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Online Poker’s Reemergence

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Oct 31, 2012


Matt LessingerEven though online poker never completely went away in the U.S., it is now clearly being primed for a full-scale reemergence. We are all waiting to see how everything plays out, but in the meantime we can consider the pros and cons of what will potentially happen. You can probably identify with some of these thoughts:

PRO: Yes, online poker has technically been legal this whole time, but the pickings have been slim. There are very few reputable sites in the American market right now, and even though traffic has been improving, it’s still not anywhere close to what we were accustomed to on PokerStars and Full Tilt. We need something new to revive the market.

CON: The most immediate plans call for intrastate poker rooms, which are hard to get too excited about. The traffic for a site which allows customers only from Nevada, for example, has a clear limit on its potential. Even worse, multiple entities are applying for licenses within the same state. Their logic is understandable. Even an online room that has only twenty tables going around the clock is a cash cow, just like any midsize brick-and-mortar cardroom.

But for us, the players, it’s just not that enticing. It’s pretty much the same as going to a local cardroom and seeing the same regular grinders. Except what makes it worse in the case of a small online poker room is that the best handful of players on the site might be multitabling and seated at every open table, which means it will be that much tougher to find any kind of soft game.

PRO: Given the potential competition between intrastate poker rooms, it might lead them to offer favorable promotions in the hopes of drumming up business. If they decide to do aggressive marketing campaigns, the first few months could be very profitable for savvy players taking advantage of various bonuses.

CON: After those first few months are over, many of the “bonus whores” will disappear and traffic will likely become stagnant. That’s assuming sites even offer bonuses. Maybe they will think they’re doing the poker world enough of a favor just by being open for business.

PRO: Sooner or later, we will move past intrastate poker rooms and hopefully have both national and international ones. With everything that PokerStars has done to cooperate with the DOJ, they clearly believe that they will be allowed to return to the U.S. market, along with Full Tilt Poker which they recently purchased. It might take a while, but when it happens, we’re all going to welcome them back with open arms. With their huge pool of international players, multiple games of all limits will be available around the clock. We have been without that luxury for the past eighteen months.

CON: In the months leading up to Black Friday, PokerStars and Full Tilt games were getting tougher and tougher to beat. Every table was inhabited by winning regulars. If you found a table with two or more losing players, you considered yourself lucky, and you probably didn’t leave until they did.

Fast forward to now, and the games are probably even tougher, as the best international players have had the past year and a half to hone their skills. They’ve grown accustomed to playing against the most frequent players at their limits, and they are probably drooling in anticipation of U.S. players being thrown back into the mix. Sure, we’ll get back into the swing of things eventually, but I don’t think it’s going to be like riding a bike. There’s going to be a learning curve as we get to know our opponents, and it could get expensive.

PRO: If and when PokerStars and Full Tilt return, there will almost certainly be an influx of new live money. First there will be the long-term losing players who got frustrated from losing and were happy to take a break. But now, after some time away, they’ve probably been able to save up a little money and they’re ready to take another shot. Then you will probably also get some players who never played online because of its questionable legality. But once it is declared explicitly legal, some of them should come out of the woodwork and throw their money into the online economy. Combined with whatever marketing push PokerStars and Full Tilt make once they reenter the U.S. market, the first year of their return could be a lot like the good ol’ days of online poker.

CON: That party might last a year if we’re lucky, but then it will come to an end. All that new live money probably won’t last too long in the incredibly tough environment that online poker has become. The same losing players who took their shots and quit will probably repeat that cycle, leaving only the cream of the crop to take up seats in twenty different games and grind out a profit.

I’m not proud to admit it, but when Black Friday hit, part of me felt some relief. Making a living online had become so hard that I was actually glad to be forced to find a new way to earn a living. I bring this up because I wonder how many full-time players felt the same way and gave online poker a long rest after Black Friday. We will certainly want to play some hands on PokerStars and/or Full Tilt when they come back, just because we’ve missed it. But that doesn’t mean we missed it to the degree that we want to go back to playing full time, especially if we found other ways to fill our time since they’ve been gone.

PRO: The bottom line is that we want the major sites back as soon as possible because they were the best places to play anywhere in the world, live or online. The games might be hard to beat, but we’re sure going to give them a try. As Nick the Greek once said, “The next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing.” Win or lose, we love the game of poker and we want to play. Bring back the major sites now. We can worry about the “cons” later. ♠

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find Matt’s other articles at