capacity, with health measures that cut out many of the social aspects of the gambling experience. Currently, despite many precautions still in place, casinos around the globe are operating at nearly 2019 standards.

Interestingly enough, that has not caused any dramatic drop in online poker revenues. 888poker, one of the leading international betting brands, posted a 50% increase in poker revenues year-on-year in 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, 888 Holdings announced $60 million in revenues generated by their online poker platform. PartyPoker and PokerStars also reported numbers above pre-pandemic levels for the first quarter of 2021. Even the video game industry increased sales on poker videogames. Thus, card action over the internet is slightly slowing down, but it is still above 2019 benchmarks.

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