The largest unregulated online poker site in the US, Bovada (part of the Bodog Network), has just announced it will no longer be accepting new players or new deposits from the states of Nevada and Delaware.
Players from Nevada attempting to register or deposit at Bovada are met with a message informing them of the new policy.
The news comes on the heels of the company’s decision to stop accepting new players in the state of New Jersey last month and amid the larger of backdrop of a mass exodus of unlicensed poker sites from these markets.
This seems to be a clear signal that unregulated sites are finding licensed online poker markets not worth the trouble.
The departure of Bovada from Nevada is likely the final nail in the coffin for unregulated rooms in these markets, considering the Merge Gaming Network, the Winning Poker Network, and the Equity Poker Network have all left the three regulated markets in some capacity this year.
It’s unlikely the departure will negatively impact Bovada’s traffic numbers in a meaningful way (the site has an average of 1,350 cash-game players at its tables according to www.pokerscout.com’s data), but if more and more markets are closed off, the site may find the situation in the US untenable, as it did in Europe in 2012.
It will also be difficult to identify the impact of Bovada’s departure on licensed rooms in Nevada as the World Series of Poker currently taking place in Las Vegas, and has been steadily increasing traffic at WSOP.com over the past couple of weeks. Whatever amount of players migrate from Bovada to WSOP.com or Ultimate Poker will be hard to distinguish from the new players in town for the WSOP.
Sites cave to regulators’ pressure
Interestingly, this wave of departures came after what appeared to be the first real concerted effort to by regulators to eliminate the presence of illegal offshore online poker sites.
It’s unclear if regulators in Nevada have been applying pressure to these unregulated sites, but we do know that this pressure was occurring in New Jersey.
In April (the letters only came to light in May) the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in conjunction with the state Attorney General’s office sent out cease & desist letters to licensed affiliates who were still advertising offshore sites alongside the licensed New Jersey online poker rooms.
We know the DGE and the Attorney General’s office sent C&D letters to affiliates, but we do not know if similar letters were sent to the unlicensed sites, although it would make sense that they were.
Consider that within six weeks of the affiliate sites receiving their C&D letters the Winning Poker Network, the Equity Poker Network, and Bovada had all left the New Jersey market – Merge Gaming had left New Jersey back in January.
According to the NJ DGE’s Kerry Langan the C&D letters sent to online poker affiliates served the following purpose:
The Division feels very strongly about protecting NJ citizens from illegal Internet gaming websites. New Jersey has a strong regulatory framework in place to enable Internet gaming to be a safe reliable experience for those who wish to participate.
The Division hopes that by taking a strong stance against illegal websites and their promoters, the benefits of regulated online gaming will help drive illegal operators out of the market place and provide patrons far better protections.
At the same time, we believe it is unfair to those companies that subjected themselves to our strict licensing and regulatory requirements to have to compete with these illegal sites and the entities which are being paid to promote them.
Unlicensed operators are just one hurdle
Cutting down on unregulated competition will certainly help the licensed online poker sites in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, but it’s only one of the problems these markets are facing, as intrusive sign-up processes and the continued rejection of many credit cards are still holding the industry back.
That being said, the way regulators have attacked the unlicensed sites problem is a good sign that they are in this for the long haul and see tremendous potential from online gambling.