The 2018 World Series of Poker is upon us.
Roughly 100,000 tourists flock to Las Vegas each year to compete in the marquee Series that offers up dozens of bracelet events, high traffic cash games, and one of the best “live poker atmospheres” in the world.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the WSOP without accompanying drama related to Chris Ferguson, contemplation of “fair” tournament mark-up rates, and ongoing feuds between high profile players such as Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu.
The friction between the two player-personalities reached new heights Friday when a “More Rake Is Better” billboard made its debut near the corner of W. Flamingo Rd. and Dean Martin Drive, just outside the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino where the 2018 WSOP is taking place.
The meme has come to life, God Bless.
— Joey Ingram (@Joeingram1) June 1, 2018
The billboard pokes fun at comments made two years ago by PokerStars Team Pro Daniel Negreanu (comments that the all-time live tournament cash prize winner has since modified), and has been positively received by Doug Polk fans — although there has been rare pushback from posters on TwoPlusTwo (a forum that tends to lean heavily against “Kid Poker”).
Much of the feedback that defends Negreanu focuses on the poker personality’s commitment to ongoing promotion of the game through his real money play, popular WSOP 2018 Vlog entries (see below), and tireless engagement with issues that affect both players and the industry.
The Twitter exchange initiated by Poker Life Podcast host Joey Ingram also contains a question from PocketFives co-owner Adam Small, who openly asks whether poker sites should concern themselves with for-profit poker.
Serious (not snarky or sarcastic) question: Should poker sites be concerned with the viability of playing poker for profit?
— Adam Small (@AdamLoebSmall) June 1, 2018
I really, really hate that my place in the community is to ask Q's like this. But I would like to see better thought out answers sometimes. Possibility for players to play for a living shouldn't be stated as an intrinsic good for operators.
— Adam Small (@AdamLoebSmall) June 1, 2018
Should Viability of For-Profit Poker Concern Poker Sites?
To be clear, if your aim as a poker operator is to deceive customers through false advertising tactics (such as PokerStars’ decision to deny Supernova/SNE cashback payments to its high volume customers), then no… the viability of for-profit poker play should not be a major consideration as long as you can avoid prosecution and/or meaningful fines.
But for other operators, the short answer to this question is that “it depends.” As alluded to in the thread, the case for whether poker sites offering formats that happen to be “beatable” by the most highly-skilled players is of value to the companies themselves is complex, and dependent upon a number of factors such as marketplace composition, existing regulation, and long-term “poker ecology” considerations.
Two close-in-skill players paying $1 rake/hand will pay more rake before someone goes broke than two players with a larger skill gap paying $1.50. Like Adam said, it's complex
— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) June 1, 2018
On one hand, the word-of-mouth “dream” that was liberally spread to new players during the “Pre-Black Friday” era of real money online poker absolutely contributed to a surge in marketplace interest in gambling products — specifically internet poker.
No. I'm saying that's a single piece of 100 piece puzzle. It all needs to be balanced, and just as importantly, it needs to adapt to changing conditions. So i think there are times.places where low rake is correct and other times/places where higher rake is correct
— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) June 1, 2018
Casual players who were enticed by one-line promotional messages such as you can make money at this game flocked to online poker sites during this time with varying results, but it was always understood within the veteran community that an individual could improve his/her poker skills, and find an internet game that had a positive expectation.
Of course, the “online poker boom” also occurred during a time when the resources and tools for poker training available to new players were far inferior than what is available today. This has created a scenario in which skill levels among all but the very best (or worst) players have evened-out — making it less feasible for poker operators (land-based or online) to promote their offerings as “plus EV” to seasoned pros.
Even online giant partypoker — which does offer significant cashback incentives that reward volume-based play and in some cases subsidize a “poker living” for players cannot guarantee whether specific formats are (or will remain) profitable for any given customer.
For better or for worse, regulations have caught up with the online poker industry, as some jurisdictions now specifically prohibit promoting any form of gambling as “an alternative to employment or a way to achieve financial security” (see Sections 16.3.4 & 16.3.6 of current UK Gambling Marketing Codes).
Add to that an August 2017 declaration by the world’s largest poker site that professional poker players are unwelcome, and you have an online environment that openly shuns skill-based play and is predatory towards vulnerable consumers, for a real money card game in which “money earned” (or lost) represent the most authoritative factors for determining actual skill level.
The responsibility for answering the question of whether for-profit poker should be considered important for operators lies with poker service providers themselves, not with players — a fact that has been driven home by antagonistic rhetoric towards veteran players from PokerStars, or arbitrary retributions towards “net–withdrawing” customers by other operators who have blocked winning players’ access to their services.
These stances may be warranted from a poker site perspective, but that doesn’t justify methods that these service providers use to underhandedly devalue the business interests of for-profit poker players while at the same time usurping the voice of vulnerable consumers by utilizing them in bad-faith for the sole purpose of increasing a company’s bottom line.
PokerStars’ Removal of Supernova/SNE Benefits is a Key Issue
The real question that has been repeated over and over by players since late 2015 is:
Why do industry representatives continue to avoid (or summarize in the shortest possible manner) the issue of PokerStars ripping off its real money customers through false advertisement mechanisms?
Players have repeatedly informed anyone who will listen that stealing funds from a customer base is bad for business and significantly reduces the credibility such operators have (or should receive from media interests) for attracting new players. Yet somehow players still get burdened with these “tough questions” when a handful of poker sites have already answered this for themselves — in spite of player opposition.
Although guidelines to prohibit poker sites from using these tactics do exist in regions such as the United Kingdom, separate provisions that encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) negotiations between operators and customers create an obvious loophole for gambling sites to scam consumers — whether they’re for-profit poker players or not.
Large poker operators like PokerStars wield their player databases over the heads of not only their competition, but also the very players who have provided this information, with zero compensation to customers who are forced to defend themselves against communication not only from the sites but from industry-facing media as well.
It is obvious that PokerStars relies on uninformed customers to continue lining its corporate coffers, maintain the jobs of site personnel (even though the company is certainly not “entitled” to a criminal defense or superior bargaining position through the use of stolen funds), and enable the company’s “scorched-earth” business philosophy of devaluing any individual it can’t maliciously utilize to endure. That’s the Modus Operandi of any scam-based activity, blame and burden the victims once enough people are made aware of what occurred.
Informed consumers tend to call out predatory practices and will likely continue to do so (and become more effective at it) regardless of how many times this ongoing issue is ignored by industry representatives, as witnessed by successful player resistance to video game micro-transactions that have likewise corrupted an industry that once provided undeniable value to a large portion of its customer base.
The PokerStars Supernova/SNE scam (combined with the site’s deplorable “communication” in response to players whose trust it betrayed) begs for regulatory scrutiny. It amounts to a company becoming lazy and deciding the benefit of pulling such a stunt outweighs the potential repercussions.
But once a critical mass of informed American-based players come to realize that “regulated online poker” is quite possibly halfway to the statewide finish line of becoming formally legalized without a federal solution, the “bad actor” and “suitability” rhetoric from longtime U.S. players is likely to increase significantly, and be much more effective in blocking the world’s largest poker site from preying on the uninformed.
There is no excuse for The Stars Group’s non-poker verticals being granted entry into the U.S. market when it has already shown a propensity for wreaking havoc upon its marketplace in other jurisdictions.
As far as other poker operators are concerned, it really does depend, as stated by various regulated iGaming personnel within the Twitter conversation.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website, poker players, poker media, or the poker industry.
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