Online poker was the hottest form of internet gaming throughout the 2000s. Millions of players picked up the game during this era.
However, online poker has noticeably decreased in popularity within the past several years. While it still draws plenty of players, the game has seen better days.
Nine key issues are currently dragging internet poker down. I’m going to discuss these problems and why they’re killing the game.
1 – Black Friday
Online poker has gone through two huge legal events:
- Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)
- Black Friday (a.k.a. United States v. Scheinberg)
Signed into effect in late 2006, the UIGEA prohibits gambling businesses from taking deposits where doing so is illegal.
Most states have no concrete stance on online gaming. However, a few have outlawed the activity. The UIGEA applies to the latter category.
Given the UIGEA’s lack of clarity, many online poker rooms continue serving US citizens. This trend led to Black Friday.
United States vs. Scheinberg marked the US Department of Justice’s efforts to nab violators of the UIGEA. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicted key online poker figureheads.
PokerStars remains solvent and successful to this day. However, they were forced to vacate the US online poker market and have only returned to New Jersey and Pennsylvania so far.
Simply put, Black Friday ended the wide-open internet poker landscape in the US. Now, most Americans play at smaller offshore sites that don’t pique the US DoJ’s interest.
2 – Regulated Markets
Black Friday came shortly before a point when certain states and countries around the globe began mulling legal online poker.
Regulated internet poker seems like a dream for players. After all, they can legally play the game they enjoy with protections from online gaming regulators.
In reality, though, online poker regulation splits up markets and player pools. The result is lower liquidity in cash games and tournaments.
Sites like PokerStars, 888, and partypoker have pursued licenses in a number of states and countries. Unfortunately, they sometimes have to split their player pools up when doing so.
Regulation does serve as a deterrent for any site that tries scamming players. However, it also prevents sites from holding as large of tournaments and promotions as they did pre-regulation.
3 – Other Forms of Skill-Based Gambling Exist
Internet poker went through a huge boom from 2003 to 2006. Even after the UIGEA, the game continued growing.
A number of factors contributed to the poker boom and growth afterward. One of the biggest factors is that it was the only skill-based game in town.
Those who wanted to take a chance at winning consistent profits were naturally drawn to poker over casino games and lotteries.
But >daily fantasy sports (DFS) now give gamblers another opportunity to win in the long run. Although DFS isn’t as popular as online poker, it does draw a fair share of people away from the latter.
4 – Poker Sites Give out Fewer Rewards
In the old days of internet poker, operators were extremely generous with promotions and VIP rewards. Many sites treated rewarding customers as a competition by seeing who could give out the largest rakeback deals.
At the height of this mania, some internet poker rooms were offering anywhere from 50% to 70% rakeback. This model was only sustainable as players rushed to the game.
However, traffic eventually slowed and operators needed to rethink their business model. They realized that paying players back over half the rake was no longer working.
These days, every site has slashed the amount of rakeback and other loyalty rewards they deliver. Not surprisingly, these reduced rewards have soured some players on the game.
5 – Poker Bots
A poker bot is a program that’s designed to play internet poker for its user. Once seemingly harmless, these programs have become much more skilled in recent years.
Poker bots give users multiple unfair advantages:
- They can win if programmed well enough.
- Bots don’t get tired.
- They don’t suffer from tilt.
The good news is that not all bots are good enough to beat the game yet. However, they’ve become collectively better over the years.
Players don’t want to compete against artificial intelligence. Some have become disillusioned with online poker, as more bots have entered the game.
6 – The Average Player Is Much Better
Many online poker players today wish that they can go back to the boom years. After all, the boom brought a number of unskilled beginners who donated their money to experience rounders.
Since that time, poker strategy has become much more refined. Everything from training videos to Twitch streams have helped produce better poker players.
The good part about the average player’s increased skill level that it provides more hope for beginners to improve quickly. However, this skill increase also makes it much tougher for new players to compete.
7 – Online Poker Gets Less Exposure
Another byproduct of the boom years was added exposure for internet poker. The game was plastered across TV and online banners up until a decade ago.
Bodog made players feel like they could have beautiful women hanging on their arms if they won. Doyle Brunson became a household name. High Stakes Poker made casual TV viewers stop flipping the remote.
The aforementioned legal events eventually scared advertisers away from online poker. In turn, poker suddenly stopped showing up on everybody’s TVs and internet browsers.
8 – Poker Just Isn’t as Cool
Continuing off the last point, internet poker just isn’t as cool as it once was. This isn’t to say that people don’t still enjoy playing the game in live tournaments and at buddies’ houses.
But fewer and fewer people want to be like Doyle, Phil Ivey, or Phil Hellmuth these days. The most-famous players are no longer featured on high-profile shows or other mainstream media on a regular basis.
Much of this has to do with the lack of advertising. Major companies don’t want to risk negative legal and brand consequences by dealing with internet poker.
Nothing is wrong with those who want to solely fixate on the game. However, young math wizzes don’t have the same appeal as old-school gamblers with lots of interesting stories.
9 – Most Operators Concentrate on Casino Games and Sports Betting
Gaming sites used to run successful businesses by solely concentrating on poker. These days, though, they stand a much better chance by offering multiple gambling verticals.
The typical gaming site today features casino games, poker, and sports betting. Poker takes a backseat to the other two.
The best example of this can be seen through PokerStars. Once a site that truly embodied its name, Stars now dedicates more focus towards casino gaming and sports gambling.
This change has resulted in better profits for the parent company, The Stars Group. However, those who love online poker feel abandoned by how Stars and other sites treat the game today.
The descent of online poker’s popularity can be traced back to the UIGEA in 2006. However, Black Friday is what really sent the game into a tailspin.
Internet poker has survived these traumatic legal events. But it draws nowhere near the same level of traffic as it once did.
This declining traffic has caused other issues within online poker. First off, many markets are now regulating the game.
Regulation seems like a great idea on the surface, because it offers more protections to players than gray markets. However, it also breaks up markets and reduces liquidity.
The game has gotten much tougher within recent years as well. More available strategy resources have helped the average player improve greatly.
Poker bots are also making online poker harder to beat. Bots play hands for their users and can win long-term profits when expertly programmed.
Online poker doesn’t get as much attention as it previously did either. Fewer people take up the game as a result.
The final factor that’s weighing internet poker down is the industry’s gravitation towards casino games and sports betting. Gaming sites have realized that these verticals are much more profitable than offering poker alone.
Taking everything into account, online poker doesn’t seem like it will ever relive its previous heyday. However, the game has remained a steady source of entertainment for gamblers in recent years.
That said, it should at least stay afloat for a long time and continue to be enjoyed by many players around the globe.