The word on the street, after the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice succeeded in driving the major players out of the U.S. online poker market in the event commonly known as Black Friday, was that online poker in the United States was now dead.
It was certainly true that a lot of online poker players in the U.S. could not even fathom life without the huge sites that they had been accustomed to playing at, and sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker certainly did a huge business there, even right up until the end.
When the dust settled, Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker were both dead, as these two sites simply could not survive the seizures that ensued from this operation. Neither could Full Tilt Poker, although in this case players did eventually get their money back, money that the U.S. government seized, although they were already in dire straits before this and this was just the final blow that finished them off.
Full Tilt ended up being resurrected later, after Poker Stars, the only site among the four to survive, ended up buying them out and re-introducing the brand. As time went on the two poker sites moved closer and closer together, first sharing players, and then eventually having Full Tilt players merge into PokerStars entirely in 2016.
Oddly enough, not only did Black Friday not hurt PokerStars, it actually ended up making them stronger, a lot stronger in fact, and since then they have dominated the world of online poker to a much more massive degree than in the past, doing more business than not any other poker site but more than all other online poker sites combined.
So among the four poker sites targeted by Black Friday, only one survived really, but for U.S. players, none did, as they all were out of the game, including PokerStars who agreed to exit the U.S. market as part of their deal with the government. That’s what the Department of Justice wanted anyway, and the most they could have hoped for here, so on that account they did win.
The Market Looks To Consolidate
It’s not that Black Friday wiped out all U.S. facing poker rooms, and in fact most were left in the game by this, but the ones that were left only had a small fraction of the traffic that the huge ones had.
A lot of U.S. online poker players were of the sort that liked to play a huge amount of tables, as in 12, 24, or even more with some people, and in order to do that, you need to be playing at poker sites with the kind of traffic to support it, sites like PokerStars in fact.
The prospect of playing at a poker site where you might only be able to play at a couple of tables, and at stakes below what you are accustomed to playing, just wasn’t seen as acceptable to many U.S. players. Some even moved to Canada and Mexico so that they could access PokerStars once again, that’s how important this was to them.
When the dust settled from Black Friday, the first order of business for the poker sites left in the market was to look to protect themselves from this happening to them. Since these sites were all pretty small, they weren’t of the size to raise too much concern with U.S. authorities, although they did make a few smaller, unsuccessful efforts to impede their business during the early stages of their revival.
Having money seized just wasn’t acceptable to these sites though, who probably could not have survived even a smaller scale seizure. The challenge here, since the UIGEA was passed, was to come up with an efficient way to allow U.S. players to move money in and out of poker sites, and while the emphasis had been on efficiency with the big sites, still offering fast transaction times, these sites could not afford either the risk or the expense of such efficiency.
The main challenge here isn’t players funding their poker accounts, it’s always been more about how they will withdrawal, and regular players who have historically made up a big chunk of the volume of play, and who regularly turn a profit from playing, rely on regular and reliable withdrawals.
So this new era gave these poker sites a new challenge, which was how to get money to players while still evading the authorities, which meant for the most part not relying so much on domestic payment processors, as PokerStars and Full Tilt did, but that was their undoing really.
Back then the big sites pretty much had to ibe fast n order to compete with each other, as if they took too long to process withdrawals, their competition would step up and win this business, and Full Tilt certainly was way too aggressive with this and this more than anything led to their downfall.
Online Poker Makes A Comeback of Sorts In the U.S.
Although most online poker players lose money, and are net depositors in other words, and have no real need to worry about withdrawal times or even withdrawing at all, even these players cringe at the prospect of players waiting months to make withdrawals, and this can scare even the worst players away.
The more players leave, the harder it becomes to keep things together, as you might imagine, and in the new battleground of withdrawal times, this provided a sort of Darwinian evolution, where the strong survived and got stronger, and the weak got weaker and sometimes ended up dying a painful death.
So both some positive and negative momentum was created, as a site would do well here and that would end up earning them a bigger share of the market, and this bigger share attracted more traffic and more appeal and even more traffic and appeal, with the reverse happening with the sites who didn’t prosper so much, especially those who struggled with withdrawal times.
When stories such as players waiting 6 months or longer for payments from a poker site started hitting the internet, and people warned to stay away from these sites by rightfully disgruntled players, well that’s not exactly healthy for a poker site, and some of them even fell.
Some online poker sites did quite well here and got rewarded, particularly Bovada, which is now called Ignition Poker, and in fact this whole mess ended up seeing this site go from a second tier poker room with not a whole lot of interest to one of the most popular in the world.
Other U.S. facing poker networks prospered as well, and on the whole the unregulated online poker market has continued to grow since, albeit fairly slowly, and in spite of their not even coming close to achieving their full potential yet.
In spite of all the talk of more regulated online poker in several more states, the unregulated online poker market in the U.S. is far from dead, and there’s no reason to think it is going away anytime soon.