If you’re not familiar with PokerScout.com, the site tracks online poker room traffic according to cash game volume. Its owner, Dan Stewart, has seen a bevy of changes over the years as the industry has evolved in the United States and around the world. With the recent running of the 12th Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS), Poker News Daily sat down with Stewart to talk about the event’s successes and shortcomings.

Word broke on Sunday that the Main Event of FTOPS XII failed to reach its $2.5 million guarantee, drawing only 4,581 runners and boasting a $200,000 overlay. The $535 buy-in tournament was the centerpiece of the FTOPS schedule, which saw its MiniFTOPS counterparts draw players by the thousands. In fact, the smallest MiniFTOPS event attracted 729 players and its Main Event comfortably surpassed its $500,000 guarantee. Stewart explained, “The MiniFTOPS is a mini-disaster. It’s a tournament at one-tenth of the buy-in starting five minutes later and has cannibalized the business from the big tournaments. When players see a lower cost option, they opt for it. It’s taken a good chunk of business away from the traditional FTOPS events.”

Despite the fact that over half of the FTOPS tournaments failed to reach their guarantees, PokerScout.com notes that traffic on the site is up 56% year over year. The growth is similar to PokerStars (57%) and the Cake Poker Network (54%), which has seen the addition of sites like Doyle’s Room and Poker Host during 2009. Stewart surmised, “The overlays don’t have anything to do with traffic or how well the site or the industry is doing. All you have to do is compare this FTOPS to the last one. They ran a similar schedule and if you look at the ring game traffic, it’s up about 10%. They’re busier now than they were then, yet you have a different outcome in terms of guarantees.” The FTOPS is run quarterly, whereas PokerStars holds its World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) once per year. In April, the first ever PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) panned out.

The SCOOP series had tournaments at low-, mid-, and high-stakes and kicked off on April 2nd. The FTOPS XII schedule was announced one week prior and mirrored the SCOOP concept of offering multiple stakes. Stewart commented, “The FTOPS schedule came out before the SCOOP ran. When it ran, it became clear that low-stakes tournaments were cannibalizing their high-stakes counterparts. Both sites are probably learning from the experience.” Nine of the 22 high-stakes SCOOP tournaments did not reach their guarantees; however, the $5 million guaranteed Main Event generated an additional $20,000 in prize money.

On the state of the overall poker economy, which is treading amid a global economic downturn, Stewart noted, “It’s quite healthy. All we can do is compare right now to the same time last year. When we do that, we see that the industry is up 30% year over year. That’s probably a slow rate of growth in comparison to three or four years ago.” Year over year, Bodog has experienced a 30% drop in player traffic, while Swedish gaming operator Svenska Spel is down 14%. The largest gain year over year went to the Entraction Network, which is headlined by Devilfish Poker and NoiQ Poker. Traffic on the rapidly growing network ballooned by 140%.

With gambling revenues in Nevada down 11% in March of 2009 in comparison to the same period in 2008, many have speculated as to whether online poker will experience a similar downturn. Stewart speculated, “I don’t see the economy affecting online poker too heavily. Some people say that poker is counter-cyclical. A person is laid off, spends more time at home, and gambles online to make money. I don’t see it being counter-cyclical; it just chugs along regardless of the economy.”

PokerScout.com is among the industry leaders in reporting traffic across the major sites and networks and launched in 2006. The website also displays high-stakes games in progress and a list of brand name pros competing on the virtual felts. One feature that the site expects to unveil is a Bad Beat Jackpot tracker, which would keep tabs on the promotion across the networks that offer it. We’d like to thank PokerScout.com’s Dan Stewart for joining us.

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