I may have quit playing poker for months, but what happens with the rest of the poker players? Do they continue to grind out, are they still found at high stakes tables, do they keep on registering in hundreds of online tournaments? This kind of questions made me do a brief research about poker’s popularity, during of which I discovered that others also wonder: Is poker dying?
The general impression is that poker has certainly changed. Since the poker boom of 2003 – 2006 and Moneymaker’s win at WSOP quite a few happenings took a toll on online poker, such as the 2006 UIGEA that drove away the top poker room back then, PartyPoker, the UltimateBet scandal, the termination of several TV shows about poker and of course Black Friday events. All these slowed down poker’s popularity so much, that according to the graph below, poker is reporting a dramatic drop of 33% during the previous couple of years!
Poker seems to be back to 2007 in terms of players actually playing online poker. It would be nice if that applied to online competition as well! Many believe that the game has toughen up, as good regulars have further improved their skills, mediocre players have become good players and bad players have either took their game a level up or lost their interest. No money, no honey and plenty of poker pros have gone looking for new investments elsewhere, as their Expected Value decreased. Who could blame them?
Poker rooms have done their share for online poker’s decline. For example, I keep reading that many poker rooms have reduced or closed down their high stakes tables of No Limit poker (10/20 NL or 25/50 NL), so that they prevent their degenerate and self-destructive poker players from burning up their cash quickly! The same drunk poker player, who would otherwise lose his $20-30K poker bankroll in 10 hands of 25/50 NL, is now forced to lose it playing 300 or 400 hands at 5/10 NL. That way the poker room will rake more hands and subsequently make more money from the drunk player, who would lose his money no matter what. And obviously there is no worse thing for a poker room than bankrupt customers! No money… no rake! Other news also hurt the reputation of online poker rooms, like PartyPoker segregating player pools based on win rate!
Poker popularity’s decline has even accelerated in the past 3 months, as the following PokerScout graph proves.
What will save the poker from dying?
During my brief research about dying poker, I found reports of developments that can resurrect online poker. The most popular has been the legalization of online poker in US, which will give the kiss of life to poker by making a lot of banned US poker players return to the poker tables. There have been many reports of legalizing online gambling in USA lately putting 888 and Bwin.Party in the front line for a likely US market return. Rumors consider October the month that online poker will be once again allowed in USA but I wouldn’t personally be that optimistic. Take a look for instance the analysis of monthly results of Nevada casinos concerning poker revenue conducted by the University of Nevada, which shows that poker in general has become steadily less profitable.
Some claim that reduced rake, better marketing and more deposit/reload bonuses will keep people betting, raising, calling and folding hands. On the other hand, there is great turmoil especially in Europe where gambling is being regulated in an attempt to control the billions of the online gambling market. Depending on the tax that will be imposed to licensed poker rooms’ revenues and poker players’ winnings, online poker will suffer a minor or major blow. I am afraid that poker’s death will come quickly in that manner and its popularity will greatly suffer, given that games will become even less +EV with most of the profits ending up as taxes and rake.
Today regular poker players sit down at 10-max tables knowing that they will be up against 8 good nits/LAGs players, trying to take the money out of a single fish. Would they still be joining the game if they knew their winnings would be taxed at the end of the session? They wouldn’t have an objection to pay their taxes on their annual earnings, but taxing each poker session or tournament will bring even the best poker player down to his knees.
Like every investing opportunity, poker seems to have completed its cycle and the big winners are the people who played online poker 5 or 10 years ago. It’s now quite likely that poker will plateau keeping a balance between fewer and more skilled winning players, breakeven players who will come out ahead due to VIP programs and even more losing players that used to be breakeven players. Poker will certainly not die but it will never be the same as the poker we once knew in 2004. Because that poker is dead.