Poker sites cut ties with pros

November 10, 2015 3:00 AM
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Poker sites cut ties with prosPokerStars and PartyPoker are following a trend that Bovada started last year. Online poker sites are downsizing their rewards programs and rakeback for poker pros, which allowed many players to earn a living playing poker. The sites are now focusing their resources on catering to recreational players.

Essentially the sites are telling the professional players who stood by them for years that they are no longer needed. All three are sending the same message: we don’t want consistent winners on our sites. The only winner they want on their site is the house.

What they are doing now is marketing to a more mainstream demographic by sponsoring celebrity players and pro athletes, such as tennis star Rafael Nadal and soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Gone are the days of hooded poker players hiding behind shades getting a sponsorship deal.

The online poker industry seems to feel the fish will last longer if they have more fun. As Eric Hollreiser, vice president of corporate communications for Amaya Inc. and PokerStars, said, “Poker is a fun game that we love and our responsibility is to make sure that every player at PokerStars – advanced, recreational, or new – can enjoy this game as much as we do.”

Another concession to the recreational player is PokerStars’ new policy regarding third-party software, such as HUD’s (heads-up displays) and tracking software. Hollreiser adds, “This will only have a direct effect on a small proportion of players and builds upon our responsibility to provide a level playing field for all players.”

My problem with this is what took so long. Bots were a great marketing tool for the online sites to look busy in the early years of online poker. Bots were one of the main reason pros won along with predatory software. Pro players and site owners alike used the bots to their advantage.

When poker profits turned south the site owners panicked. Where did the fish go? They said, “Let’s increase our profits by eliminating a drain on our profits – the winners.” The online sites have decided they don’t even want that 10% to win. They realized sharks need lots of fish to survive; now they want to become the shark, and to accomplish this they need to eliminate the professional poker players or their biggest winners.

The pros had a good run, but they also took advantage of the system by using third party software to give themselves a huge advantage over the average player. From professional players who seek to earn a living at the game to the recreational player who just wants to have a good time playing occasionally, the game as they know it may be over.

The bottom line: The marketing cost of seeking fish is astronomical. As long as they were making huge profits, the online poker sites were ignoring the fish who were being devoured at a rapid pace and had no chance of winning. I do see both sides of this issue, but I feel the poker site owners must bear most of the blame because of their greed and live-and-let-live attitude. How the sites now deal with this challenge can mean the difference between success and failure.

Years ago I was in charge of a group of props or professional players who were paid to play and keep games going. We decided they were sharks and no longer needed at the Bicycle Casino, the most successful card room in the world, so we fired all of them. Our competitor hired them all the next day.

This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes casino management ever made. The Bicycle Casino went from number one to number two.

History is now repeating itself in the online poker industry. We came to the same conclusion that the online sites are making now. But in the long run, it came back to cost us our number one position in the industry. You always have to look beyond the numbers.

Every element is vital to a healthy ecosystem. If there is an imbalance, everyone loses in the end. The same holds true for poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter: @thechipburnerEmail: robertturner@gamingtoday.com.

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