The online poker industry has reached a point, a crossroads if you will, and there is a decision to be made. Should the online poker rooms continue to cater to those who occupy many of their tables, grinding out a nominal win rate and build enough specialty points to earn treats from those said rooms? Or should the online poker rooms look to advance into the fast-paced 21st century, where people are looking for their quick fix in between classes or meetings and don’t have time to sit back and wait for the freebies? Of late, the opinion is that the online poker sites are looking to “kill” the regulars in favor of the casual players.
Way back in the Mesozoic Era of online poker – you know, about 12-15 years ago – the world was a much different place. Prior to 2003, online poker rooms were looking to get ahold of people and keep them as long as they possibly could. This resulted in the loyalty programs – PokerStars SuperNova is a prime example – that popped up for players to be able to try to qualify for. Those programs, which were usually linked in with receiving loyalty points for playing in cash games (and, as the decade continued, eventually tournaments offered points), originally served as a method for players to earn their initial deposit bonuses from the rooms. As time moved on, those same loyalty points became ever so much more valuable.
Once the online poker sites started linking the number of loyalty points a player had to special “levels” of promotion, online poker sites took off. It was especially appealing to the grinders who, for hours on end, would sit on the sites playing ABC poker and picking up points by the truckload to work off different bonuses. The additional benefits of the sites awarding prizes, cash, tournament entries and the like for those who excelled at the program was simply a bonus at the time, but one that came to be expected by those who met those standards.
The crash of “Black Friday” brought many back to earth and especially the online poker rooms. Not only were players from the States of America prohibited from playing on the largest sites in the world, the international grinders now had to deal without a whole segment of the world in action for particularly optimum times for them. For example, a player in Australia during prime time could grind it out against a crapload of players from North America, where for them it was late and many were looking to make up losses. This type of situation went on around the globe as the shockwave from the departure of those affected by “Black Friday” became known.
This along with the advent of mobile phones – and the plethora of games that came with them – began the trek of the path that many online sites have decided to take now. Instead of looking to the grinders who would generate huge amounts of rake for each player, now the rooms began to look to those who were more “casual” in their play, looking for a quick respite from their days rather than those who were looking to make a living, because there were more of them and weren’t quite as financially draining. But with so many players still raking in the points towards those loyalty programs, what were the sites going to do?
The answer? They started with the affiliate programs, chopping them off at the knees in changing their rules to affiliates only receiving a percentage of the players signed up through them for a two-year period (rather than the lifetime bonus that it had been previously). This not only earned a ton of money for the online rooms (paying out those rake percentages totals up over time) but it also essentially put the affiliates out of the game…if they couldn’t continue to make money, what was the purpose in continuing to send players to a particular site or network?
The final nail in the coffin was the elimination of the loyalty programs. Once again, this was not only a chance for the online rooms to wrest a big, juicy bit of the pie back for themselves, but it also forced off the “professional” online player because the rewards just weren’t there anymore. With so much money now available, the online rooms could now cater to those “casual” players and offer them the “chance” at making big money (why do you think most of the online sites now have some sort of “jackpot” sit and gos, where you don’t know what you’re playing for until the game starts, or a “zoom” poker format that keeps players moving as they play?) while keeping a mountain of it for themselves.
With these changes, the online poker industry has basically removed the regulars – those who used to be able to sit and make a nice bit of change, if not a living – from the games. While there are still people out there who can slog through the work of playing those multi-table sessions, they aren’t getting rewarded for it like they used to. Instead of trips to exotic locales or sports cars, the online pro now has to be happy with hopefully being able to make a profit for the day as his reward. The online rooms have basically “killed” the regular online poker player.
Will it change? Probably not. The industry today is traded on the stock markets of the world and nothing worries stockholders more than a down quarter or year. Rather than invest in the players, these operations are now businesses that must invest in what the future will be, be it online casino gaming, bingo or other games that are more chance oriented than poker. And they will be able to keep a great deal of their profits, the money that used to go into the pockets of the “regulars” – the online poker professionals – and was showered upon them in extras for their loyalty. Nowadays, the only loyalty is to the “bottom line” and a return to the days of yore isn’t in the cards.