Though Poker is among the most popular table games in casinos all over the world the online options available to serious Poker players are beginning to dwindle, especially in the US where regulation and acceptance of online gambling is volatile . So what can the existing iGaming provide to these players? And what other options are out there to satisfy these players?
iGaming is defined as Internet or interactive gaming. While the interactive aspect of it interests Poker players, the more serious and dedicated players aren’t as excited about their iGaming options as others are.
Professional Poker Players
This is especially true in the case of professional Poker players. Five years ago, before iGaming was what it is today, Phil Hellmuth, a legend when it comes to Poker, stated that he had little faith in the future success of an iGaming system for Poker players based in Washington DC.
At the time, Hellmuth did feel that Washington DC should make online Poker legal under Federal law. He was participating in a coalition called FairPlayUSA, the purpose of which was to request that Congress legalize online Poker and provide a strict framework for the industry. The Director of the DC Lottery, Buddy Roogow, he had no concern that professional Poker players would be disinterested in iGaming. While Hellmuth had pointed out that professionals would likely avoid iGaming because the stakes are so low, Roogov countered with the idea that casual, social and recreational players would likely embrace it.
Poker Players Alliance
As of 2014 the Poker Players Alliance was maintaining their already established position on the subject of regulating online poker playing. The Executive Director of the Alliance, John Papas, said that the PPA was supporting online Poker more than other online casino games. Pappas argued that banning other online casino games but allowing online Poker was a setback to the full legalization of iGaming.
2015 NIGA Conference
The 2015 NIGA Conference, held in San Diego, California dealt in part with discussing expanding iGaming. It was among the conference’s major talking points. At the time it was a hot topic much debated issue in California because Indian tribes running the state’s casinos were debating more than one online Poker bill. Each tribe represented at the conference agreed that they wanted to shy away from online Poker because PokerStars dominates the game. As a result, the argument was made that tribal casinos should align themselves with the PokerStars site. Since 2014 it has been rumoured that PokerStars is working alongside the Morongo Tribe of Mission Indians to ensure that any iGaming laws passed in California will allow PokerStars to operate there.
Even Pokerstars whose focus is of course poker, are starting to push other verticals particularly casino. These functions are downplayed in the site but rest assured that there are significant cross sell campaigns ongoing to bring poker players to casino. As a digression, one aspect of iGaming that PokerStars is particularly interested in is giving their members the option to make deposits using the digital currency, bitcoins. There have been rumours that PokerStars intends to make this change to their site sooner rather than later…Which would be awesome as we (At Return to Player) fully support Bitcoin.
States And iGaming Bills
Online Poker has been made legal in several states. For example, online Poker was not legalized in Nevada until 2011 and was not legalized in New Jersey until 2012, but that didn’t stop its residents from playing at unregulated casino and Poker sites prior to the change in the law. The revenue that New Jersey has earned from online Poker impacted Delaware law makers’ decision to legalize it in 2013, the same year the state began offering its residents iGaming options.
The iGaming scene in Delaware has contributed significantly to the state’s economy. The top two games that brought in the biggest chunk of revenue were video lotteries and online poker, with video lotteries bringing in $161,000 and online poker bringing $33,000.
In Michigan the Senate Committee passed a bill in June, for iGaming, with an eight to one vote. This was meant to make online casinos and Poker sites legal for Michigan residents to play. Unfortunately for Poker players in that state, the House of Representatives had not discussed whether an iGaming bill had the potential to be passed.
In states that have not yet embraced iGaming it has been said that the best time to do so might be in 2017 since 2016 is an election year. During the summer of 2015, Gambling Compliance listed seven states that they believe will expand into the iPoker industry between now and 2020. The seven states on the list are California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Ohio.
Availability of Operators
For a poker player based in the US, finding a legitimate online operator to provide poker functionality is in itself tough. Many operators, particularly those in EU who lead the pack in online, shy away from US player due to the regulatory burden. The options are online operators available at a state level or black market operators. Those who play Poker online should note that Bovada, previously one of the larger online casinos to offer Poker, was sold to Ignition Casino earlier this year. Players who wish to keep their accounts are required to transfer them from Bovada to Ignition. Bovada had served as Bodog’s successor after it exited the online gaming/poker market in the United States. Between Bodog and Bovada, its players have made it the world’s third largest online poker site according to PokerScout.
Though no one knows the real reason Bovada was sold, it is known that for the last six months, poker player traffic to the site had declined considerably. Prior to that, it spent years showing a significant increase in its player traffic. Much of the traffic to Bovada was driven by Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars banning players in the United States, whilst Bovado continued to serve. Of course increasing regulatory risk would have played a part.
So for the US, legislation is still problematic, poker players are not the size they once were, and innovation in the sector is significantly declining. Are online slots the answer?
Poker/Slot Player Demographics
The world of iGaming is dominated by those between the ages of 25 and 34. A study of online gambling, conducted by Rutgers University in New Jersey also showed that the 25 to 34 year old gamblers play more responsibly than those younger or older than them. The study also determined that close to 75% of the online gamblers in this age range are male.
Studies have determined that poker players in their 40s are the most likely to turn to the Internet as opposed to a land based casino. They also tend to stick to virtual game tables in which they can play for small stakes. The most popular online poker games have a buy in of only $5, much cheaper than any land based casino.
Video Poker/Slot Machine Features For Poker Players
Though Poker is a significant part of the iGaming industry, players may occasionally look for an alternative that they will still enjoy. As a result, slot machine games have been cross sold to appeal to poker players; and some online casino games feature poker based mechanics. One of them is Video Poker, which combines elements of a standard poker game and slot machine.
Video Poker Slots features 25 pay lines and uses all of the cards seen in a standard game of poker. This includes hearts, spades, joker, queen and king symbols. In the game two Jokers on the reels triggers two free spins. Even the game’s wild symbol uses a playing card. The bonus games built into Video Poker can be Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild Multi Hand Video Poker. These video poker games are…okay… but most know that the real thrill comes from playing in a social environment where there is a semi-skill element at play.
Another option for poker players lies in social poker like Zynga Poker, which can be accessed through the company’s mobile website. Of all the social gaming providers, Zynga is the biggest and most well -known. The company released their classic Poker platform but later revamped it when players had complaints about it. Gamers can now access the old platform as well as the new one, allowing Zynga to give players options for gameplay.
After revamping their Poker platform Zynga found that casual players were choosing casino style platforms rather than Zynga. Serious poker players preferred the World Series of Poker app, and it was predicted that this would overtake Zynga and make the WSOP app the preferred choice of mobile poker players.
Virtual Reality and Online Poker
In the future, iGaming options for poker players may be found thanks to virtual reality. One virtual reality casino has already been created and launched, with plans to add poker to its current selection of slot machine games. Industry experts have stated that poker may be the game that does the best in a virtual reality casino due to the fact that it is more interactive and more social than other forms of gambling. The idea is for virtual reality casinos with poker games to appeal to serious players as well as casual players. Serious and casual poker players have been divided into two separate demographics, but virtual reality casinos could bring the two demographics together. There is speculation that this new way of accessing poker games could bridge the gap between iGaming and non iGaming players.
In order to continue growing at the rate it has, traditional iGaming operators needs more to appeal to the poker player demographic. Slots aren’t the answer due the lack of skill/strategic play. Social poker networks have the skill but seriously what do you do with a war-chest of virtual currency? You can’t exactly cash it in for a supercar. And even then the investment in the sector from existing casino operators is drying up meaning lower player liquidity, less investment in product development like we’re seeing in the online casino space, and lack of promotion of players and the events.
One view is to say that poker has had its day, it was a bubble with the internet and now the bubble has burst. The conflicting view is to say that for a time a lot of people played poker and more importantly wagered on poker, surely those drivers are still there. The latter view is what I believe and given the current and next generation are ploughing billions into social and casual games, surely it’s just a question of finding the right product with the right wagering mechanic.