The early days of online poker
Firbolg has been around since the early days of online poker – we’ve lived through the birth and explosion of online poker. The big changes from the early days of online poker when it was all about fixed limit holdem. I bet there’s only a few of us online players who are still playing that remember those days. In 2005 we saw the explosion in popularity of No Limit holdem and the resulting mushrooming of the popularity of online poker. We’ve seen all the traumas that have beset the world of online poker, from the introduction of the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) in 2006 in the USA which resulted in many sites leaving the US altogether for fear of not being able to operate effectively, litigation and other problems, fears that have certainly proved justified.
PartyPoker were the biggest operator back in 2006, but when they left they lost a huge chunk of their business and although they reorganised and survived PokerStars and Full Tilt who at that time were playing second fiddle to PartyPoker grew year by year over the intervening years to get a stranglehold on the vast share of both the US and Non US poker markets.
Superuser scandal breaks on Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet
Further traumas lay ahead however, and the world of online poker still was to undergo a rocky ride of ups and downs. There was the superuser scandal in 2007 that broke over UltimateBet and Absolute Poker which greatly dented people’s confidence in the security of the game. Then individual countries such as France and Italy although not banning poker outright required poker companies to be fully licensed in their countries and that residents of these countries only to be allowed play on these sites. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that both these countries had been supplying their fare share of fish, the unavailability of which made the already ever increasingly difficult games even that bit more difficult.
Online poker continued to rise in numbers and popularity in spite of setbacks
All these negative bumps while having their impact incredibly still didn’t stop the expansion of online poker. The USA where poker has been incredibly popular for a long time was the main focus of all the sites back in 2006. Post 2006 while still being the single most important market. Companies thought it best to look to expand the world of online poker into new areas. Europe in particular Eastern Europe (as Western Europe already had a sizable player contingent) and South America especially were targeted and thanks to big promotions and advertising campaigns these parts of the world and others which hitherto poker had not been particularly popular ensured that the world of online poker continued to grow.
Black Friday rocks the poker world to its feet
In 2011 however with Black Friday (15th April 2011) as it’s come to be known in the poker world, we have perhaps the single biggest trauma to have happened to the world of online poker thus far. Black Friday was the day that the Southern District of New York indicted PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker for money laundering and bank fraud amongst other charges. All 3 sites pulled out of the USA as a result. Worse again it transpired that Full tilt didn’t have the available funds to pay money held by all their US based players. Whatever chance these players have of eventually being paid back by Full Tilt Poker have taken a major perhaps permanent setback when on the 29th June 2011 the Alderney Gaming Commission suspended Full Tilt’s license.
The future for Full Tilt
Meanwhile rumours abound to do with Full Tilt, the latest one is that they are in an “exclusive bargaining arrangement”. Whatever the final outcome for Full Tilt, its employees and players and in this fast changing and unpredictable set of events that are happening in the world of online poker, I’m loathe to make any predictions, nonetheless I think it’s a reasonable supposition that Full Tilt whether it actually survives might very well be in doubt but it will surely have some sort of successor, primarily because it’s got some of the most knowledgeable people in the business, one of the best software platforms (personally it was my favorite), which helped it to be the number 2 poker site.
The future for poker
And so what’s the future for online poker and poker in general? Well with this world undergoing ever increasing changes making even medium term predictions with any degree of certainty is an impossible business. Still it doesn’t stop us all from trying. One consequence of the boom of online poker is a whole generation of players who play a game formerly associated with illegal gambling dens or legal casinos the vast majority of which may never have played poker except for the accessibility that the fact that it was online offered to them. Of course with their interest in the game having developed many of us have gone on to play the game in casinos. Now in the USA in particular with all the major sites having pulled out it’s not such an appealing proposition to be an online poker player anymore. Many of these former online players feel like their best option is to turn to bricks and mortar poker, i.e. poker in casinos. Nevada Gaming revenues have reported risen considerably and despite the huge decrease in online qualifiers the WSOP 2011 main event had drawn in 6,865 poker players, its 3rd largest field ever.
Could PartyPoker be the big winners in all this
So for casino poker the medium term might not be looking too bleak at all. Online poker might be another matter however. Numbers of players unsurprisingly have decreased primarily over Black Friday but even so it was clear that 2011 was at best going to see a levelling off of the number of online poker players. Many potential new players who are essential to maintaining the number of players in our game will have been understandably deterred from taking up the game by recent occurrences. I believe it’s safe to say that the next few years for online poker are going to be ones of consolidation, perhaps running to standstill even. PartyPoker are perhaps going to be the biggest benefactors in my opinion. They’ve always had an effective marketing machine, they have reasonably good software and they are not under any legal cloud like PokerStars are.
Change is on the cards
PokerStars itself though is massive and is still totally and some would say unhealthily big especially now without the competition that was formerly provided by Full Tilt. So if Pokerstars can get through this litigation process with the Southern district of New York intact it will still surely be the dominant player in the market for years to come. Online poker is too big and popular to go under in the medium term, but it may be that the next few years will see the end of some sites and networks as it becomes too tough a business for them to operate profitably, also more merges are a distinct possibility as well as diversification of interests. I tweeted recently about the idea of Irish iPoker skins Paddypower and Boyles getting together and getting some former Full Tilt employees readily available since Full Tilt Poker are located in Dublin, Ireland to create a rival for Pokerstars. Of course the likes of Party has already successfully diversified into online Bingo, online Casino and Sportsbetting.
Players protect youself
So where does that leave all us players, well you might expect me as a webmaster and poker player to encourage you to invest more time learning strategy, reading poker forums, getting coached in poker. Well that’s fine and laudable of course but these poker sites are going to protect themselves, so to be honest I would say that you really should do the same, do just like they do and diversify, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure all your money is not just on one site for example and don’t put all your time and effort into poker. Don’t be overly reliant on poker as a means of an income, now is definitely not a good time to turn professional. I bet you won’t find that advice on many poker information sites. But I don’t do BS – not knowingly anyway
Ok, that’s it, good luck at the table, Poker’s not going anywhere but it’s an unpredictable dangerous world we live in so be smart and protect yourself.