Looks good for poker
Weekly Online Poker Traffic Update:
The Online Poker Boom Is Dead
The online poker boom is dead. To some, especially in the US, that statement ranks in obviousness right next to "Full Tilt Poker wasn't a well-managed company." The Department of Justice has effectively shut down over 90% of online poker in the US, and is giving what's left the evil eye. America is the birthplace of poker and its biggest market, so of course online poker is dead, right?
Not so fast. Poker has proven its appeal to a broad geographic market over the years. So much so that PokerStars lost only a quarter of its players in the aftermath of Black Friday. Europe, Canada, Australia and even Latin America took up the sport well before Black Friday, and most of those players still have the freedom to play.
In fact, a wave of regulation is sweeping Europe, allowing players to feel safe and comfortable playing at online poker sites that are ostensibly subject to licensing and oversight. There is no reason for online poker to be declining in those markets. Quite the opposite.
But it is. To be more specific, traffic data shows that the seasonal uptick expected at this time of year, which has happened with regularity for years, is not happening this year. The post-summer boom happens as players return from vacations and head indoors, returning to school or work and sitting in front of their computers. In the last few years, the seasonal increase has ranged from 3% to 10%. This year has seen a 7% drop instead.
It is tempting to blame the poor performance on short-term factors. Black Friday and the Full Tilt shutdown have given online poker a black eye, and an argument could be made that players are temporarily (and understandably) shying away from the game. What's more, many players had significant funds locked up in Full Tilt Poker and are now playing on a reduced bankroll.
However tempting these explanations might be, the evidence does not bear them out. Most players are not professionals playing high stakes and relying on a significant bankroll. They are net depositing players who put in $50 and play until it's gone. Those players were not significantly hurt by the loss of Full Tilt funds. And anyone familiar with the AP/UB super-user controversies knows how immune casual poker players can be to even the most outrageous scandals.
A more likely explanation can be found in two related long-term factors. First, markets outside the US are saturated. Pretty much everyone who wants to play online poker is already signed up, and new players coming in are only replacing (or failing to keep up with) players who are leaving.
Second, poker as a fad has mostly run its course. The game simply doesn't have the cool factor, the grip on young male minds especially, that it used to. The fascination with this wonderful game has lasted a decade or more, and poker will undoubtedly retain a large number of followers, but its popularity with the general public has likely peaked and is beginning to decline.
If poker's hold on the popular imagination has indeed begun to weaken, live tournament turnouts may show the same trend going forward. Next year's World Series of Poker attendance will undoubtedly be watched closely to prove or disprove the point. In the meantime, online poker sites seem to be fighting for pieces of a shrinking pie.
Of course, regulation in the US could give a huge boost to online poker. The scramble among operators and land-based casinos to get ready for the gold rush shows how profitable they think the market will be.
However, it is entirely possible that legalization will be followed by a mini-boom lasting weeks or months, not years, after which will come a continuation of the slow decline as the games get tougher and the public moves on to a new fad. This is the pattern that has been observed in Italy and France, and it could happen in the US as well.
Looks good for poker