Black Friday: One Year Later
Yesterday the online poker world mourned (and in some cases celebrated) the anniversary of Black Friday. Last year on April 15, the US Department of Justice indicted the founders and seized the domains of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Cereus Network. Both PokerStars and Full Tilt immediately withdrew from the US market, and Cereus followed suit later.
Others have recapped the sequence of events and the prospect for future US legislation. You can read PokerScout's analysis of events as they unfolded here and here.
Like a magnitude 10 earthquake, Black Friday drastically and permanently shifted the online poker landscape. In this article, we'll briefly look at the impact on traffic and examine where the players have gone.
In the first 10 days after Black Friday, Full Tilt Poker lost 41% of its traffic and Cereus Network dropped 53%. Market leader PokerStars fared slightly better with its more geographically diverse player base, shedding only 28%. In all, the sites lost a combined one-third of their traffic.
Only five networks of any significant size remain open to US players: Merge Gaming Network, Bovada (Bodog), Cake Poker Network, Chico (formerly Action) Poker Network and Winning Poker Network (formerly Yatahay). All five have gained traffic in the year since Black Friday, but the total increase amounts to just 9% of the traffic lost due to Black Friday. Approximately 90% of US players knocked offline by Black Friday remain offline one year later. In one fell swoop, the Justice Department succeeded in reducing the US online poker market to roughly one-fifth of its previous size.
Like a major earthquake, Black Friday revealed which structures had solid foundations and which did not. Like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker initially appeared as though it might survive with its substantial rest-of-world (ROW) player base. Then at the end of June the site lost its operating licenses. Due to enormous risk-taking, incompetent management and/or criminal behavior on the part of its owners, Full Tilt had become a financial hollow shell which quickly collapsed.
The implosion of Full Tilt put a large pool of ROW players (estimated at one million active players) up for grabs. PokerStars and others initially took advantage and scooped up some 50% of those players. However, they have since given back those gains. While PokerStars remains 12% ahead of where it stood after Black Friday, that increase came primarily at the expense of existing competitors. Full Tilt's ROW players effectively vanished into thin air.
There is only one likely explanation for the initial uptake of players and subsequent losses: The online poker market is shrinking. Before Black Friday, online poker traffic had remained at essentially the same level for over a year. That long plateau likely represented the peak of online poker's popularity, and now the market is slowly deflating.
Due to the industry's seasonal fluctuations and the substantial turmoil surrounding Black Friday, the rate of contraction will not become clear until July, after the anniversary of Full Tilt's final collapse has passed. However, PokerScout estimates that the worldwide online poker market may be shrinking at roughly a 10% annual rate regardless of Black Friday. The true figure will be known in July, and by that time, attendance figures at the World Series of Poker will indicate whether there is any weakening in the popularity of land-based tournament poker.
Looking ahead, a wave of legalization appears poised to sweep over parts of the US. That wave may eventually wash away the bitter taste of Black Friday and clear the way for more growth in online poker.
Online poker traffic fell 1.8% last week, giving up most of the previous week's gains. Among the top 10 sites and networks, decliners outpaced advancers six to four.
Top 20 Movers
- International.it edged out Microgaming Network to take 10th place.
- iPoker.it and IGT Poker traded places, with iPoker.it moving up to 13th and IGT Poker falling to 15th.
- Everest Poker dropped two spots to 20th, allowing PartyPoker.fr and IPN to rise to 18th and 19th, respectively.
Year Over Year
NOTE: These statistics compare last week's traffic to the week before Black Friday.
The total worldwide online poker market remains under pressure from Black Friday and a global stagnation in poker's popularity. According to PokerScout's ACES indicator, online poker traffic (ex-Italy) has decreased by 32% in the last year.
Year-over-year changes for some individual sites and networks are given below. Results are for the main (.com) sites and networks unless stated otherwise.
iPoker Network 4%
Merge Gaming Network 82%
Cake Poker Network 20%
Full Tilt Poker 100%
Cereus Network 99.9%
International Poker Network (IPN) 44%
Small but interesting:
Chico Poker Network (formerly Action Poker Network) 299%
Everleaf Gaming Network 39%
*Yearly comparison affected by the introduction of Zoom Poker in March 2012.