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I think it was roughly nine months ago that I sat in my office and felt the shackles that have bound me to this industry since I went solo in 2010 finally break.
The reason behind this moment of liberation was a couple of announcements from different online poker rooms that confirmed to me, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the industry as a whole had come to adopt the recreational point of view that I and others have been pitching forever.
I haven’t actively consulted on basic player ecology matters for years, but I still write about it off and on. My pride has not allowed me to consider quitting poker before the views I held so dear ( and that were dismissed and high-horsed for years) would be established.
Now they are.
Pretty much every site has introduced measures to steer their poker businesses into more causal play friendly waters. But no one has ever put the pedal to the medal. They have, in poker speak, never fully committed to the pot.
The incremental steps mentality is the primary reason why I have not played a more active role in forging new experiences for the established sites. I have been in discussions many times but I’ve never been comfortable with that approach. I got to be part of trying it before 2010 and that didn’t turn out well.
The changes required – in mentality, in software, in attitude, in marketing, in staff – are so fundamental that I decided early that it would be all-in or nothing.
And with a few exceptions, it’s turned out to be nothing.
Now that Pokerstars have announced further ambitions to re-prioritize and re-focus their poker room in that direction, I think it is warranted to ask whether this slow evolution is evidence of a huge opportunity that everyone missed.
What if someone had dared to shove? How much of the business now in Amaya’s hands could that company have grabbed by now?
What does the steady rise of Bodog/Bovada tell us? They took advantage of slow decision making, decided to be very ”inspired” by other people’s work and slap their logo on it. Their ”model” doesn’t amount to more than getting some of the basics straightened out (partly solving HUDs issue and fairer player valuation) but it is probably a key reason behind their rise to 3rd in Pokerscout’s rankings.
What does the bold move by Unibet to leave the comfort of a shared liquidity environment and go solo tell us? They’ve taking the recreational player approach the furthest and claim to experience growth in a vertical where almost no one else does.
What does 888’s cemented position as second behind Pokerstars tell us? 888 was last of the European poker companies to rebuild their poker platform. By being last they managed to adjust it to new findings around player valuation, affiliate over-spend, drain and more.
Everyone else talked about it. 888 started to do something about it.
The most promising initiatives to go after Pokerstars’ marketshare that never materialized, were several attempts in Europe to get all the major sportsbooks to join under one poker liquidity roof. I know of two such initiatives and was sporadically involved in a third.
The idea was to combine the juiciest liquidity on the market, protect it from blatant abuse by skins cynically targeting skilled grinders and take it from there.
As far as I remember it, all the initiatives failed because poker, by then, had already shrunk below the point where the sportsbooks considered it anything else but an annoying must-have.
But what if they hadn’t? What if, with a great sportsbook liquidity base, someone had gone Full Casual in say 2012?
It is now 2015 and most sites are still in the early phase of course correction. They still face the great challenge of communicating to consumers beyond active players that the game is no longer about them being served as cannon fodder to highly-rewarded winners. And that playing 67 off suit because your pinky toe tingles is not just acceptable. It’s the new black.
Maybe it would have been impossible to change the narrative without the site that owned the story. Maybe external factors and advancements in technology have prevented the shift from taking place before. Maybe it was ever only possible if everyone responded in a somewhat unison manner.
Maybe. Maybe not.