Traditionally, the summer months mark the quiet period for the online poker industry. Warm weather draws players away from indoor activities; vacations disrupt regular schedules. Online poker goes into hibernation until September.
This year is different. The coronavirus has had four distinct impacts on the industry, each one fueling both inherent growing interest among consumers and increased investment from operators.
Firstly, stay-at-home orders have caused millions across Europe, the United States and beyond to look for indoor entertainment options. Online poker activity globally doubled within the space of a few weeks. And while this has waned in the last couple of months, all operators are still up significantly on the same period a year ago.
Secondly, players looked to take their live home games, pub poker socials and private clubs online. Searches for such terms increased ten-fold during the early days of the pandemic. It led to all major operators upgrading functionality to better accommodate players, whether it was adding mobile support, expanding games or, in one case, launching an entire home games feature from scratch.
Thirdly, live poker events have been canceled or postponed, including by far the two biggest events on the annual calendar: The PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship, the operator’s new spectacle, and the World Series of Poker, the industry’s once-a-year mecca, where tens of thousands of players from around the world descend on Las Vegas for more than six weeks to compete in the biggest and most coveted prizes in the game.
Fourthly, operators themselves, seeing this surge of interest, have doubled down. With sporting event suspended the last few months, they looked to online poker to demonstrate to investors that their diversified portfolio can weather such storms. The Stars Group highlighted their doubled online poker revenue. 888 called online poker “particularly encouraging.” Unibet said the vertical “was almost back to its glory days”.
To support these claims and drive these numbers, marketing spend was increased and operational focus was diverted, at least temporarily, to the oft-forgotten vertical.
So, as the industry enters what is normally a very quiet period, instead we are seeing operators put on some of the largest series ever hosted.