Forum Files: the US Market

Alex Weldon : October 5th, 2015


It’s been a week of changes in the United States gaming market. The week’s biggest story is, of course, the news that PokerStars has managed to secure a license to operate in the state of New Jersey. This comes alongside the announcement of changes at partypoker, which has been serving that market ever since online poker was re-legalized there, while PokerStars has been making changes of its own.

As one would expect, the online poker community has responded mostly positively to these announcements, although not without the usual dose of skepticism. In this week’s Forum Files, we take a look at the public reaction to these and other stories.

PokerStars back in the US, sort of
Thread: pokerstars approved in new jersey!!!

It was on Thursday that the news broke: As Amaya CEO David Baazov has repeatedly promised, PokerStars finally won regulatory approval to recommence operations in New Jersey. It’s unclear exactly when PokerStars will actually do so, as they have a lot of other things on their plate as well, but it’s news that has been welcomed with excitement by many people who were playing online before Black Friday.

Of course, the downside is that New Jersey players won’t be playing on the “real” (i.e. global) PokerStars, but rather a separate site allowing only users playing from within the state. It will use the PokerStars name and a customized version of the PokerStars client, but the game offerings and tournament guarantees will necessarily be much more limited due to the smaller player pool. This has led some to wonder aloud whether it’s actually as big a deal as it seems, and whether it will in fact expand the market in New Jersey or simply spread the existing player pool even more thinly.

PartyPoker and PokerStars announce changes
Thread: Party Poker bans HUDs and seating scripts

On the same day as PokerStars announced its return to New Jersey, Party Poker announced that it was making significant changes to its client in order to reduce predatory behavior and the advantages offered to players using third-party software. Despite the thread’s misleading title, Party Poker has not actually banned any third party tools, merely changed its own software in order to make such programs less useful, by restricting players’ choice of seat in cash games, and removing the ability to download hand histories.

PokerStars, by contrast, did the opposite, changing its policies rather than its client. The site’s older, more permissive policies were creating problems in the form of software tools which increasingly pushed the boundaries of fair play. The site has therefore opted to reword its guidelines to disallow, among other things, “real-time commentary or advice on the current game state” and HUDs which display “non-numerical data.”

In general, both sets of changes were well-received, as most of the forums community is in agreement that third party software has gone too far, if not on the question of how far it needs to be dialed back. In the case of Party Poker, the primary complaint is that the site still charges rather high rake, which some see as a greater problem than predatory behavior by grinders. In the case of PokerStars, meanwhile, some feel that the new policies are painted in overly-broad strokes, disallowing some useful-but-not-fair tools along with the abusive ones.

Comparing the DFS and poker ecosystems
Thread: Online poker vs. daily fantasy: Which creates more winners?

In a recent article on CNBC, Eric Chemi collected a few different people’s take on the respective ecosystems of online poker and daily fantasy sports (DFS). It kind of goes without saying that most of the poker community – including professional player Andy Frankenberger, cited by Chemi – feels that poker has the better balance of winners and losers, while the DFS industry – spoken for in the article by FanDuel spokeswoman Jutine Sacco – feels that the DFS ecosystem is just fine.

The most objective opinion, meanwhile, comes from independent games consultant Ed Miller, who points out that the data shows that the vast majority of DFS players are low-volume, losing players, while 40% of entries are accounted for by only 1.3% of the site population, ultra-high-volume sharks who grind out a mere 7% ROI, largely by exploiting site overlays in guaranteed prize pool (GPP) events.

The opinions of the forums community is all over the place on this one. Inevitably, many feel that the rake is too high for DFS to work long-term, even though overlays currently mean the effective rake is often negative in larger contests. Others feel that the limited decision-making is probably good for the game – that getting lucky in picking a few athletes quasi-randomly is easier than getting lucky throughout a poker tournament, putting more money in recreational players’ pockets. Still others feel that DFS’s ultimate undoing will be a matter of the time factors involved: picking a winning lineup can take days of research, but entering that lineup into every possible contest takes a matter of minutes.

Is China’s anti-corruption campaign affecting Macau high-stakes poker?
Thread: Big trouble in little China

Macau has for a while been the home to the world’s highest-stakes poker games, where ultra-wealthy Chinese businessmen face off against the likes of Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan. The future of those games may now be uncertain, as the Chinese government’s anti-corruption efforts are putting many potential whales behind bars.

Overall gambling revenues are down around 33% this year, but it’s not clear what this means for poker specifically, or whether it’s really the result of the anti-corruption campaign. Several posters in the thread have pointed out that almost all Macau gambling is in the form of house games – mostly Baccarat – and that poker is only a very small part of it, and not necessarily affected by the larger drop. Others note that the Chinese economy is going through a massive downturn at the moment, which may have more to do with the gambling slump than does the arrest of a few businessmen, in which case Macau gambling might be expected to recover eventually.

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