Online poker players will probably never forget Black Friday. It was April 15, 2011, and an indictment against the biggest companies in online poker was unsealed, revealing the arraignments of important poker industry leaders for charges of fraud and money laundering. There were billions of dollars involved. Poker story.
The Department of Justice seized websites, froze bank accounts and essentially made monster companies Full Tilt, Pokerstars and Absolute Poker obsolete in the United States.
Sitting at a laptop in Delaware and playing poker for real money against players in other states and other countries was rendered nearly impossible.
In the years since, as states like Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada passed into legislation some version of internet gambling, legal online poker has meant players were limited to competing against only people in their state.
That changed in 2015, when Delaware teamed up with Nevada, which has online gaming legislation limited to just poker, to allow poker players in each state to play at the same tables.
This week, a third state officially joined the party. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a deal in October to join Delaware and Nevada in a liquidity sharing agreement that went live this week on the 888 and World Series of Poker networks. 888 powers the online poker sites of Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway.
The new pact was good news for Delaware's online poker community, who now have access to a much greater player pool than previously afforded.
Tournament prize pools will be bigger, cash games more abundant, and the individual states should benefit. And with the possibility of Pennsylvania joining the pact soon, momentum is strong for reviving the online poker community in the U.S.
The liquidity sharing agreement allows for each state to collect a portion of the rake — a scaled commission — based on how many players at a given table or tournament pool are playing within its borders.
"In the long term it can only be good and improve the revenues," said Vernon Kirk, director of the Delaware Lottery.
It'd be hard to decrease revenues much more.
The Delaware Lottery, which regulates the three state casinos and operates Delaware's online poker on the 888 platform, reported iGaming revenues declined 18 percent from 2017 to 2016 to $2.4 million. Online poker declined 48 percent.
The state's brick-and-mortar casinos are struggling, too, as a casino relief bill recently passed in the state senate.
"I just think that the initial excitement and interest kind of waned," Kirk said of internet gaming. "We haven’t done as much marketing as we could."
Kirk said the state has previously put marketing in the hands of the individual casinos, but he expects there to be more.
Initially, Kirk said, much of the online poker attention was focused on safety and security, more than player acquisition and marketing.
"Because we concentrated so much on making sure it worked, we kind of neglected growing the product," Kirk said.
"I think all three jurisdictions would say we’re offering a safe and secure environment and some exciting games. Now we can turn our attention more to trying to grow the product."
is doing its part. The company is upping the ante with a new rewards program, larger guaranteed prize pools in daily tournaments and a Sunday event featuring at least a $100,000 prize pool with a buy-in of $320, according to PokerNews.
“With the advent of tri-state shared liquidity, we have completely revamped our tournament schedules, our cash games offerings, our loyalty program and our promotional calendar to deliver the best online poker experience in this new world order," said Bill Rini, WSOP.com’s head of online poker.
In Delaware at least, the big benefit for now appears to lie in the hands of the players. Kirk said because of the state's population that poker is just not a big moneymaker, saying about 10 percent of iGaming revenues come from poker.
Another impact in Delaware is the ability to hop in a car and drive a half hour or less from most places in the state to a live poker room. In New Jersey, for example, poker rooms are concentrated in Atlantic City.
Online gaming has not slowed traffic at Delaware's three casinos, Kirk said.
At least for now, the new poker pact won't change that fact either.
"Early dramatic impact is not going to happen and it’s a product that needs time to develop and grow," Kirk said.
"It’s a nice tool in the toolbox, but it’s not a silver bullet."
Contact reporter Jeff Neiburg at (302) 983-6772, or on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.