In July, I discussed my thoughts on what Poker Boom II might look like should online poker become fully legalized and regulated in the United States. What I have begun thinking about since then, though, is that should Americans become free to play poker, the poker news industry may very well change.
Poker news is an odd bird. For one, it is a fairly limited arena. When they find out what I do, about 80 percent of people ask, “So what news is there in poker, anyway?” Well, let’s see. We have live and online poker tournament news, legislative news, online poker promotion news, some poker television news, and other random news stories. That’s about it. Whereas it is entirely possible to have a day in which there is no poker news worth reporting, that would never happen on traditional news sites.
But the real reason I have always found poker news strange is that, by and large, the sources of revenue for the sites are the same companies that are the subjects of the articles. That is one heck of a conflict of interest. I have not been involved with the business side of any poker news sites, but it is readily apparent that they make the bulk of their money in two ways: online poker affiliate links and online poker advertisements. When the goal of a news site is to get readers to sign up at a poker room, it is naturally in the best interest of a site to write positive things about said room. Even if the site remains completely unbiased, the perception will always exist that it is simply a “shill” for the poker rooms.
Traditional media outlets don’t have this problem. Take, for example, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s website. As I write this, there are ads for AirTran, AT&T, Proactiv, eHarmony, and local businesses on the front page. While of course some of them may be written about, there is no conflict of interest in the slightest.
While most poker news sites publish relevant and legitimate news stories every day, many also cater to their advertisers and “poker room partners” by posting throw-away stories just to get Google hits or even blatantly tell people to sign up for Poker Room XYZ and provide a convenient affiliate link to aid in the process. You will also often see mini-stories or ads for news site-sponsored freerolls or rakeback at an online poker room, although I don’t have as much of a problem with this, as they are transparent attempts to bring in money and not disguised as news.
I should say that one reason I enjoy writing for Poker News Daily is that, for the most part, this site has done a good job at avoiding these conflicts of interest and “shill” news. No, we’re not completely immune to criticism in this area, and while it makes me wince at times, I understand that sometimes you need to put food on the table. But in my eyes, PND is better than most at sticking to the news and presenting stories in a fair, objective way. Heck, the powers that be let me write editorials and I’ve never been shy about calling out a poker room when I feel the urge to, so that deserves a sticker.
Getting back to my original thought, what I could see happening once online poker is explicitly legal and regulated in the U.S. is more mainstream advertisers joining the fray. Right now, you almost exclusively see poker-related advertising on poker news sites because everyone else is too afraid to associate themselves with online gambling. And they must be very afraid because they are missing out on the eyeballs of a lot of young males with disposable income playing online poker.
I don’t expect it to necessarily happen immediately and I don’t expect every big company to jump on board, but I think we could definitely see more mainstream advertisers and partnerships in the future. It would probably start with companies that would see dollar signs in the young demographic like wireless providers, electronics and video game retailers, and even alcoholic beverage companies. As time goes on, we may see a broader selection of advertisers as online poker becomes more widely accepted among the non-gambling population.
The great part about this scenario for poker news sites is that they will eventually be able to break that bond with the online poker rooms. Without online poker rooms paying the bills, poker news sites won’t feel pressure to write fluff pieces or pull punches in situations where it would be more appropriate to be hard hitting. The sites that are just affiliate sites masquerading as poker news sites will disappear and those like PND that actually report news will be able to do so even better than they do now. The word “News” would step forward as an equal to “Poker,” a position it should have been all along.