Inside Gaming: PartyPoker Up For Sale, and 888poker Leaving the US?

Inside Gaming: PartyPoker Up For Sale, and 888poker Leaving the US?

PartyPoker could soon be under new ownership if rumors circulating are true. Several sources have contacted gambling newsletter Earnings+More claiming the former number one online poker site is deemed surplus to requirements by parent company Entain.

It is not all sunshine and rainbows at Entain right now, with the gambling giant on the hook for a £615 million settlement following an HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) investigation that started in 2019. The HMRC and the Crown Prosecution Service pursued Entain, which was named GVC Holdings at the time, claiming it failed to prevent bribery at its former Turkey subsidiary between July 2011 and December 2017. Entain agreed to pay £615 million over four years in exchange for settling the case.

The £615 million is made up of £585 million to settle the case, a £20 million donation to charity, and £10 million to cover HMRC's legal costs. Entain CEO Jette Nygaard-Andersen stepped down with immediate effect one week after the settlement.

PartyPoker's Dwindling Traffic

PartyPoker's fall from grace has been spectacular. Once the busiest online poker site on the planet, PartyPoker withdrew from the United States in 2006 when the UIGEA came into effect, while its rivals remained stateside. Despite immediately cutting off its American players, PartyPoker remained a major force in the online poker world, but traffic has continually dwindled.

Traffic figures from GameIntel show PartyPoker hosted over 9,100 concurrent cash game players in September 2006, but had dropped to fewer than 2,000 by 2014. Aside from a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns, cash game traffic has never gone over 2,000 players. Currently, PartyPoker is averaging approximately 600 cash game players.

Falling traffic has affected PartyPoker's tournament offering. The online poker site used to run a $1 million guarantee event that rivalled the PokerStars Sunday Million, and once held the record for the largest online poker tournament prize pool, when the 2018 edition of the MILLIONS Online Main Event saw 4,367 players create a $21,835,000 prize pool. Today, PartyPoker's flagship weekly tournament is a $109 buy-in, $100,000 guaranteed event that usually overlays.

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What Went Wrong at PartyPoker?

Withdrawing from the United States while its rivals continued operations was the first, yet understandable, misstep PartyPoker made; it put them at a significant disadvantage. Withdrawing from so-called "gray markets" was admirable but not what a site with falling player numbers needed. Banning Russian players was another nail in PartyPoker's coffin.

There has long been a feeling that the poker side of, then GVC Holdings, and finally Entain, was the black sheep of the family. The parent companies seemed more interested in sports betting and online casino products than online poker, evident by poker being bundled with other verticals when the companies published their trading figures.

PartyPoker Sends Its SPINS Excitement Into SPINS Overdrive

New, ambitious tournament guarantees were often reduced if the event overlaid a couple of times during the event's infancy, while the PartyPoker LIVE tour, which seemed to be a legitimate player in the live poker realm, went on a brief hiatus, returned in July 2023 with less extensive scheduled and lower buy-ins, and has not had an event since early November 2023 and no news of any plans for 2024.

Some initiatives PartyPoker attempted seemed to be misguided projects. For example, segregating player pools then reneging on the system following a player backlash, chopping and changing the loyalty program and other promotions. Poker players tend not to be keen on change, especially when those changes seem to be neverending.

Who Would Want to Purchase PartyPoker?

Entain's biggest challenges if it is open to selling PartyPoker would be to find someone willing to buy it, then putting a price on the brand. The once industry-leading software is essentially the same since its launch with a few bells and whistles bolted on behind the scenes, and a few licks of pain on its surface. Of the established online poker sites, none would be interested in PartyPoker for its software alone.

PartyPoker has two significant things going for it: its brand and its customer database. It is these two components that a potential suitor will be most interested in. Much like when PokerStars came to the rescue of Full Tilt, and then PKR, whoever buys PartyPoker will get their hands on a player database with millions of potential customers. Such information is a valuable commodity.

Inside Gaming: MGM Resorts, GVC Holdings Partner for New NJ Online Brand

MGM Resorts International and DraftKings are two names that continually appear in anything related to PartyPoker and Entain. DraftKings offered $22.5 billion for all of Entain in September 2021, so would naturally be interested, one would think.

MGM could see buying PartyPoker as the perfect opportunity to get its hands on the technology powering PartyPoker and other Entain brands. Entain and MGM are already in cahoots through its BetMGM partnership.

Personally, I hope whoever buys PartyPoker does so with the intention of keeping the brand alive and attempting to rejuvenate it, not farm its database, before turning off the lights.

Entain Willing to Sell Off Other Brands

Earnings+More also claims Entain is open to offers for other brands under its control. These include the UK-focuses Coral sportsbook, Foxy Bingo, and Foxy Games.

Eurobet, a Coral-owned online sportsbook, Crystalbet (Georgia), Enlabs (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and SuperSport (Croatia) are other Entain brands the London Stock Exchange listed company is willing to let go.

888 Pulling Out of Its B2C Business in the United States

888Holdings, the parent brand of 888poker, announced a strategic review of its US B2C business to the London Stock Exchange on March 6. 888 has B2C partnerships with SI Sportsbook and SI Casino in Michigan, SI Sportsbook in Colorado and Virginia, and 888casino in New Jersey. 888 has agreed to pay $25 million in cash to Sports Illustrated to terminate its deal, with another $25 million paid between 2027 and 2029.

The move has the potential to directly impact the World Series of Poker (WSOP) because the WSOP Nevada and WSOP New Jersey online poker rooms are powered by an old version of 888poker's software.

Rumors have long circulated that WSOP and 888poker could part ways, especially with the WSOP's recent tendency to use GGPoker to run online bracelet events in dotcom markets, and the WSOP in Ontario poker room rebranding to GGPoker Onario. Perhaps now would be the perfect time for the WSOP to jump ship and use GGPoker for all of its US-based online poker sites?

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