Online Poker Is Dead - Long Live Online Poker
Published 18th June 2015
Around six months ago, in iGB Affiliate issue 48, I participated in a roundtable discussion about what to expect from the online poker industry over the course of 2015. Here I’d like to revisit the final question of that discussion, namely: “Looking ahead, what do you see as the main opportunities and threats for poker affiliates in 2015?” My answer was laced with hopes for positive developments. In a nutshell, I posited there was hope for a brighter future for online poker if interested parties would work towards investing commensurate amounts of time, efforts and monies towards that end. For over four years now, ever since Black Friday, the pervasive outlook vis a vis the online poker industry has been negative. Indeed, the events of April 15, 2011 will remain etched in our collective memories forever; it was online poker’s nadir. Yet, somehow, the industry survived. With the passage of time, poker on the whole – and online poker specifically – has re-entered a growth phase, albeit a slow, gradual one. To be sure, it’s not as though online poker is booming and thriving in 2015 to the same extent it was prior to that fateful day. Yet, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the continued slow and steady growth of online poker. Here are five great ones:
1. Poker is white hot on Twitch
For those who haven’t heard, Twitch was purchased by Amazon for approximately $1 billion in September 2014. Since then, the live streaming video platform’s popularity has skyrocketed. Professional poker players such as Jason Somerville saw the potential to expose a new audience to online poker and have proven quite successful at adopting the Twitch platform. Back in February, Twitch received the American Poker Award for “Best Poker Innovation of the Year”. Thereafter, the floodgates opened, and loads of big-name poker players opened Twitch channels of their own. As a result, an increasing number of fans are tuning in to enjoy the online (and sometimes live) poker entertainment being provided.
2. Alex Dreyfus’ GPI is Sportifying Poker
Those American Poker Awards I mentioned? They were the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Alex Dreyfus, the co-founder of Winamax and Chilipoker. Better known now as the CEO of the GPI (Global Poker Index), Alex has been snapping up poker properties left and right, such as The Hendon Mob results database, the now-defunct Epic Poker League, and others, in a bid to “sportify” poker. His company is on the cutting edge of innovative poker content, having:
- staged the first ever (very successful) Global Poker Masters event
- hosted two poker conferences and awards ceremonies on two continents
- gained almost universal acceptance as the premier ranking system for tournament poker players
While the GPI is neither an online poker operator nor an affiliate, there’s no question that Alex Dreyfus’ quest to “bring poker to the people” has already brought hordes of people to poker.
3. US online poker legalisation continues its (SLOW) forward march
At press time, the World Series of Poker is in full swing over at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The series has started off on the right foot, with the $565 buy-in Colossus event boasting an eye-popping 22,374 entries (the previous live event record was 8,773 entries in the 2006 $10,000 buy-in Main Event). Clearly, live poker is still as popular as ever in the United States. Online poker is legal in three states (Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware) and WSOP.com is the Silver State’s sole regulated, licensed operator, while it’s a market leader in the Garden State. The US-based player pool is obviously still limited, but, eventually, additional states like Pennsylvania and California will finally join the fold and legalise and regulate online poker. Should they subsequently enter into interstate pacts, there’s no question that additional growth will materialise. Looking even further down the line, I can foresee a future where a unified collection of US states enter into player pool sharing agreements with other countries, after realising that ring-fencing the American market only serves to stunt growth. Though all of this will surely take a while (on the scale of years), progress on this front is no longer a question of “if ”, but rather “when”. Though the WSOP and WSOP.com are officially two separate enterprises, their parent company (Caesars Interactive Entertainment) has clearly recognised the need for symbiosis and has done plenty to encourage it’s database of live players to open online accounts when within the confines of Nevada and New Jersey. Other operators have acted similarly, such as Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel and Casino, whose marketng team is doing much to encourage people to start playing online poker (and casino games) on Borgata.com. There’s nothing that slows progress like waiting for legislative action, but at least we can confidently say that progress has been and is being made.
4. There’s PokerStars. Then there’s everybody else
In possession of dozens of licenses to operate its online poker software in jurisdictions all over the world, Amayaowned PokerStars retains its complete, unassailable stranglehold over the #1 spot for online poker rooms. Among their holdings, and by no means is this a complete list, are:
- The best online poker software (by far!)
- Secondary online poker brand Full Tilt Poker
- The insanely popular European Poker Tour live event series
- The top poker ambassadors in the world, including Daniel Negreanu and Vanessa Selbst
- Just-signed globally recognized football superstars Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo
- Practically endless goodwill from anyone who has ever played a hand of online poker, for having swooped in to buy Full Tilt Poker and reimbursed pretty much any player negatively affected in the wake of Black Friday.
Beyond all of that, PokerStars is of course doing everything it can to try and gain a foothold in the legal US online poker market. In short, if any one organization can be credited with enabling people to have a positive outlook with regard to the future of the online poker industry, it’s PokerStars.
5. Poker media have “gotten it” and upped their game
I don’t know exactly when the light bulb went on, but at some point the poker media finally “got it”. Sites like PokerNews.com, Pokerlistings.com, and PokerUpdate.com, among others, started making efforts to target recreational poker players with their content. By “target”, I mean create content that’s designed to engage and entertain people for whom poker and online poker are casual hobbies and leisurely pursuits. It’s THAT audience that’s referred to when the statistic of “there are tens of millions of poker players around the world” gets brought up in conversations. Furthermore regarding that content, the top brass at an increasing number of poker media outlets have clearly understood that “good enough” just isn’t good enough anymore. Whether it’s via podcast, live reporting, video package, basic poker strategy articles, “traditional” rich media-infused long-form journalism, newly developed poker-themed TV shows, or even Twitch, I’ve consumed more awesome poker media content over the last few months than at any point in time since I became interested in poker as a young adult. With the poker media continuing to churn out premium content, it’s no surprise that poker fans remain engaged while people who are relatively new to poker could easily be encouraged to “convert” and start playing online or in a live setting.
As with most anything in life, the way one chooses to perceive a situation often boils down to attitude. One could easily survey today’s online poker landscape, compare it to “the glory days of yore” prior to Black Friday, and declare that online poker is dead. As a matter of fact, when I was approached with the opportunity to submit an article for this issue of iGB Affiliate, I was told something to the effect of “it would be good to include a positive angle on this for once”. That’s not to say that I’ve been a pessimistic Percy, but rather that there’s been way too much negativity about online poker for far too long. As the above examples illustrate, there are plenty of reasons to adopt a glass-halffull opinion on online poker. I’m sure that it wouldn’t take you long to think up some additional ones. To paraphrase my friend, Editor of PokerStrategy.com Barry Carter, if this industry can survive Black Friday, it can survive anything. Long live online poker!