Life of an online poker player.
If you walk around a typical college campus on a weekend
night you might be surprised by what you hear.
That is unless you check inside the various dorm rooms
and fraternity houses where you’re more likely to
find poker and online poker games being played all night
than heavy partying.
Twenty-something Mark, NJ, said he learned playing poker
in high school and improved by playing online poker regularly
in college. Mark plays online poker between classes and
at least three hours at night. He also watches ESPN’s
coverage of World Series of Poker religiously. And his favorite
poker movie is The Cincinnati Kid.
On the other side of the pond, there’s Paul, 26,
a currency broker who plays online poker to relax when he
gets home after a day’s work in London. He logs on
to his favorite online poker site every night battling opponents
for up to four hours.
The enormous success of online poker has turned the game
from a simple game online to full blown Pokermania worldwide.
Not bad for a game whose origins are unknown. Some say it
was possibly derived from Chinese dominoes. Others claim
that it came from "As Nas", a seventeenth century
Persian game played using special decks of twenty-five cards
with five suits. Others swear it was based on the French
game of "Poque" a card game played by the French
who settled in New Orleans in 1480.
For most of us poker used to conjure up visions of smoke-filled
backroom with shady mafioso-type characters. Now it’s
been replaced by frat kids in their dorm rooms or women
in their pajamas playing online poker. Thanks to the Internet,
the old game of poker has managed to reinvent itself and
appeal to a broader and newer generation.
There is no denying that an online poker phenomenon has
taken over. You see online poker everywhere - on posters
in the Subway, on ESPN and The Travel Channel, on a match
between Liverpool vs. Chelsea and in online poker rooms
and casinos operating 24/7. The online poker trend seems
to have no end in sight! The game of online poker has developed
quite a following with millions playing online poker tournaments
called “satellites” at any given time of the
day. The image of online poker as a game has clearly evolved
and grown with the passing of time and advent of new technology.
With thousands of people joining every minute, there’s
definitely plenty of online poker newbies to feed the online
poker trend frenzy.
Online Poker Vs. Brick and Mortar Poker
There are substantial differences between online poker
gaming and conventional, in-person gaming.
One obvious difference is that players do not sit right
across from each other, removing any ability to observe
others' reactions and body language. Instead, online poker
players learn to focus more keenly on betting patterns,
reaction time and other behavior tells that are not physical
in nature. Since poker is a game that requires adaptability,
successful online players learn to master the new frontiers
of their surroundings.
Another important change results from the fact that online
poker rooms, in some cases, offer online poker schools that
teach the basics and significantly speed up the learning
curve for novices. Many online poker rooms also provide
free money play so that players may practice these skills
in various online poker games and limits without the risk
of losing real money. People who previously had no way to
learn and improve because they had no one to play with now
have the ability to learn the game much more quickly and
gain invaluable experience from free money play.
The trend is clearly changing, as can be seen by the fact
that poker has evolved with the help of new technology.
It’s managed to broaden its reach and introduce itself
to a wider audience than ever before.
The Popularity of Online Poker
Although poker has always been one of the most favored
card games of all time, its popularity has been amplified
with the help of TV programs that feature tournaments like
the "World Series of Poker" on ESPN and Bravo's
"Celebrity Poker Showdown." According to an August
2004 article in USA Today, poker is being telecast "with
the same intensity and breathlessness that we've come to
know in our traditional athletic events." The "World
Poker Tour" on the Travel Channel has become especially
popular, with viewership increasing 150 percent in less
than two years.
And in 2003, online poker’s popularity reached staggering
heights beyond expectations and gained worldwide attention,
all because of the $40 buy-in made by novice online poker
player Chris Moneymaker. Appropriately titled the “Moneymaker
Effect”, Moneymaker's Cinderella story of winning
the World Series of Poker was the type of free promotion
the online poker industry could once only dream about.
Moneymaker qualified for the World Series of Poker main
event through a small buy-in online poker satellite event
at Poker Stars. At the WSOP, he outlasted a field of 839
entrants, the largest in World Series of Poker at that time.
He won against some of the most well-known poker and online
poker professionals in the world. Moneymaker's first place
finish earned him $2.5 million, which is not bad considering
it was his first live tournament.
The growth of online poker has been partially spurred by
Moneymaker’s rags-to-riches story as well as the popularization
of TV poker tournaments featuring both professional and
celebrity online poker players. This online poker trend
is one in which big media plays a major role, both in the
creation of publicity surrounding the event, and in the
notoriety achieved by the participants.
Women Dominate Online Poker
As online poker continues to gain more and more mainstream
acceptance, surprisingly, it’s the ladies that are
leading the online poker trend. Until the most recent online
poker boom, poker was mostly considered “a man’s
card game” with less than 10% of the players at a
typical casino poker game being women.
Online gambling industry experts have recently set out
to investigate online poker trends that have led to the
widespread increase of online poker websites. Two studies
conducted in the US brought out interesting and unexpected
revelations in terms of demographics and the overall popularity
and appeal of online poker.
Surprisingly, the studies show that over one third of online
poker players are female with women being the fastest growing
segment of the online poker playing public. The studies
also revealed that an overwhelming majority of female poker
players prefer to play at online poker sites. In fact, only
1 of every 6 women preferred regular poker to online poker!
The trend dictates that while men may gamble for the thrill
and the action, women tend to play online poker as a means
of escape. In general, men play to win and women, while
still competitive, play for more social reasons. But lastly,
one very important reason women cite for preferring online
poker is being able to play the game from a safe home environment.
This means having the freedom of playing online poker at
a time that fits into a woman’s already busy schedule.
Hollywood’s Love Affair with Online Poker
Not to be outdone, the Hollywood crowd was more than ready
to jump into the online poker band wagon. Last year, Oscar
winner Ben Affleck became the Hollywood poster child of
online poker after he won $356,400 and became Poker Champion
at a poker tournament. His win earned him a seat in next
year's World Poker Tour Championship next April. Actress
Jennifer Tilly also won the Ladies no-limit Texas Hold ’Em
event at the World Series of Poker — the first time
a celebrity has won an event at the famous tournament.
Texas Hold'em is leading a major TV onslaught, including
ESPN's World Series of Poker, the Travel Channel's World
Poker Tour, and Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown. ESPN and
the Travel Channel both started broadcasting their poker
shows about three years ago, while shows like the Celebrity
Poker Showdown are only about a year old.
"It took off the moment they got celebrities playing,"
said Aaron Locks, president of the Rohnert Park-based University
of Sports. The health club and sports facility hosted the
second annual Sonoma County Texas Hold'em Championships
on Saturday night.
"When you have Dennis Rodman, Charlie Sheen, people
are going to start watching, and they're going to want to
play," Locks said.
Until last year, casinos had been getting rid of poker
tables because the game wasn't a big money-maker for the
gambling industry, said Roger Gross, editor of Global Gaming
Business. But TV poker shows, as well as online poker games,
have changed that.
Now, he said, poker is bringing "more bodies, new
bodies" to casinos and online poker rooms.
As a result, poker spending is at the highest level in
a decade. In Nevada and New Jersey, the only states that
track poker revenue, casinos took in $105 million from poker,
up from $90 million the year before, according to the American
Gaming Association's 2004 survey of casino activity.
The trend points to an increase in online poker and poker
related programs on US TV stations which, is partially influenced
by the media and the entertainment business’ eagerness
to promote the sport.
The Online Poker Backlash
For some, the last few years have brought about an amazing
-- and some say dangerous -- trend of playing online poker,
especially among the younger, college-aged crowd.
Statistics prove that teen-age internet gambling and online
poker are the fastest growing addictions of the day, akin
to drug and alcohol abuse in the 1930s, said David Robertson,
former chairman of the National Coalition Against Legalized
Gambling, on the Web site www.cnn.com.
“It's pernicious, it's evil, it's certainly one that
feeds on those who are the weakest members of society --
and that's the young and the poor.”
If gambling continues to be abused by teenagers and young
adults, it may lead to compulsive gambling. “Compulsive
gambling is an illness, progressive in nature, which can
never be cured, but can be arrested,” according to
the Web site www.gamblersanonymous.org.
The statistics leave you in doubt about the flipside of
the online poker phenomenon. Across America, the number
of people under the age of 21 calling gambling help lines
has doubled in the last two years.
While it’s fairly easy to filter out underage gamblers
in brick and mortar poker rooms, the same cannot be said
for online poker rooms.
John Anderson, chief executive of the internet casino and
online poker group, 888.com, claims he is confident that
the safeguards he has put in place to prevent underage gamblers
"We have lots of systems in place which can actually
tell if you're a teenager of not," he says. "I
don't want to go into what the online poker systems are,
but these are online poker systems that are 99.9% certain
that we can actually catch you and stop you playing if you're
While online poker companies continue to put anti-minor
filter systems, the number of underage online poker players
increase. In reality, most gambling and online poker sites
can’t tell whether a user is 14 or 45. As long as
you are prepared to lie about your age and enter a false
date of birth, which most youths are, and you have access
to a credit card with the correct billing address, you can
get access to different online poker rooms right away.
The Future of Online Poker
At a time when online poker rooms seem to be reaching new
heights, there has been some speculation as to the future
of online poker. While online poker is still very much a
thriving industry, there seems to be trouble in the poker
nirvana. As legal issues, government interference and market
saturation pile up; the hearsay that there may be a decline
in online poker gaming following a fresh fall in the crude
price and renewed corporate takeover activity of PartyGaming
is starting to get other online poker companies in a ruckus.
PartyGaming was supposed to be the hottest online poker
company around. True, no one was promising its popularity
to grow at the 366 per cent achieved last year, or even
the 100 per cent predicted by industry analysts.
But no one predicted that just three months after flotation,
the PartyGaming directors would discover its growth rate
was slowing and that the amount it was making from each
online poker player was falling.
The reaction was predictably savage: the shares of the
online poker company plunged by a third, crashing below
the 116p issue price; and those who had warned that the
flotation was flaky were quick to say I told you so.
Soon after PartyGaming shares dropped as much as 5.3 percent,
others followed. Shares of 888 Holdings Plc. fell 3.75 pence,
or 2.1 percent, to 171.25 pence at 11:15 a.m. in the U.K.
capital, after dropping to as low as 170 pence earlier.
Empire Online, for which Sportingbet is considering a bid,
fell 11%. Could this be the wake up call everybody dreaded?
Could there be an end to the online poker frenzy?
In the previous years and this year, continued growth in
the online poker industry seemed to be the strongest market
trend. It was supposedly an industry touted with “the
biggest potential for success”. And it still is. As
evidence of this ever-growing popularity, the amount gambled
on online poker websites around the world is estimated to
be more than $60 billion for 2005. But as the online poker
continued to gain momentum, certain issues continued to
loom over its future. For one, the issue of legality has
been one of the biggest hindrances. It is illegal in the
United States to gamble on the Internet. This has led many
online gaming and online poker providers to host their businesses
in more internet gambling-friendly nations like United Kingdom
and Antigua. The online gaming and online poker industries
have also come under attack from various non-government
organizations because of a recent increase of underage gambling
and addiction. But the biggest problem that the online poker
industry faces could be its own success - too much
of it. There are literally thousands of online pokers rooms
popping up online. With the ever-growing threat of saturation
online poker providers are getting the early wake up call
they didn’t expect.
'It is a wake-up call to investors,' says Gavin Oldham
of the Share Centre - who is doubly sore having highlighted
it as a short-term punt just a week ago, despite having
warned about the risks ahead of the online poker flotation.
'Online poker is just a fad and growth had to come to a
halt.' While it's still too early to dispatch online poker
to the land of spacehoppers and citizens' band radio - fads
that went as quickly as they came - the rate of the slowdown
is extraordinary. So the challenge that online poker providers
now face is how to keep people interested.