In a recent interview with Steve Ruddock, Brian Mattingley, otherwise known as the vocal CEO of 888 Holdings PLC., spoke at length about 888’s future plans in the regulated iGaming sphere, and also clarified his stance regarding online gaming giant PokerStars, which is prepping to make its return to U.S soil after a three-and-a-half year hiatus.
Mattingley’s company is currently the only iGaming operator with a foothold in all three states where online poker is legal. It provides the platform for WSOP.com in both New Jersey and Nevada, and operates its own 888 branded rooms in Delaware and the Garden State.
AAPN launch in Nevada imminent
As early as February, when Nevada and Delaware signed an interstate compact that would permit shared online poker liquidity across state lines, it was largely assumed that 888 would be expanding its base of operations in Nevada.
In June, Nevada’s regulators approved a plan that would see 888 form an online poker network in the Silver State, grouping together Caesars Interactive’s WSOP.com, an 888 branded poker room and a third room from Treasure Island under the same platform.
In his conversation with Steve, Mattingley stated that the Nevada-based 888 poker site will go live as part of the All American Poker Network in Q4 2014 or early 2015.
Mattingley also indicated that the AAPN in Nevada will serve as the framework for the interstate agreement between Delaware and the Silver State.
Mattingley provides clarity regarding PokerStars statements
Over the course of the past several months, Mattingley has been quoted offering two very different takes on his feelings towards PokerStars entering the regulated landscape.
In an interview with Howard Stutz of Las Vegas Review Journal fame in June, Mattingley appeared more than willing to lock horns with PokerStars, almost welcoming the company’s return to U.S. soil.
“We compete with PokerStars throughout Europe. They are a formidable competitor. But they would make all of us work much harder and it would expand the market. I would much rather have a small slice of a large pie, than a big piece of a small pie.”
Likening PokerStars to a “formidable competitor” may be the understatement of the year. According to data retrieved from PokerScout, PokerStars.com draws nearly 10 times the amount of cash-game traffic than second place 888, and more than twice that of the second through sixth most heavily traversed rooms put together. Insurmountable is more like it.
Regardless, it appeared that Mattingley was willing to accept 888’s billing as opening act. That is, at least he was until this statement appeared in Global Gaming Business earlier this month:
“We ought to see the regulators saying that [PokerStars] can come in, but because they were taking wagers illegally for those years, you are going to have to suffer a penalty where you can’t operate for a given period of time. I think two years would make some sense.”
When questioned about the apparent change in opinion, which was believed by some to be triggered by PokerStars suddenly all-too-real prospect of setting up shop in New Jersey, Mattingley maintained that he held the same position all along, pointing out that LVRJ only reported his willingness to compete against PokerStars, but failed to report his sentiment that PokerStars should have to wait a designed period of time before reentering.
He then went onto reiterate that PokerStars has an unfair advantage operating in a market that most other operators left in 2006, and that 888 and other companies like PartyPoker should be given a grace period to reestablish their brands.
Interestingly enough, in his interview with GGB, Mattingley states that “two years” would be a sufficient bad actor penalty, yet in his talks with Ruddock, would lessen his stance to “one year, 18 months, or two years.” By that logic, PokerStars would have already served its minimum sentence in Nevada – whose regulated iGaming operation went live nearly 16 months ago – and would have nearly met the requirements of a similar exclusion period in New Jersey, which will celebrate its one year anniversary in the biz this November, just eight weeks after the projected PokerStars launch.
Shared liquidity plans in New Jersey still pending
Mattingley didn’t have much to offer with regards to us.888poker.com and WSOP.com sharing player liquidity in New Jersey. He did go as far to indicate that “they would like to explore the possibility,” but it appears that as of now it is not a priority.
Either that or the DGE is somehow stalling the process.
In this journalist’s opinion, it would behoove 888 not to aggressively pursue a compact with WSOP.com – not only because it would immediately vault the AAPN into first place in New Jersey’s iPoker industry, but would position it to at least retain a significant market share when PokerStars inevitably takes over.
As Ultimate Poker and Betfair have already learned the hard way, the NJ marketplace is too small for more than three independent operators. When PokerStars makes it triumphant return, under the current makeup, someone would have to go, and that someone would likely be 888poker.
The benefits of a shared network agreement between WSOP.com and 888 extend beyond liquidity. In order to remain relevant, 888 has had to resort to “fire sale” promotions, often times extending unheard of cashback deals to its players, all in the name of retaining user interest. While aggressive marketing is a part of any viable growth strategy, an allegiance with WSOP.com would alleviate the need for such money-burning tactics.