LIVE POKER: THE UNLIKELY VERTICAL IN ONLINE TRAFFIC


The opportunity for affiliates in marketing around live poker tournaments


I WAS RECENTLY re-reading a piece of editorial concerning live poker that I’d written for this magazine’s sister publication, iGaming Business, and I must admit that I may have made a slight misrepresentation in declaring “Online poker players dream about taking on poker pros, at a real poker game, at a real poker table in a casino”. I must apologise to all the poker players out there and will use this platform to rectify my statement: most poker players actually see themselves as pros, or at least experienced players and they will take to live action as ducks to water, to play other pros. Of course, I am being flippant but, many a true word...

Live value

One of my online clients recently tasked me with the organisation of a live poker tournament, to increase... you guessed it, their online presence. Part of the marketing strategy concerns ‘involving’ affiliates in the promotion of the live poker tournament as much as the online satellites. Hence, after a few meetings with the pillars of this industry (that’s you guys, the affiliates), I realised two things. Firstly, the number of live poker tournaments makes it affordable for the average Joe to play a few tournaments per year without the need to fly off to Vegas every time. Secondly, every poker player that makes a placement (the size and prestige of it is largely irrelevant, what matters is to be in-the-money) thinks of himself/herself as a pro. Once that has been achieved, they are hooked to the game and the ‘fame’ that comes with it. Live poker becomes a hobby and in some cases a part-time job.

We now find an interesting phenomenon around this new generation of semi-pros - an entourage of friends, affiliates, coaches, etc, all whole-heartedly supporting their guy’s poker career and defending and debating the performance as if it were their own. Therefore, when it comes to the online side of things, bad beats are no longer bad beats, but rather something conjured from above, anomalies worth a public enquiry or the involvement of scientists from the CERN laboratory (there is only so much particle acceleration you can do), or perhaps even the whispered rumour that the software is just not right leading to the assertion that “this would never happen on a live table”. I have heard this statement hundreds of times and, although it totally ignores the different pace of both games (which makes it very unlikely to recreate an online situation in an offline game), it does, without any shadow of a doubt, add more value to live poker and clearly demonstrates where it stands in the public eye.
 
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WHAT’S NEXT FOR ONLINE POKER?


With some analysts claiming the demand for online poker has peaked, where do you see new growth coming from?


“Regulated markets do have the potential to grow. The freedom to advertise once a regulated market opens will, over time, lead to greater consumer awareness and participation. But this growth takes time to come through, probably in the medium-term range of three to five years”


Jim Ryan, Co-CEO, bwin.party
We are taking a longer-term approach, a business decision that reflects the structural changes taking place in the poker market. From the dominance of PokerStars in the ‘.com’ and ‘.national’ markets in Europe through to the potential rewards that would arise from the opening of the US market, there is no doubt that the online poker game is changing.

Poker is still an important part of our business and we have great brands - in fact world leading brands in PartyPoker and World Poker Tour. However, a reality check about the changing regulatory landscape and the market influence exerted by PokerStars tells us that it will be challenging for us to grow our poker business this year.

Regulated markets do have the potential to grow. The freedom to advertise once a regulated market opens will, over time, lead to greater consumer awareness and participation. But this growth takes time to come through, probably in the medium- term range of three to five years.

A few thousand miles further West and we’re looking at something very different - the opening of the US market. Various state and federal bills are working their way through the legislative process, which gives rise to our view and many others in the industry that it’s a matter of‘when’ not ‘if the US will open its market to online poker.

Let’s put the US prospect into financial context. Various estimates put the size of the US online poker market at around $1.6 billion before ‘Black Friday’. Some will say that the US was more mature than many other markets around the world; however, the introduction of a regulatory regime that enables the efficient movement of money in and out and, again, freedom to advertise, will fuel growth.

We’ve positioned ourselves for the opening of the U S through our agreements with MGM and Boyd and the removal of PokerStars and Full Tilt provided a useful fillip for our PartyPoker and WPT brands.
 
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ONLINE POKER: DEAD OR ALIVE?


With online poker traffic and revenues on the slide, is it premature to be sounding the game’s death knell?


BACK IN THE mid-‘noughties’, online poker’s rocketing appeal seemed unstoppable. Everyone from inveterate gamblers to betting virgins were logging- on in their droves to go mano-a-mano across the virtual felt. Suddenly, this old cowboy card game had become an office ‘water cooler conversation’, and gaming operators scrambled for a piece of the big juicy poker pie. A gold rush had arrived.

Of course, any boom is usually superseded by a bust. Whilst opinion is divided as to whether online poker is on a downward trajectory or merely stalling on a plateau, the fact remains that 2011 could be classed as the game’s annus horribilis.
 
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