Poker Staking Sites Grow in Popularity

The perception of poker staking has evolved considerably over time. Previously being associated with those who needed money or were generally unsuccessful, staking has now become commonplace, even among the world’s best players. Recently, Poker News Daily sat down with Jim Leitner from ProPokerExchange and Chris Grove from PartTimePoker to unearth some of the challenges the industry still faces.

Leitner’s site allows prospective backers to buy a piece of four of the world’s most recognizable tournament poker pros, including 1983 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Tom McEvoy. The former champ owns four WSOP bracelets in total, including hardware in Limit Razz and Limit Omaha. According to the staking site, McEvoy owns over $2.6 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Also on Pro Poker Exchange’s roster are 2005 World Poker Tour (WPT) Legends of Poker runner up “Cowboy” Kenna James, Card Player Magazine contributor and editor Mark Gregorich, and WPT Gold Rush Season I winner and WSOP bracelet holder Paul Darden.

Leitner told Poker News Daily, “None of them need money, but staking is a big part of the tradition of poker and has value to them as well. It reduces variance and can put them in more tournaments than they were planning to play.” Buyers wishing to purchase a piece of McEvoy’s, Gregorich’s, or Darden’s action will receive their share of 70% of the pro’s earnings in the tournament. For James, 60% is returned to backers. Shares are issued at $5 each and current opportunities on the site focus on the Five Diamond World Poker Classic, which is ongoing at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Backing allows players not to have to risk all of their own money when entering an event, which reduces variance in returns. Many players tend to become less risk averse when being staked, as the pressure of needing to finish in the money in order to make a living is also reduced. Finally, backing allows the casual poker fan to be linked to some of the industry’s high-profile stars.

One of the difficulties of backing is the assurance that pros will receive money from their investors and, in return, share a portion of their winnings. Pro Poker Exchange solves this potential stumbling block by requiring its pros to sign a contract, a sample of which is available on its website. Part Time Poker utilizes a full-fledged forum which identifies crooked individuals. Leitner described the process of “rolling,” which involves rising online poker players taking off with cash generated from backers. He stated that $17,000 was recently rolled, which prompted his site to create a contract.

On rolling, Grove told Poker News Daily, “Far and away, the biggest concern is a player running off with a stake. While this does happen, we’re always surprised at how minuscule of a percentage of overall staking activity results in fraud.” Online poker sites will often help staking sites identify problematic individuals. However, no money is held in escrow. In live tournaments, Pro Poker Exchange sends a representative to each event to track its four brand name pros. The staff member will accompany the player to the cage after they have busted out in order to enforce the contract.

Collusion is another setback that staking sites face in their operations. After all, what would stop two players who have a piece of each other from agreeing not to play in hands against one another or worse, telling each other what cards they have and sharing strategy? Leitner commented, “What we’ve done is require players to keep a solid piece of themselves so that their interests are aligned with investors’. If you have Tom and Mark at the same table, they have no common interest in each other.” Grove told Poker News Daily that he does not believe collusion is a big obstacle to the legitimacy of staking online, where fields are often much larger. In addition, players do not know who the backers are on Pro Poker Exchange.

Over time, staking has grown in both popularity and prestige. Grove noted, “Backing is becoming far more common among top players, reducing any negative stereotype once associated with it. We have a number of well-known, winning players that use our site frequently and their presence signals to other members that backing can be part of a successful, profitable, and professional player’s career plan for poker.” Players who have used Part Time Poker in order to be staked include Aaron Bartley (GambleAB), jonrubs, tarheelkid, eppy, mattdogg2443, mossified, TwinMSU, max_pot, Quadducks, mx4ever, Johnny36, and TerrellK11, who took home $232,000 in a WSOP event this year.

Leitner claimed that the way to overcome the perception that staking is for the poor is to make its purposes clear to prospective customers: “The reality is that there is a lot of staking going on. Online, there’s a breakthrough because people see the value of staking and making it transparent. We make sure people understand the reasons behind it.”

In February, the World Poker Tour will host the L.A. Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino. Leitner is looking to expand his roster of pros from four to at least 15 by the time the tournament starts. The minimum buy-in is $25 for investors. The company is owned partly by Poker News Daily contributor Linda Johnson, co-founder of the Tournament Directors Association and inaugural member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. On Part Time Poker, “Buy a Piece” threads are sold based on the amount of the tournament’s buy-in, ranging from $3 to $10.

In general, the transparency of the poker industry has helped the staking industry grow in legitimacy. The use of programs like Sharkscope, which displays the results of online poker players for the entire world to see, has allowed backers to research past performances. Investors can also hop online and watch their sponsored player compete on the virtual felts. Sites like Card Player offer live tournament coverage and results for Pro Poker Exchange’s stable of players as well as other event entrants.

Finally, in the case of Part Time Poker, the site actually places an asterisk next to the names of individuals who have a staking ban. Players who have opted out of Sharkscope or Online Poker Rankings (OPR) are not eligible to be staked. Database programs such as PokerTracker and Hold’em Manager also record a player’s tendencies on online poker tournaments. Each comes with an accompanying Heads-Up Display (HUD), which shows these stats in real-time.

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