The revival: how the face of online poker has changed in recent years
The poker boom following Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker helped online poker to reach the kind of popularity no one could see coming. Poker sites thrived for almost a decade, with amateur players and professionals coexisting to create the perfect harmony. However, the euphoria ended after Black Friday in 2011.
This marked the end of the poker era, and with the bulk of US players cut off from poker platforms, we started to see a slow decline in the game’s popularity. The number of recreational players started to dwindle, followed by pros who turned to other endeavors.
For a few years, things continued to stagnate and then 2019 happened. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of the world, restricting people’s ability to move around freely. So many people rediscovered online poker, albeit often in a somewhat different form.
The rebirth of online poker
In 2019 and 2020, online poker sites have seen the kind of interest that hasn’t been recorded in a long while. New people were signing up, and many were rediscovering their old accounts and getting back into the mix.
Even the general interest in poker grew tremendously. For example, mypokercoaching.com has tripled its users since the start of the pandemic and significantly increased affiliate traffic to poker operators. It was a real poker boom, perhaps not on the same scale as the original one, but very significant nonetheless.
And while these numbers were impressive, they didn’t paint the full picture. This is because many players have moved away from major sites to look for alternatives in recent years, and they found it with free poker apps.
These apps aren’t centralised, so everyone can set up their club and run it as they see fit. Platforms themselves don’t offer real money action, so it is up to club owners and managers to set things up and handle any transactions.
It may not be the safest way to play as there aren’t many safeguards in place, but numbers show that people like it. The advantages of these apps are that you don’t have to hassle with banks or payment processors, and they are available everywhere. This availability is perhaps the most important aspect, given the regulatory changes we’ve seen in recent years.
Online poker regulation – good or bad for the game?
The US may have been the first country to go after online poker, but they certainly were not the only one. Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of movement in Europe, with numerous countries introducing local poker regulations. Some of these are good, but some, not so much.
A few European countries have segregated player pools, cutting off players from the rest of Europe and the world. Others, like Germany, are starting to introduce mandatory deposit and time limits across the board, making it much harder to enjoy the game.
Is some regulation needed? Yes, no doubt about it. But it seems that people in charge are not quite in touch with the game and the players, creating a vacuum of sorts. This pushes players towards using apps where they can play as they like, and the major operators are forced to look for new markets where they can actually thrive.
Online poker goes to Asia
Asia is the most populous continent in the world, but until recently, it hasn’t been what you’d call an online poker hub. Unlike Europe or the US, where poker has been quite popular even before the boom, the game has never been that big in Asian countries.
This trend is changing, as major players in the industry are turning towards these new markets. The growth potential is massive, and the regulation doesn’t make things as complicated as in the US, where only a few states allow online poker at this time.
Poker in Asia hasn’t yet exploded for the time being, and networks catering to these players are somewhat restricted for the rest of the world. However, it is only a matter of time before all of this changes, and we could have another proper poker boom on our hands.
Countries like India, for example, have been toying with the idea of regulating online poker for some time now. If a consensus happens on the country level, operators that manage to corner this market will be in a sweet spot, with tens of millions of potential new customers waiting in the pipeline.
What comes next for online poker?
Over the past decades, online poker has had its ebbs and flows. It was always clear that the growth the game saw over those initial years could not continue indefinitely, but outside factors have played major roles in these developments.
The United States has been moving towards regulation, with a few states passing laws to allow online poker. We are finally seeing some movement towards states working together and combining player pools, which is a big step in the right direction. That said, a country-wide regulation is still far away.
As things stand right now, Asia seems to be the next big market that could lead the way for online poker. There is also the move towards poker apps instead of traditional poker clients, as that seems to be what recreational players prefer – and recs are at the heart of online poker.
Photo by Gelgas Airlangga