Poker growth on the horizon?
Games “will get better and better” in next few years, predicts TwoPlusTwo forum administrator.
Two Plus Two Publishing chief Mason Malmuth (pictured) has communicated to the website’s audience that a legitimate increase in real money poker competition could be imminent.
Citing an overall improved economic outlook in the United States and around the world, the 2+2 forum “Top Dog” believes “ games over the next two or three years will get better and better, and if you’re a good poker player today, it’ll seem like you’re an even better poker player tomorrow because your expectation should rise,” according to a recent issue of the monthly TwoPlusTwo Magazine.
“The economy is great, and I subscribe to the idea that it’s only going to continue improving. Of course, this creates much disposable income which many people will use for entertainment and poker/gambling is certainly one form of entertainment for many people,” Malmuth added.
Higher Rake Could Hinder Poker Growth
One of Malmuth’s major concerns when it comes to the health of the poker ecology is an across-the-board rake increase at many live and online casinos.
In Las Vegas particularly, the longtime poker community activist states that per-hand live poker room rake caps have more than doubled from $2 to $5 over the past 30 years. This means that Clark County live poker players pay about $15/hour to enjoy small stakes poker once tips are included, with many live destinations outside Las Vegas charging customers as much as $25/hour while reducing casino comps.
The online poker “for-profit” economy has suffered from similar rake increases in recent years as traditional, competitive games have been offered alongside lottery-style formats. Although these games have become a somewhat popular choice among recreational players who seek shorter gambling sessions, they have also made it much more difficult for aspiring professional players to advance in stake limits due to the higher costs associated with participating in lottery-style games.
This issue has spread to some traditional peer-to-peer poker formats as well, including a recent micro and small stakes Multi-Table Tournament rake increase implemented by the world’s largest poker site, PokerStars.
Although these decisions by poker room managers and/or corporate interests may enable an operator to increase revenue in the short term, Malmuth argues that they are not always positive for the overall health of a poker economy and could make poker growth “less likely” in the long term.
Increased Poker Revenue for Casinos, not Pros?
There is further evidence to suggest that Malmuth’s concerns about increased card room expenses having a negative impact on poker growth are legitimate.
Statewide regulation in the U.S. has improved the game’s market penetration to regional customers (albeit very slowly), yet such formal legalization efforts have come at an exorbitant cost to operators, who then pass on the added expense to slot machine, house-edge table game and poker players.
Land-based casino market saturation has also become an issue — particularly in the northeastern United States — where jurisdictions such as Pennsylvania have passed legislation that will nearly double the amount of brick & mortar destinations for Keystone State gamblers within the next two years.
Add to that questions surrounding the long-term viability of smaller poker rooms in the state along with a pair of commercial casinos petitioning the government for financial assistance in neighboring New York, and it’s easy to see why some poker industry analysts question whether the game is destined for a meaningful rebound.
Lawmakers are collaborating with external regulatory bodies on a routine basis while leaning toward extracting maximum value from casino operators through upfront licensing fees, taxation and governmental controls that further discourage innovation and investment into traditional poker formats.
The result of this could very well mean that live and online casinos move to immediately capitalize on any customer spend increases that an improving economy may facilitate, which would further place for-profit gamblers in a predicament of seeking out as many opportunities as possible to compete against poker room interests for opponents’ disposable income before it evaporates.
Can Independent Poker Personalities Stimulate Poker Growth?
Popular independent poker personalities such as Andrew Neeme, Matt Berkey, Joey Ingram, Doug Polk and other on-air talents have attracted a significant number of grassroots fans to the game in recent years. The informational and entertainment value these pros grant their respective audiences has sparked segmented, yet widespread poker media distribution as a result.
A handful of poker affiliate editorial desks have reacted to this trend by adapting their content to include personality-based news and opinions ranging from poker strategy and industry insight to quality of service communications and player-vs-player disagreements.
However, a potential “all-in” union between high profile independent poker players and the iGaming industry is likely to be cordoned-off by existing and incoming regulatory guidelines — some of which explicitly hold operators financially liable for gambling affiliate marketing material (specifically “news” stories in the referenced case).
Poker currently falls under the category of “gambling” in almost all current legislation, and there are few proposals apart from a New York Online Poker Bill that would exempt poker from being defined as such, although “skill-based” carve outs are more commonplace.
Some modern-day independent poker personalities (along with their respective audiences) have been adamant about retaining complete creative control over their communications, while “sponsored” representatives are considered to be an official part of poker sites’ marketing apparatus — and therefore must adhere to UK Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) established for gambling operators.
The extremely broad regulatory measures clearly lay out strict consumer protection guidelines, but also raise numerous questions as to how gambling (and specifically, “skill-based” poker) must — or must not — be marketed to customers going forward.
It should be noted that the United Kingdom Gambling Commission does not hold regulatory authority over licensed statewide North American markets. However, one example that highlights how poker marketing/advertising might evolve as a result of UK regulations is the recent Jaime Staples Weight Bet, which has prompted several key poker media consultants to critique what they perceive to be misguided poker marketing intertwined with the Jaime and Matt Staples prop bet victory.
READ: Should Poker Community Celebrate Weight Prop Bets? (Steve Ruddock – US Poker – Mar 27, 2018)
The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) establishes clear restrictions on advertising published by operators and their affiliated and/or sponsored associates alike, and the risk of financial repercussions to operators as a result of this regulation demands that this author and website take direction on these guidelines from PokerStars itself, which up to this point has classified the prop bet as an agreement between three consenting adults in its main editorial coverage via PokerNews, majority-owned by PokerStars parent company The Stars Group.
The personal esteem for successful poker players held by this author and many poker media columnists may come with a marketing disclaimer in the future, which could burden potential partnerships between iGaming outlets and independent personalities who — given their grassroots popularity — may see little to no reason to relinquish creative control over their outreach.
Such player-friendly pros (regardless of being labeled as “entitled” or “business partners” by operator interests in the past) are considered to be “consumers” by the UKGC, and their communications related to quality of service issues, disputed payouts, or even personal lifestyle are not bound by the same regulatory limitations placed on poker sites, sponsored players and affiliated media outlets.
The clear distinction between real money poker service marketers and consumers stipulated by the UKGC also creates doubts related to how (or if) certain consumer-initiated complaints should be publicly addressed by unofficial corporate spokespeople such as PokerStars Headline Pro Daniel Negreanu.
This author holds a personal and professional esteem for Daniel Negreanu’s contributions to poker growth despite conflicts of views expressed by independent poker personalities Joey Ingram and Doug Polk, both of whom I currently collaborate with while benefiting greatly from their publicly-communicated knowledge.
However, current UK guidelines suggest that Mason Malmuth (who has had a mutually-critical professional relationship with Kid Poker since the late 1990s) was correct in 2015 when he suggested Negreanu’s response, to gambling consumers’ disgust at the elimination of the PokerStars “Supernova” and “Supernova Elite” VIP Club Rewards cashback program for high-volume players, was inappropriate* — even if it was and has been encouraged or requested by a portion of PokerStars’ consumer base.
* Watch 7:04 to 10:54 of the December 11th, 2015 Poker Life Podcast episode embedded below.
One possible takeaway from Negreanu’s recent social media blockage of independent poker celebrities such as Ingram and Polk is that it could signal The Stars Group’s recognition of the need to be compliant in future interactions with players on quality of service, bonus payouts, cashback rewards, promotions and marketing topics — although that remains to be seen. Social media accounts are also generally considered to be personal platforms that relay a broad scope of viewpoints.
Got some sad news today guys 😕 pic.twitter.com/NgvFRcikqI
— Doug Polk (@DougPolkVids) April 4, 2018
Is Poker Growth Really in the Cards?
In my opinion, Mason Malmuth’s optimism and concern are both warranted. The poker industry has experienced a seismic surge in consumer-interest talent resulting from the mass distribution of streaming and broadcast services such as Twitch and YouTube. The Two Plus Two Publishing editorial shot-caller is an extremely knowledgeable, well connected individual within the industry who is admired by a large contingent of poker enthusiasts including myself.
Yet regulatory and corporate pressures on poker and casino operators do exist, and could significantly threaten the for-profit aspirations of poker players in various key regions around the world even in improved economic scenarios.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The analysis and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to me, and do not necessarily reflect the views of those mentioned within this content, this website, poker players, poker media, or poker operators.
Read More Part Time Poker Content Related to Poker Growth
How to Grow Poker’s Popularity and Global Appeal (Keith Woernle – Oct 6, 2016)
Why the Industry is Optimistic about Online Poker (Steve Ruddock – Oct 13, 2016)
Is Online Poker Really Dying? (Alex Weldon – Nov 26, 2014)
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