With the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) looming overhead and watchdog groups trying their best to curb internet gaming, many felt that the online poker industry would do nothing but regress in 2009. However, the opposite proved to be true.

Those same pundits used the weak global economy as the proverbial “nail in the coffin” and all but predicted that the online poker industry would collapse by the end of the year.  Now that we’ve reached the conclusion of 2009, we can clearly see that these so-called experts were completely wrong in their assessments.  Poker News Daily sat down with Dan Stewart, manager of PokerScout.com, to discuss the online poker industry trends of 2009.  PokerScout.com is a traffic reporting website that has kept records for all of the major sites.

Poker News Daily: Who was the big winner in terms of gaining market share in 2009? Has the market grown or shrunk during the year?

Dan Stewart: The big winner for the year was Full Tilt Poker, doubling in size and increasing its market share from 15% to 23%.  The market has grown 35% in 2009.  A large part of that growth came in the second half of the year since summer is traditionally a slow time for online poker.

PND:  We’ve noticed solid growth from Full Tilt Poker. Has the site’s increase in traffic closed the gap between Full Tilt and PokerStars?

Dan Stewart: Full Tilt Poker has gone from 40% of the size of PokerStars at the beginning of the year to 65% now.

PND:  It seems like there’s a decent-sized gap between the 12 major online poker networks and #13 (Svenska Spel).  Is there any site or network on PokerScout.com ranked 13th or lower that is on its way up and might become a major player in 2010?

Dan Stewart: Of the sites ranked below 12th, only “win2day” has managed to grow at a rate equal to the overall market.  All of the other sites are either shrinking or growing slower than the market.

PND: What can you make of the rumors about a potential bwin – Party Gaming merger? If they did merge, where would that put their network in terms of traffic worldwide?

Dan Stewart: It’s hard to say exactly how a potential merger would play out and how much overlap there is between customer bases.  However, if you just add the two player pools together, the combined entity would easily move into third place ahead of iPoker.

PND: Can you talk a little bit about industry consolidation?

Dan Stewart: There is definitely a critical mass effect at work.  The sites that have the most players attract the most players because they offer more action around the clock.  Already, the top two sites (Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars) have about 60% market share.  However, the effect is slow to work and there are still at least 15 sites and networks with enough players to remain healthy.  Unless there is a wave of consolidation, players outside the U.S. will likely have a large number of viable options for years to come.

PND: We’ve talked about winners in 2009. Who are the big losers of the year?

Dan Stewart: In a growing market, “loser” is a relative term.  Many of the non-U.S. sites have had a hard time keeping up with the growth of the market overall.  In terms of actual player loss, the biggest loser has been Svenska Spel, down 9% for the year.  Svenska Spel is run by the Swedish government and they may have been handicapped by some internal disagreement as to how aggressively the government should be promoting online poker.

PND: What’s in the future for PokerScout in 2010?

Dan Stewart: There are some exciting new features coming in January.  The traffic report will be expanding and we’ll be partnering with one or more rakeback providers to offer great rakeback deals to our visitors.

We would like to thank Dan Stewart and PokerScout.com for their very insightful information and data.  If you wish to read more detailed reports about online poker traffic, be sure to visit PokerScout.com.

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