Grey Snow Poker, the first real money online poker room owned by a Native American Tribe (Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma) is now open for business. Operated and licensed out of the Isle of Man, it is not open to residents of the United States. The site, called PokerTribe in a previous incarnation (the new name is cooler, if you ask me), has a long and odd history, but that is not what we are going to discuss today. Instead, let’s take a look at the site’s primary differentiator other than its ownership: its rake structure.

Fee Instead of Rake

On its homepage, Grey Snow Poker touts something called “FairPlay.” At first glance, it is certainly an attention-grabbing title, as “fairness” has become a focus of the online poker industry in recent years. Diving deeper, FairPlay is promoted by Grey Snow as a rake-free system for its online poker site.

Rake free? Though it has not worked when other sites have tried it, it is intriguing, since we would all like to play without having to pay the house. But alas, though Grey Snow Poker might technically not charge a rake, it is not a cost-free site.

Rather than take a rake from every pot, Grey Snow Poker uses a “service-fee model.” It is fairly simple: when a player leaves a cash game table, they are charged 3 percent of the amount of money they leave with. Thus, if a player sits down with $50, has a great session, doubles their money, and stands up with a stack of $100, they are charged $3 by Grey Snow.

Players who completely bust out are charged nothing since they have nothing when they leave the table.

An Attempt to Help Rec Players

The idea behind this is to add another obstacle that sharks need to hurdle to take advantage of novices or poor players. Grey Snow tries to put a scare into players in its explanation, talking about how “Artificial Intelligence” is used by pros against recreational players (we assume they are talking about HUDs and seating scripts are specifically mentioned), and while the site doesn’t explicitly say if third-party software is banned, it does use an auto-seat lobby, not allowing players to choose their own tables.

What the service fee aims to do is reduce the incentive for players to sit down, see that there are no “fish” to pick on (or conversely, see that there are a bunch of strong players at the table), and then leave. No matter how long a player sits, they are going to be charged 3 percent when they quit. People are incentivized to come to play poker, to stay for a while, as the longer they play at one table, the more value they get out of the fee.

Players are also refunded 1 percent of the amount of money they bring to the table once they leave.

It is an interesting idea and I definitely see what Grey Snow is trying to do, but I see a couple possible problems. First, the goal is to protect casual players, but casual players are generally going to want to play shorter sessions than pros. Thus, the fee could hurt casual players more than pros – something that Grey Snow likely did not intend. Second, it unnecessarily punishes players who get disconnected or who perhaps have to logoff sooner than planned (speaking from experience, dog pukes five minutes into my game). Third, it really screws over players who join a table only to have it break soon after they sit down.

Fourth and lastly, how does it work if someone busts and then reloads? If a player buys-in for $50, loses it all, then leaves, he pays no fee. But what if that player buys-in for $50, busts, then reloads for $50 and runs that stake up to $60 before leaving? He is still down $40 overall, but it sounds like he will be charged $1.80. I suppose it’s possible that Grey Snow took this into account, but there is no indication of that on the website.

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