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There’s no denying that it has been a very tough year for many people and most businesses.  The online poker industry was not much different.  Online poker has been under attack by various groups throughout the year, and unfortunately has had precious few victories to celebrate.  However, there is some optimism as we look toward 2009.  Many think the new administration in the United States will be more poker friendly and that we might finally see an end to the UIGEA.  That remains to be seen of course, but we can look at some of the trends to see how online poker sites have changed from the beginning of the year to the end.

Pokerlistings.com has an online traffic report that shows the average number of cash game players online at particular times across a wide variety of sites.  The following information was derived using the numbers provided by pokerlistings.com.

First, let’s take a look at the industry averages as a baseline.  January started out seeing an average of just about 4,000 cash players online per day.  This number went up just slightly in February, but then trended steadily downward until August, when the average fell to about 3,300 cash players per day (cppd).  From then, things began to turn around, and December ended seeing about 4,400 cppd.

PokerStars was the largest site at the beginning of the year and was able to increase their size by the end.  In fact, January 2008 was their quietest month in terms of average cash players per day at just under 12,000, while December 2008 ended up being the busiest month, at over 20,000 cppd.  No doubt this was helped by the record setting 35,000 player tournament, which also broke a record for number of players online at one time.  Their trend was fairly flat at the beginning of the year with large increases coming in the last six months.

Full Tilt Poker is the second largest online poker site, with a 12-month average of about 7,400 players per day.  Interestingly enough, Full Tilt also saw quite an increase late in 2008.  August was their slowest month, but September brought about a huge turnaround, being their largest month at that time and they were able to increase each month from there.  They also had their busiest day in December (Friday the 12th, with 9,704 players) and December was their busiest month, averaging over 8,800 cash players per day.

The third largest site is Titan Poker, part of the iPoker Network.  Titan remained nearly flat throughout the year.  In fact the difference between their slowest month (June) and busiest month (March) is only 476 players.  The 12-month average at Titan was about 5,100 cppd. Titan does not allow US players on their site.

Another non-US site is the fourth largest on the net.  The question is, for how long?  Party Poker started the year averaging nearly 5,500 cash players per day.  Their numbers dropped sharply, however.  August saw only 4,202 players per day when they started making a bit of a comeback.  Their December numbers trended upward, slightly, to end the year averaging nearly 4,700 cppd.

Ending the year in fifth place was Hollywood Poker, averaging 3,792 players per day over the past 12 months.  Everest Poker finished sixth, at 2,902 players per day.

The third US site to see its biggest days come at the end of the year was Absolute Poker.  They finished the year as the seventh largest poker site and averaged 1,225 players per day.  However, they’ve come a long way from their low of 984 players per day in August to more than double their average by December, with 2,072 cppd.

Rounding out the top ten poker sites for 2008 were Paradise Poker, with a 12-month average of 1,661 cash players per day, Doyles Room, at 1,236, and Pacific at 986.  It is interesting to note that the three US sites in the top ten all saw a fairly sharp uptick at the end of the year, while the non-US sites mostly remained flat throughout the year.

So although 2008 may have been a tough year for the online poker industry, many people are looking to 2009 as a comeback year.  Most experts do agree that 2009 is no doubt a pivotal year.  Regulations and lawsuits may decide the fate of online poker in the United States, and while there is optimism, there is also great concern.  As it stands now, it is not illegal to play poker online for most US citizens, and those that do play say changing the rules now could only make it worse.   That is the opinion of few, but it is still a possibility.  Let us hope that 2009 will bring only better news for online poker and perhaps soon enough we will be able to choose from any available site on which to play.

So to all the online poker players out there, Happy New Year, and run good in 2009!