In part one we looked at suggestions made by Phil Galfond to improve the online game and his challenge to the community to discuss and refine improvements. In this part we detail the discussion regarding the definition of the problem.
One of the first major breakthroughs in discussions was the realization that the problems Galfond describes, whilst definitely aggravating the disease, do not constitute the disease itself. They are merely symptoms of the disease. The nature of the disease is that there is currently a severe imbalance in the poker ecosystem.
If you think of the ecosystem as a biological food chain, the symptoms that Galfond describes equates to sharks swimming in circles in their pools and slowly starving to death. They are frightened to attack each other because of those nasty sharp teeth they’ve developed. Smaller fish are finding it difficult to survive in their own pools, let alone consider venturing into the bigger pools. When a fish does happen to swim into a bigger pool they’re immediately mobbed by starving predators who will attempt to tear them to shreds, thus deterring future attempts and adding to the sharks’ problems. These problems start at the top of the food chain and gradually work themselves down.
The lifeblood of the poker ecosystem is money. Money is funneled from losing players to winning players, from micro stakes to high stakes and from all players to the poker room, as rake. The winning players and the poker room remove their money from the ecosystem, and in order for the system to survive, that money has to be replaced. The poker rooms will replace some of it directly through incentives, some of it indirectly through advertising, but most of it has to come from new players depositing and losing players re-depositing. The underlying problem is that this isn’t happening fast enough to provide action for those higher up the food chain.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- A lack of funds as a result of the global recession.
- The greed of individual governments legislating for a cut of the action and then bleeding a thin-edge game they don’t understand to a slow anaemic death.
- Individual Luddite governments’ bans on playing online poker.
- People’s reluctance to play due to lack of clarity of the legal situation.
- People’s fear of depositing money due to the unregulated nature of the game, the U.S. D.O.J. actions and the recent Absolute Poker and Full Tilt Poker scandals.
- The greatly improved standards of play over recent years making it more difficult to book winning sessions let alone return an overall profit.
- The desperate behaviour of some regulars, as described in part one of this article, which makes poker unattractive to newcomers. Recreational players also often have to put up with abusive behaviour from other players, or even just slow responses and non-communicative behaviour from multi-tabling regulars. They’d have more fun at an online casino and maybe their money would last longer too.
- A widespread belief amongst casual players that online poker is ‘fixed’. This suspicion is rapidly reinforced when these players lose fast due to the above mentioned improvements in playing standards amongst the regular players.
So what can be done? Many of the above causes are outside of players’ direct influence. Yes, we can try to educate politicians and lawmakers but we’re often up against corrupt, undemocratic systems where lobbying, bribes and the passing of undebated “piggybacked” laws are the norm.
Regulation and legislation will undoubtedly attract many people reluctant to play online at the moment, but will the cost in tax be too high? Again, educating the lawmakers is vital here. Luckily for most of us, but unluckily for the French, we already have an example of how over-taxation is killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
When it comes down to basics, the poker ecosystem needs players that are willing to lose money. This may be because they are playing for fun and see their losses as the cost of their fun, or because they are learning to be better players and will accept some losses while they learn. We must make it attractive for these players to play. Both the poker rooms and the players themselves must make changes. The players need to abide by a code of conduct and the poker rooms need to take action against breaches of that code. The poker rooms must also consider how poker can be made more attractive to casual and recreational players. In part three of this article we’ll take a look at suggestions as to how we can achieve this.