A business model suspected to be associated with Partypoker tournaments misleads uninformed “recreational” players, is being abused, involves anti-consumer practices, has outstayed its welcome, and needs to be discontinued at the earliest possible convenience, say longtime Partypoker customers.
Festering customer-operator friction related to how one of the world’s leading poker brands meets its lofty real money tournament prize pool guarantees has boiled over into accusations of predatory behavior carried out by Partypoker and Partypoker LIVE against potential vulnerable consumers.
An October 5th, 2018 thread started by new member pp-whistle in the TwoPlusTwo News, Views & Gossip forum has once again brought a generally accepted practice utilized by certain poker operators to reduce the risk of falling short of guaranteed prize pools (overlays) to the forefront of community debate.
The scenario described, while promoted as “good for the game” by those who believe the practice is a necessary means to an end (of ensuring larger than organically feasible poker tournament fields — particularly in “rebuy” events), creates numerous social responsibility concerns when abused — and could pose an imminent threat to both the new business generation and customer retention prospects of poker brands that operate in formally licensed markets and facilitate such practices.
The thread starter’s claims were informally corroborated via a second new member shortly after the OP was created, with alligatorhater stating that “this is the worst kept secret in poker and well known [knowledge] between almost everyone that plays. It’s actually great for the game as the vast majority of the players that are being freerolled tend to not be professionals and more enthusiasts/semi pro’s.”
“The tournaments would never hit these massive guarantees if this weren’t to happen and the end result would be alot smaller prizepools that are way more sharky. In short the players being freerolled is great for everyone and long live the freeroll.”
A separate post by member enzet challenged previous claims made by partypoker LIVE collaborators. “I can comfirm partypoker puts players into live events in the pool freerolling to reach guarantee, and I 100% confute these are late regging people with short stacks as Party Leonard lied about, they in fact put a lot of players into Day 1C and/or Day 1B in an event with full starting stack in the first blind level.”
In an October 2018 episode of DAT Poker Podcast, longtime community member Adam Schwartz expressed his concerns with the reported business model.
“There was an event in England at the Dusk Till Dawn, and these things have all been insanely popular. And partypoker has been really, really aggressive with the guarantees they’ve been putting on these tournaments. I think to the ones in Montreal… and wondering how they were going to get to the guarantees that they offer.”
“But basically what’s happening — and what seems to be happening — there are reports that the partypoker LIVE team, when they realize that a guarantee isn’t going to get hit, are taking people and putting them in the tournament. Because essentially the company is going to lose that money if they don’t hit the guarantee. It’s just going to go to the prize pool anyway. They might as well… I guess this is their thinking, they might as well get a player in there and the player can play for forty percent or whatever they decide is appropriate.”
“So I understand, and I agree with the fact that these high guarantees are really, really good for tournament poker. However, if partypoker LIVE has a vested interest in the outcome of these events, you can see how this can become problematic really quickly.”
LISTEN NOW: EPISODE #7 (DAT Poker Podcast — 45:40-53:01)
Such practices by poker tournament organizers have become a bit more transparent in the modern age of communication, but they still result in undeniable friction within the poker playing community.
Yet the primary difference between the confirmed HPT-Westgate controversy and the allegations of what’s happening at partypoker LIVE sponsored events is that certain players are reportedly being “backed” or “staked” by an event organizer.
If true, the allegations call into question whether uninformed consumers are being exploited — by being led to believe they are competing in a true “peer-to-peer” environment, when in fact they’re wagering real money in a manipulated format in which the house financially benefits from certain players’ success (or lack thereof).
“If it is the company [buying-in certain players] I think the optics of this are terrible,” said DAT Poker Podcast co-host and former PokerStars executive consultant Terrence Chan. “You can definitely come up with a situation where there’s a ruling that could be kind of fifty-fifty either way and it’s involving the staked player and some guy who’s backed by someone else or has his own money in there. And yeah, you can put in safeguards like [publicly disclosing this information], but I think the optics are terrible.”
“And just the fact that it devalues their guarantee completely if you’re just going to filter in a bunch of people to water-down essentially the guarantee at the last minute. Whether or not it’s grossly unethical… I don’t know if it’s grossly unethical but if nothing else it creates a situation where it’s probably just not even good business sense.” (48:58)
Partypoker LIVE representatives have not formally confirmed or denied the accusations as of this time, making it impossible for poker players to accurately gauge how live events may be impacted as a result.
Online Partypoker Tournaments Are of Much Greater Concern
The potential “game integrity” downside of these practices taking place in partypoker online events is much more catastrophic in the eyes of many people familiar with the internet poker P2P business vertical.
“I think just the transparency of letting people know first and foremost if this is what’s happening when the guarantee is like a big step towards it being kind of okay,” opined Team PokerStars headline pro Daniel Negreanu. “Ultimately, in a live event it’s very different than online. Now if this is happening online… so for example if there’s a guarantee for an online event and then right before the guarantee hits [the company is] staking a whole bunch of people, that’s essentially like having employees where you have a vested interest in the outcome of a tournament that you are actually running, right?”
“And I don’t know if that necessarily means that any sort of cheating would go on, but players that are buying-in to an event not knowing… like so for example, I believe that it’s true for both partypoker and [PokerStars] that… I know it is for Stars that people that work for PokerStars cannot play on PokerStars. They’re not allowed. They can play on other sites if they like to, but they’re not going to play on PokerStars. So if you are staking a bunch of people on your online site to be playing to just meet those guarantees, and that’s not public knowledge in terms of what the numbers actually look like, that’s a place where I think it’s a lot more questionable than with live events.”
“Either way, I think it’s something that like… it matters who’s paying for this, right? Is this just some guy? Who like has interest in… I don’t know. To me it matters like who’s paying for it. If it’s just some guy who’s doing it out of the kindness of his heart that’s one thing, but if it’s actually coming from company funds? To put in people online to hit guarantees somewhat falsely, if you will? I don’t know. Online, I think it’s a big problem. Live, I’m like kind of… I guess you could convince me either way.” (47:25)
Negreanu’s fears have since been corroborated within the ongoing 2+2 NVG forum discussion. Post #68 by veteran Scandinavian online poker professional mement_mori links discussion from a separate partypoker complaint thread (May 2017) — and further raises a regulatory red flag in the United Kingdom market, where the partypoker brand operates (d.b.a. GVC Holdings, PLC) under the licensing authority of the United Kingdom Gambling Commission.
Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) (UKGC Official Website – Apr 4, 2018)
Priority Social Responsibility Compliance Concern: GVC Holdings
* The following analyst commentary belongs solely to the author.
The concerns brought forth by members of the poker playing community are deserving of an organized response from qualified and/or licensed individuals who labor in an executive capacity on behalf of regulated iGaming online poker license holder GVC Holdings.
Priority focus should be placed on self-regulatory measures, including collaboration with UK-based experts, to address the high probability of game integrity issues pertaining to Partypoker online “satellite” qualifier tournaments that could be targeting vulnerable consumers, along with an immediate disbandment of any business structure that associates the partypoker brand — either directly or indirectly — with having a financial interest in the outcome of peer-to-peer real money online poker events.
“Organizers should not have a [monetary] interest in participants’ outcomes. It shocks me that regulators don’t have/enforce basic rules like this and makes me wonder how much other things lack oversight.” (supplemental 2+2 NVG forum post)
Part Time Poker will continue to monitor public communication and provide updates as the story develops.
RELATED: Player Funds Protection in the UK (Pokerfuse – Oct 10, 2018)
SOCIAL MEDIA CONSIDERATION (TWITTER): @TwoPlusTwoForum
Read Additional Coverage Related to Partypoker Tournaments
Partypoker Powerfest Lowers Guarantees Without Notice (Sep 22, 2018)
Collusion Ring Broken Up at Partypoker (Nov 2, 2017)
EPT Founder Takes Issue with PokerStars Massage Therapist Rake (Mar 21, 2018)
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