Online Poker: Where Were the Regulators?

online poker

The poker world was rocked by the news last week that Amaya CEO David Baazov was charged with insider trading. Amaya has been under investigation by Quebec’s securities regulator the Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF) since 2014 when the company acquired the Rational Group, the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt, for $4.9 billion.

The Era of Unregulated Online Poker

Full Tilt

This is yet another black eye for online poker. From January 1, 1998, when Planet Poker, the first real-money online poker site, dealt its first hand of Texas hold’em, to Black Friday on April 15, 2011, when the United States Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against the three largest online poker sites in the country, scandal after scandal has shaken the public’s and players’ faith in the industry.

I can’t help but ask, “Where were the regulators?”

I remember the late Terry Lanni, CEO of MGM Mirage, set up an off-shore Internet gaming site in 2001, which quickly folded. In an article in Las Vegas Review Journal dated Nov. 15, 2007, titled “Gaming Officials Say They’re Ready to Bet on the Web,” Lanni explained that though the site was unsuccessful, “the endeavor helped the company work out problems that will be useful when relaunching.” At the time of the article, Lanni predicted online poker would be legalized in 12 to 18 months.

This article was written nearly a decade ago, and not much has changed regarding the regulation of online poker. From the time the first hand of poker was dealt online in 1998 to the superuser cheating scandal at UltimateBet in 2008 when players were cheated out of millions by Ultimate Bet insiders, the Nevada Gaming Control Board had a decade to be at the forefront of regulating online poker; instead, they did nothing.

When the state should have been the leader for the worldwide online gaming industry, Nevada adopted a wait-and-see stance. The gambling capital of the world lost the opportunity to shape the future of gaming. Because the state choose not to be a leader in the emerging online poker industry, Nevada will forever be in catch-up mode, and it’s the players who have paid the ultimate price.

Whatever the politics are behind Nevada’s decision not to regulate online poker at the dawn of the industry, the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s responsibility should always be to protect the consumers. They failed.

What has bothered me most about unregulated online gambling is the hundreds of millions of dollars the regulatory agencies allowed to be stolen on their watch. People from all walks of life–blue collar workers, professionals, retirees and students—who all shared a love of poker were cheated out of millions, and many never recovered anything.

Nobody from the Ultimate Bets, Full Tilts or Lock Pokers has paid for what was done. No one has suffered except the innocent small players who just wanted to play their favorite game online.

It is the players who paid for the legal defense teams that defended the crooks at Full Tilt, and the small fines they were levied were nothing in comparison to the hundreds of millions they stole.

And the fact that disgraced former Full Tilt CEO Ray Bitar is reported to have recently thrown himself a million-dollar wedding is another slap in the face to these players.

Russ Hamilton plays golf every day in Las Vegas with no remorse. Howard Lederer has the gall to show his face at the Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2014 after running Full Tilt into the ground, and none of them has ever issued an apology.

This is a disgrace to the gaming industry that I love.

The Need to Legalize and Regulate Online Poker

UB-Absolute-Poker-Closed

There is always going to be greed in any industry where there is so much money, but it is the job of oversight and regulatory agencies to put consumer protections in place and regulate the owners and operators.

New Jersey also waited too long to regulate online poker. Instead players had to put their faith in regulatory bodies based on islands or territories they have never heard of like the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

We now have Daily Fantasy Sports following the same path as online poker with hundreds of small sites popping up again with no oversight.

We as a gaming industry can do much better.

It was the players who uncovered the cheating at Ultimate Bet, and it was the players who lost when Full Tilt folded.

And now it seems PokerStars’ players will be footing David Baazov’s legal bills. In a twist of irony, PokerStars announced they were raising the rake the same week their CEO was charged with insider trading.

As Dave Gadhia, Amaya’s Lead Director and independent board member said in a statement, “”David Baazov has the full support of the independent members of the board.”

Amaya will stand by their man. Guess who’s paying?

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” to receive notifications of new posts by email.

A Healthy Poker Ecosystem

Cristiano Ronaldo

I once told a casino owner that excessive rake would be the downfall to his casino poker business. His response was, “I thought the idea was get all you can as fast as you can.” That reminded me of the lyrics to a song from one of my wife’s favorite groups Depeche Mode from the 80s called “Everything Counts.” They go like this: “The grabbing hands grab all they can, All for themselves. After all, it’s a competitive world.”

I recently played a poker tournament where the assistant tournament director said to me, “Can you believe the turnout out for this tournament? It’s amazing. I don’t think the players realize we are charging 35% juice.” He was right. If the players keep playing such tournaments, why should they change anything. Players don’t seem to mind if the house money is more than first place money.

Those Depeche Mode lyrics also reminded me of PokerStars’ new business model for 2016 that reduces rewards for high-volume players, the ones who have been so loyal to them for so long. The Depeche Mode song describes what is happening with PokerStars and brick-and-mortar casinos. They all miss a valuable point in gambling–that players have to win sometime, or it’s a zero sum game for all.

PokerStars seems to believe that professional poker players and other loyal customers are not as valuable as recreational players. The company seems to be shifting their marketing dollars to hire superstar athletes to appeal to this demographic. This summer PokerStars launched the biggest marketing campaign in its history featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. PokerStars released two commercials on Facebook two weeks before they aired on television to Ronaldo’s 104 million Facebook fans and Neymar Jr.’s 53 million fans. It seems these days if you are not a superstar athlete, the online poker sites are just not that into you.

Gone are the days when online poker superstars got lucrative sponsorship deals based on results. The brutal truth is no one is into you after all when you are online, and no one knows who you are, and when you’re in public, you hide behind sunglasses and a hoodie and put headphones on at the poker table to tune the world out.

The truth is a company has to have loyal players to survive and thrive. And you as the player have enormous power. Play where they are into you. Play where the rake and rewards are in your favor. Remember you are the customer, and you can spend your hard-earned money where you are appreciated, whether online or in a brick-and-mortar casino.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what’s best for all the players. A healthy poker economy is made up of a variety of poker players from the elite professional poker players at the top to the large pool of recreational players at the bottom of the pyramid and all the other players in-between. To offset the reduction in rewards the highest-volume players on PokerStars will receive in 2016, PokerStars announced a series of four $1 million freeroll tournaments planned for 2016. According to a PokerStars press release, “These tournaments will surely create buzz and generate excitement among players at all skill and experience levels, and the injection of $4 million into the economy will help many players’ bankrolls.”

Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, acknowledges there is an imbalance in the poker ecosystem, and PokerStars’ plans to address it includes, “more and bigger online promotions, more consumer marketing campaigns to attract new players and research and development of innovative new products and features.”

Whether PokerStars can retain its position as the largest online poker site in the world remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, big changes are coming to the online and brick-and-mortar casinos in the coming years. The Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New Jersey markets are going to become super competitive. It will be survival of the fittest.

I ask the gaming companies to understand they are now dealing with very smart, savvy millennials, and the next generation after them will be even more so because they have so many more entertainment choices than the generations before them.

Though poker can sometimes seem like a solitary pursuit, what one player does affects the whole. Now is the time we need to use our collective power and not play where the players are being taken advantage of. We do have power in numbers; it’s time to use it. The direction of where poker is headed is in our hands. Support sites and casinos that rewards all of us, no matter whether we are a poker pro or a recreational player. That’s the best way to produce a healthy poker ecosystem for all.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” to receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Old-School Card Room Marketing

Ultimate Poker

Why do poker rooms fail in this post-Black Friday landscape? Why do online sites think they can simply advertise their way to the top?

In my last article “Offer Promotions Poker Players Can’t Refuse” I stated that with creative ideas and the attendant hard work, it is possible to turn around casino card rooms in this current environment.

In this article I would like to expand upon that and add specific things any card room can do to be successful.

Nowadays you have to be like a politician and personally invite players to your gaming site or card room. Once you have the customers’ attention, then the real work begins.

Let’s take Ultimate Poker as an example and analyze what caused them to fail.

For any poker room to succeed, it must have a certain number of players and a variety of games available around the clock. Players need to know they can log on and get action any time of the day or night. Ultimate Poker could provide neither.

Even with Station Casinos marketing the Ultimate Poker website through its Nevada casinos, a $1 million marketing campaign and a marketing agreement with the UFC, Ultimate Poker folded in a year and a half.

I was really troubled by the failure of Ultimate Poker, which seemed almost impossible given all they had going for them. Could Ultimate Poker have bought the business? The answer is, “Absolutely. “

What Ultimate Poker failed to do was add a personal touch to their marketing and reach out to every poker player in Nevada making them an offer they could not refuse. All the marketing dollars in the world are not going to help if you don’t put in the sweat equity.

With all those marketing dollars, they could have instituted the following:

  1. Hire approximately one hundred affiliates with great incentives and communication programs to monitor what was working and what wasn’t.
  2. Hire over a thousand players with 80% rakeback. Build a great relationship with them, so they could help identify the site’s weak areas and have input on how best to promote the online site.
  3. Take some of your best customers to lunch and ask for their recommendations on ways to make the site and their player experience better.

You may say that sounds like a lot of work. Well, if you want to be successful, it requires a lot of hard work. You say this is old-school marketing, and to that I answer, “Nothing beats the personal touch.”

In California when they legalized hold’em, one casino dominated the gambling market. So how did number two overtake number one? Here’s how they did it.

The general manager at the time hired everyone who wanted a job. Over a hundred players were hired to promote the middle-limit games.

The GM knew that out of a hundred proposition players, or props as they were called, only ten percent could survive gambling. He hired friendly people who had friends.

The players who had reputations for providing lots of action would eventually go broke. His challenge was to keep finding and hiring players as very few could survive in a job gambling six to eight hours a day.

Did his plan work? Yes! This casino went to number one and has never looked back. It was an amazing marketing concept that I have used to turn around many casinos without one failure.

This is not a new concept in casino marketing. When I was in marketing at the MGM based out of the Beverly Hills office, it was my job simply to recruit players. The cost of acquisition was never an issue as long as the company had a shot to make money from the players.

For as long as I can remember, casinos have hired people to go out and find players. As old school as this may seem, it works. Translating this to the online world means offering incentives both to affiliates and directly to new players.

Remember when Party Poker had hundreds of affiliates that took them to number one? Everyone wanted to be part of the growth of the new online poker business. Many people worked their tails off, which led to Party Poker’s spectacular success.

It troubles me to see sites that had people promote them for years, but once they reach a certain level of success, they abandon those same people that brought them to the dance.

The concept is simple: All business is about people, but in gambling even more so. People want to be where the action is.

Once you create action, the promotions are just maintenance to keep your players happy. I had rather spend marketing dollars on people-to-people business than intangible concepts like analytics and data mining.

Call me old school; I’ll take it as a compliment.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995.

He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

So You Want to Be a Poker Pro?

Rounders

The following article originally appeared on cardplayerlifestyle.com.  Thanks to Robbie Strazynski for allowing me to reprint it.

After 50 years of playing poker, I have gained some insights along the way that might help anyone considering becoming a professional poker player. Like any endeavor in life, there are great rewards as well as pitfalls, and it is necessary to be fully aware of them before making such a life-changing decision.

You’ve Got to Have Poker Plan

Unless you inherited a great deal of money or sold a tech company and have a bankroll of millions of dollars, you are going to need a plan. You need enough courage and discipline to elevate your game in steps. This means if you win $200 at the $3/$6 game one day, jump over to the $6/$12 or $200 No Limit, and if you can win $500 at that table, go to the next level and so on.

You must move up in limits and games. You can’t just grind it out. You must parlay the money. The days you are winning are the times to push it up. In my case, I was fortunate that tournaments were introduced in the early 70s, and I was able to parlay tournament wins into buy-ins into bigger tournaments, and I did well enough that I was able to retire at 36.

In the 80s, when hold’em was legalized in California, I decided to come out of retirement and move out west. I started playing $20/$40 and wondered how anyone could survive playing at that level.

I calculated that you had to win over $60,000 a year, plus another $30,000 to $60,000 in collections to cover your expenses and to be able to deposit even a single dollar into a savings account. And that budget did not account for losses! It is said that poker wins and losses are year-to-year, but your personal expenses are day-to-day, and that’s why it is imperative that you push your game up and manage your bankroll.

Understand Your Potential to Win

poker rake

It’s tough to beat a game with a huge rake

To become a pro, you must have an understanding of your potential profits and losses and ask yourself what you can win in this game. A good friend of mine named Ray Hall, who was my road partner at the time, taught me about the importance of understanding and analyzing a game. We once traveled to Texas to play in a No Limit game. At the time, he was playing in games with buy-ins starting around $2,000 with no cap, which was huge for the 70s. I was only playing $20/$40. This place provided both games.

The first night Ray beat the game for $15,000. I won around $500 and thought it was a good night. I said to Ray, “That was a good night for you, right?” I was shocked by his answer when he said, “It was a good night, but I think we should check out of the motel and go back to Alabama.” We had planned to stay a few weeks.

I asked him why and he said, “Robert, they are raking the game $5 a hand. No poker player alive can beat that rake.” I never paid that much attention to the rake before. I just thought it was the cost of doing business. You have to pay attention to what is on the table, what’s coming off the table and what your chances are of beating that game. If you don’t do that, you’re drawing dead.

Choose Your Opponents Wisely

shark fish

You’d much rather be the shark than the fish

Another element of your game you must master is choosing your opponents wisely. The players that have always caused me the most difficulty were the ones who were looking to exploit every single edge and when there was no edge, they would quit the game and look for the next easy spot.

These players are the survivors in the poker world that have stood the test of time. Whether you like their style or not, they are the true pros. To survive like them, you must look for the edge every day of your pro poker career if you want to stay in the game, and that starts by avoiding playing with them at all costs and selecting games you can beat.

A story that illustrates this concept comes from my days playing gin rummy. I once played a guy named Eddie, who supposedly was Stu Ungar’s mentor in gin rummy. Now I was playing the master and I knew I was outclassed. However, I got lucky in this match and beat him, which was a devastating blow to him.

Later in a bar that night at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, he challenged me to go to his room and play some more gin rummy. I knew this would not be a good situation for various reasons. I looked at Eddie and said, “Why don’t we find someone we can beat?” He understood exactly what that meant.

Why would you ever play a match where it was dead even or your opponent played better? I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing your game wisely and matching up with your opponents carefully to maintain an edge.

Understand When You’ll Have an Edge

edge pokerThis is the reason pros love mixed games so much. They are always looking for weaker opponents who haven’t mastered some of the games to create an edge for themselves. Without the ability to do this, there is no reason to sit at the table. This is the cardinal rule of poker. You must master at least four different games to play at a world-class level.

The following story is an extreme example of how critical it is for professional poker players to find players they can beat. It will also help you understand the psychology of gamblers. It involves my long-time friend Ray Hall again (or Mighty Ray Hall, as he liked to call himself). He is also one of the funniest guys I have ever been around in gambling.

I was invited to a game in Georgia where I was told they were playing 14-handed hold’em. They were literally using a rake to push the chips across the table because the pots were so big. The host said the only bad thing was that they were raking $15 a hand, but it is the wildest game you will ever see. I called up Ray and he said, “I can’t beat a short-handed game, much less a 14-handed game.”

When I told him the details, he quickly changed his tune and said, “When can you leave? Let’s go now.” I asked, “Ray, what about the rake?” I will never forget his response. He said, “If those fools are allowing that rake, I want to meet them because I am sure I can beat them!”

When we arrived, I saw the biggest table I had ever seen, with a paper grocery bag underneath it being used as the drop box. Ray was right – that was the liveliest group of people I had ever played poker with. They didn’t care about the rake; they just wanted to gamble. He had a better understanding of the mentality of gamblers than I had at the time.

Check Your Ego at the Door

This next subject is rarely spoken about, but it is the Achilles’ heel of many pros (in my opinion), and that is ego. A friend of mine who had cashed in several tournaments for over $2 million in one year’s time asked me for some career advice. I told him to take $60,000 and hire a PR firm to help with his image so as to create a legacy that might help him with sponsorships and teaching in the future when things went south.

He agreed, but I knew it was a long shot that he would heed the advice. He has now fallen on hard times, and all I can wonder is why didn’t he invest in himself when he had the chance? His ego made him believe he was going to win forever.

Reflecting Back on My Years Playing Poker

What have I learned after all these years of playing poker? To play professionally, you need to protect your bankroll, choose your games and opponents wisely, take advantage of every edge you can find, and, most importantly, have balance in your life.

Poker has given me a blessed life, but it has not been without regrets. If you allow it to, poker will take a toll on your personal life. Poker Hall of Fame member Fred “Sarge” Ferris, after he found out he was dying, told Doyle Brunson to “stop and smell the roses.”

The game may reward you with material things for your family and bless you with memories you may not have otherwise had. That said, reflecting back on my years of playing, I have to say I wish I had spent more precious time with my family and a little less time playing. Remember, the game is not going anywhere. Keep your friends and family close because you can’t make it without their support.

I hope you take all of this advice to heart. These are things I wish someone had told me. If you see me at the table, or Ray Hall (who, at nearly 80 years old, still plays poker in Tunica, Mississippi), feel free to share your stories about your life on the felt.

About

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Robert is available for consulting, marketing or teaching. Reach him at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.

Honor and Integrity in Poker and Gambling

Bicycle Casino

The poker world has been rocked in recent years by various scandals from the Absolute Poker super user and the collapse of Full Tilt Poker to the recent Borgata counterfeit chips scandal. This got me to thinking about honor and integrity in gambling and reminded me of the words a bookie in Alabama told me over 35 years ago.

Eddie was the life of our home poker games for years. Every Tuesday he would come by our game and settle up with the poker players, and then he would throw a little money away in the game. He was not really trying to win; he just liked to gamble.

This week was different. He owed around $25,000 and called to say he would need a week to settle up. This sent shockwaves through our small poker world. How could this happen?

When he stopped by the next week, I called him into a room and said, “Eddie, what happened? You have always been so honorable.” He said, “The truth is I didn’t pay attention to my business. I always wrote the parlays and teasers and put them in a cigar box and looked at them on Monday mornings because they were usually losing propositions. This time they all won, and it was for over $1 million. I got broke. I’m now poor Ed. Robert, you can only be honorable as long as you can be honorable.”

The mistake Eddie made took away his honor, but he had confronted the issue head on; he didn’t try to hide from it. The following story told to me by legendary Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, now running the South Point’s Race and Sports Marketing division, demonstrates the opposite.

Jimmy was talking to a bookmaker friend of his that was having a bad season. He said, “Jimmy, it has all come down to an airplane game.” Jimmy asked him what an airplane game was, and he replied, “I’m going to the airport to watch the game. If my players lose the game, I’m back in action and have a bankroll. If my players win, then I’m catching a plane to who knows where.”

Poker in California was in a similar predicament at one time. For over 50 years, California had become the training ground for the best cheats in the world because everybody handled the deck in pass-the-deal games. This created games that were plagued by everything from petty cheating to full-blown organized theft.

However, when hold’em was legalized in California, it changed everything. George Hardie and Mike Caro were at the forefront of this change. As Caro says, “I realized that the old days of pass-the-deal and five-card draw would vanish.” He explains that this change would “lead to a complete rethinking of the California poker product with professional dealers and much safer and ethical games.”

After George Hardie cleaned up the games, I remember a couple of cheaters came down from Northern California and cheated the high-limit games at the Bicycle Casino with marked cards which they had managed to get a floor person to put in. This resulted in thousands of dollars being lost at the big game. Hardie instructed his management team to give the players their money back, which was over a hundred thousand dollars.

Hardie could do this because he had the money, and it protected the integrity of the game and the business he founded. He let people know he would do whatever it took to restore the honor of the game.

I faced similar challenges as the General Manager of the Horseshoe Casino in Gardena, California, as we transitioned from the old pass-the-deal days to center dealers. Changing the way people perceived the card room was my biggest task.

Today the new frontier is online gaming, and it is experiencing some of these same growing pains. Caro, along with his colleague Bill Handy, continues to advance ethical poker by working on a new system called COPS to detect online cheating. This shows how things change and still stay the same.

This takes me back to the words Eddie said at the beginning of the article. You can be honorable only as long as you can be honorable. And in the case of Borgata, regulation can only go so far; you can only regulate what you can regulate.

If someone is determined to cheat, he will find a way. We, as players, always need to be vigilant to protect each other and the game we love. That is the only honorable thing to do.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.
Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.

THE NEXT GOLD RUSH: ONLINE POKER AND THE LOTTERY

Scratcher

My brother-in-law bought me several California Lottery scratchers as a stocking stuffer this year. Two of them were $5.00 games based on poker. It says on the California Lottery website, “LIKE POKER? Then our $75,000 Poker Scratchers® game is the one for you.” I LOVE poker, so how could I resist?

I scratched eight spots to reveal poker hands that I had to use to beat the dealer’s hand. Three of my hands won! I felt like it was my lucky day. I won more with my scratcher that day than I did playing real poker.

After scratching for five minutes and leaving plastic shavings everywhere, I can see why lottery players look forward to the day they will be able to log onto their state’s lottery site and let their computer do the scratching for them. Look for your favorite lottery games coming to a computer near you.

The Obama administration’s decision in December 2011 limiting the Wire Act to sports betting paved the way for the legalization of online lottery sales. Three months later on March 25, 2012, Illinois became the first jurisdiction to sell lottery tickets online. Currently, that is the only state which allows Internet lottery sales, but in the not-too-distant future, expect the lottery to be online in many more states.

People think the lottery is just picking numbers, but it is much more than that. Pretty soon every casino game you can imagine will be adapted and played with a lottery ticket. According to the website of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, U.S. lottery sales totaled $78 billion in 2012. The New York Lottery, North America’s largest and most profitable lottery, accounts for over $9 billion of that total. In comparison, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has projected online gambling in his state will generate over $1 billion in revenue by July 2014, and many industry analysts are calling that number overly optimistic. Regardless what the final number is, it will pale in comparison to the revenue state lotteries generate.

Factor in the fact that lotteries often use funding education as a way to get passed in legislatures and then as a selling point (though as little as 11 cents of every dollar actually goes back to some states), lotteries hit the marketing jackpot. With record jackpots making the national news and multi-state drawing games like Powerball now played in 44 jurisdictions, online gambling will have a hard time competing.

While the gaming industry is spending millions lobbying for the legalization of online gaming, the lotteries are sitting back cheering them on. When all the hard work is done, they will take it over from there. Online poker is currently being used to pass all other forms of Internet gambling because it is easier to push online poker through legislatures because it is generally considered a game of skill. It would be difficult to pass online gambling if it was presented as games of pure chance.

All eyes will now turn to New York, Massachusetts and the big prize, California. The bills introduced in the California legislature specify online poker only at this time, but do not be fooled by the words poker only. It is just the beginning of what is coming. Online poker will increase in popularity for the next ten years when New York and California finally offer online gaming.

During this time, online poker will create the pathway for all other forms of online gaming. These states with the largest populations in the nation will become meccas for online poker, and in ten years or so they will also be home to the biggest gaming companies in the world, the lotteries. Poker players can look back one day and say, “We started it all.”

I believe poker will all but vanish from the online gambling sites once it has served its purpose. One day you will have to search hard on any gambling website to find the poker tab and look even harder for a poker game.

The big winners in all this are the state lotteries if they are allowed to cross state lines and become legal in every home. The lottery will create slots and poker games and camouflage them to look like scratcher games much like the one I described at the beginning of this article.

The lottery industry is not as innocuous as it seems. It is about more than just picking some numbers; it is a whole new gambling platform. Do not be surprised if America’s game changes from poker to the lottery. Think about that the next time you buy a Powerball ticket with a 1 in 175,223,510 chance of winning the jackpot, roughly the same chance as getting hit by lightning–on your birthday.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Follow Robert on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert is available for consulting, marketing or teaching. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.

A Casino in Your Pocket

myfirstsmartphone

When my son Jaden was five years old, I gave him a Los Angeles Lakers’ poker set given to me by the late Dr. Jerry Buss.  His mother hid it in the garage.  Jaden, now 14, found it and brought it to my house this Thanksgiving and asked me if I could teach him how to play poker. I had wrestled with what I would do on the day my children would want to learn to play and whether I should teach them.

I am sure many gaming industry professionals have had the same thoughts. All my children know their dad works in the gaming industry and has played poker for fifty years. My younger kids like to Google my name and tell me about what they read online, and they are starting to ask me many questions about gambling like why I haven’t won the Main Event. With the Internet and social media, young people today are exposed to social gaming at an early age.

Children today grow up playing games, and gambling is just an extension of gaming to them.  It is so much harder to shield children nowadays, so I decided if I am going to teach my kids about gaming, I will make sure they understand all the pitfalls–the good, bad and ugly.  In our conversation about poker, my fourteen year old tried to convince me that his video games Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are educational. Those games make gambling look like Candy Land.   I find these videos games very disturbing.  In fact, they inspired me to form my own company, Crown Digital Games, so I can develop games like Giant Paintball, which uses paint instead of bullets that my children can play that keeps the competitive element without the blood and gore.

I feel poker, unlike video games, can teach so much about life.  It teaches about winning and losing, math, money management and psychology just to name a few things; most of all, it teaches you about people. I teach my children there is a time and place for gaming, and it should never interfere with their family or education.  The key is to remember to keep it fun and to gamble responsibly within one’s limits and make sure it never interferes with family.  Poker has created a blessed life for me the past fifty years, but it has come with some pain and suffering. As I reflect back, I do have some regrets and wished I had spent more time on the important things in life.  As the Poker Hall of Famer Fred “Sarge” Ferris said when he realized he was terminally ill, he wished he had stopped and smelled the roses.

On Thanksgiving it’s a tradition at my wife’s family gathering to play poker. Her 21-year-old niece is very competitive and beat us all out of our $5 buy-in. She was taught poker at an early age. She informed me she is taking a course at San Diego State University called “Cross Cultural Gambling.”  She said she watched the movie Rounders in class where the students discussed the consequences of gambling.  At the peak of the poker boom, there is no telling how many students played poker online on their computers in their dorm rooms.  Now with smartphones in the hands of our youth, it is time for them to learn about the personal and social impact of gambling in the classroom.

The gaming industry is going through a seismic shift. For the first time, gaming has a chance to become mainstream.  It is moving from the back room to your living room. The leap from play money to real money is just a click away. Putting our heads in the sand pretending our children are not being exposed to gambling is naïve.

As parents we need to be aware of the proliferation of all forms of social gaming and know what our kids are downloading and playing.  As the Washington Post reported in February 2011, an eight-year-old girl rang up a $1400 bill in the Capcom game Smurfs’ Village. Though the game was free to download, the smurfberry purchases made within it cost real money. The lesson here is the virtual games in our children’s pockets are one step away from real gambling, and it is playing on their competitive and addictive behavior.

I am 65 years old.  One thing I want to leave in my children’s minds about the business I have been in for fifty years is that gambling has consequences, both good and bad.  I want them to be winners in life.  With gambling now becoming legal online and at our fingertips 24/7, it is imperative we educate the young as they walk around with a casino in their pocket.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. He is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

The Man Who Lost $127 Million: Responsible Gambling and the Duty of Care

ProblemGambling

Putting a 24-hour casino in every home comes with great responsibility. Ensuring a safe, responsible gambling experience should be of paramount importance. Online gambling companies talk incessantly about revenue, but it is everyone’s responsibility from regulatory bodies to operators, from governments to the citizens themselves to require that all proper consumer protections and safeguards are in place before online gambling can go live. It is imperative that all stakeholders in online gambling be well versed not just in its benefits but its pitfalls as well.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic illustrations of what happens when a gaming company puts revenue before responsibility is the case of Terrance Watanabe who is reported to have lost most of his personal fortune recklessly gambling in Las Vegas. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal published December 5, 2009, “During a year-long gambling binge at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos in 2007, Terrance Watanabe managed to lose nearly $127 million. The run is believed to be one of the biggest losing streaks by an individual in Las Vegas history.” While Steve Wynn is reported to have barred Watanabe from his casino for compulsive gambling, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. welcomed him and derived 5.6% of its Las Vegas gambling revenue from him that year.

This case showed such an egregious lack of sound business judgment on the part of Harrah’s, now Caesars Entertainment, that the company was fined $225,000 by New Jersey regulators in March of this year. Gary Thompson, Director of Corporate Communications for Caesars Entertainment said, “Because of the confidential settlement agreement we reached with Watanabe, neither he nor we can make any official comment.” However, he points out that Caesars hired an outside agency to investigate the situation and made procedural changes deemed necessary to prevent recurrences.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has taken a more proactive approach to responsible gaming and has expressed great concern over the potential spread of excessive gambling in his state. When he conditionally vetoed that state’s online gambling bill in February of this year, one of his main recommendations was to increase funding of compulsive gambling programs.

In a statement released with his veto, Gov. Christie said his recommendations are intended to continue “the tradition in New Jersey of a fine, careful, and well-regulated implementation of gaming.” The operative word here is “careful.” In the rush to reap the financial windfall online gambling companies promise, oftentimes the need for consumer safeguards is overlooked. Gov. Christie signed the bill into law once the Legislature agreed to his changes. It is the duty of all jurisdictions considering introducing gambling to its citizens, whether in brick-and-mortar or online casinos, to take such a thoughtful, measured approach to the issue. Doing any less could have devastating effects. Today, November 21, Internet gambling begins a five-day trial run in New Jersey.  This will put Gov. Christie’s promise to the test.

As Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), states, “We are concerned that as jurisdictions race to legalize internet gambling, often in an attempt to boost their gaming tax revenues, they are neglecting serious problem gambling concerns. Without comprehensive responsible gaming policies, the massive expansion of internet and social gaming may exacerbate gambling addiction. Our IRG (Internet Responsible Gaming) standards incorporate best practices from around the world, and we strongly urge they be incorporated into online gaming legislation and regulation.” There is no question problem gambling destroys lives. Organizations such as NCPG propose that a comprehensive public health strategy is the most ethical and cost-effective response to the gambling addiction issues raised by internet gambling. The universal adoption of responsible gaming standards by operators and regulators alike, in tangent with well-informed consumers, is an important aspect of this approach. Legislation and regulation of online gambling must keep up with the rapid pace of technology.

While I was marketing director for The Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, I produced many successful events that created enormous revenue for the casino. The morning after one such event I drove into the parking lot of the casino and noticed an elderly woman crying into her hands. This image has haunted me to this day. I thought to myself, “Did I do this to her?” This is the question all the stakeholders in online gambling should ask themselves. Let’s not forget there is a human face in front of that computer screen.

Resources for Problem Gambling:

National Council on Problem Gambling, http://www.ncpgambling.org, 1-800-522-4700

Gamblers Anonymous, http://www.gamblersanonymous.org, 1-855-222-5542

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.  Contact Robert at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing or teaching.

2013 WSOP: Year of the Woman

2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner Loni Harwood

2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner Loni Harwood

As I was reviewing the statistics for the 2013 World Series of Poker (WSOP), one in particular stood out.  With 79,471 total entries, women players represented a mere 5.1% of the field. Yet, at the same time, female cashes represented 9% of the total money won.  This is an encouraging fact.  Female participation in the WSOP has come a long way since I began playing it in the 1980’s, but we as a poker community can do much more to increase those numbers.

To move forward we must first look to the past and honor the achievements of the pioneers that blazed the trail for today’s women in poker.  No discussion would be complete without talking about Barbara Enright.  To this day, Barbara Enright is still the first and only woman to make the final table of the WSOP Main Event.  She accomplished this historic feat in 1995 when she placed 5th.  That was just the beginning of her firsts.  She was also the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets and the first woman to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Phil Hellmuth.  Enright is still racking up those chips.  To date, her total live tournament winnings exceed $1.5 million.

Though no woman has reached the final table of the Main Event since Enright, two women came close in 2012.  In fact, both Gaelle Baumann, who placed 10th, and Elisabeth Hille, who came in 11th, are tied for the biggest Main Event payday awarded to a woman with $590,442 earned by each.  By percentage, Baumann has the best record of any woman in the Main Event as she finished in the top .15% out of a field of 6,598 players. Only two women have lasted the longest in the Main Event twice—Annie Duke in 2000 and 2003 and Marsha Waggoner in 1993 and 1997.

This year, Loni Harwood’s spectacular run was the big story of the 2013 WSOP and was chronicled in a PokerNews article titled, “Loni Harwood Setting Records at the 2013 World Series of Poker” by Pamela Maldonado.  The 23-year-old poker player from Staten Island, New York, won her first WSOP bracelet this year in the final $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event of the series.  That win marked her 6th cash of the summer (accomplished by only three other players this year) and tied Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series.

And the records do not stop there.  The $609,017 first place money she won surpassed Allyn Jeffrey Shulman’s record set in 2012 of the largest payday awarded to a woman in a Las Vegas WSOP event. With $874,698 in tournament earnings for the entire summer, Harwood has also jumped to the No. 8 spot on the all-time WSOP money list for women. That total was also the most a woman has ever earned at a single WSOP in Las Vegas.

Harwood’s three final table appearances at this year’s WSOP is an impressive accomplishment for any poker player, male or female.  And the fact that the percentage of female participation is so small makes her achievement all the more stunning.  Harwood has just embarked on her career and has many more final tables in her future.  Some legends of the game have amassed an impressive number of WSOP final table finishes including Cyndy Violette at 12, Jennifer Harman at 11 and Marsha Waggoner at 9.  2013 marked not only the 10-year anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s historic win in the Main Event that helped spark the poker boom, but 2003 was also the first year 10 women made final tables at the WSOP.  2012 saw 14 women final table the WSOP and that number will only continue to grow.

Female players are just as skilled as male players, but I feel one of the problems facing women is the lack of sponsorship.  No matter what a player’s skill level, sponsorship money is critical in being able to compete in poker at the highest levels.  When online poker went live in Nevada, I noticed the new sites were mainly reaching out to male players.  I feel women make even better ambassadors for poker, and it is a mistake to overlook them.  It is time for both men and women, the legends of the game and the up-and-comers, to work together to increase the number of female players so that someday in the not-to-distant future we finally have a female World Champion of Poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. He is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. 

Robert can be contacted at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.

Nothing Left to Lose: Poker Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess Dominates WSOP Final Table

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan "the Beast" Riess

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess

I am often asked if poker is a young man’s game. Based on my almost fifty years of playing, I would have to say yes.  Let me explain.  The 2013 World Series of Poker November Nine, which was played this week, featured a final table with an average age under 30.  In fact, Ryan “the Beast” Riess, the youngest player at the table at 23 years of age, won the championship title after eliminating four players before entering heads-up play against eventual runner-up Jay Farber.

When I was young myself and had no responsibilities, I played a hyper-aggressive style. I did not care who I played even if they were legends.  I remember playing a pivotal hand the first couple of hours in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker against Doyle Brunson when I was much younger.  I called a small raise from the big blind with 3 5 spades, and the flop came 2 4 6.  I flopped a small straight, but there was a flush draw on the board.  I was very nervous staring at this poker legend across the table, so I just said all-in.  He said, “Kid, I hate to go broke so early, but you must be on a draw to move in or have a pair.  I call.” He had a big pocket pair, so I won the hand and knocked out a legend.  When he got up, he said he could not believe he played the hand so poorly.

That hand helped reinforce my belief that being aggressive was the best way to play poker because it gives you more weapons in your arsenal, and it worked well for me for years.  It helped me to achieve the record for most consecutive cashes in the Main Event from 1991-1994. Dan Harrington said in one of his books on Hold‘em that Stu Ungar, Jack Keller along with myself started the aggressive style of play. I earned my nickname the Chipburner based on this style of play.  My younger kids still tease me about it and say, “Dad, why don’t you change your name to Chip Earner?”  They have a good point.

When you are young, going broke is just another way of saying “in between bankrolls.” According to media reports, current WSOP champion Ryan Reiss was broke a mere year ago before winning second place in the WSOP Circuit main event in Hammond, Indiana in October 2012. However, once you cross into your mid-thirties, many players have families and mortgages.  With these added responsibilities, the prospect of going broke is scary and will affect one’s poker decisions.  When you are young, you have nothing to lose. It’s like that line in the Janis Joplin song Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”  When you are young, you can afford to take risks you are not willing to take when you are older.

Lyle Berman once said if there are 100 players in a tournament, and you are the best player in the world, you may still never win a title in your lifetime.  The combination of aggression and luck makes No Limit Hold’em very volatile.  Most of the best players now play mixed games to protect their bankroll because so many decisions in No Limit are little more than a coin flip.

There is no question that today’s young players have more information available to them that allows them to become expert players faster than we did in the early years, and it has definitely elevated the game.  The internet changed everything.  The explosion of internet poker has allowed many young players to hone the art of aggression, and they are very hard to beat. It has allowed these kids to get rid of their inhibitions. They do not play the person so much as they play the numbers.

Poker is now much more a math game, whereas in the old days it was more a people game.  We would look for certain players to play and avoid others.  Now you are just an anonymous seat number. This style has also made poker more of a lottery than a skill-based game.  Even though you are the best player, it does not mean you will always win.

After nearly a half a century of playing poker, I have to admit it is a young man’s game.  After seeing it from both sides, I will say this about age.  Playing poker for a living requires stamina.  The effects of aging on one’s poker game cannot be overstated. In 2005 I finished 97th in the Main Event at the age of 58.   The toll it took on my body affected my play. It was extremely tiring.  I blame myself for not being in the best shape, but as a young man, playing three days was nothing.  After a marathon poker session, I would take a shower and look for another game.

Nowadays after 10 hours, I can feel the pain.  My wife has introduced me to yoga recently, and it has helped me immensely because poker is both a mental and physical game.  Once you cross 50 years of age, you have to prepare more for the physical demands of these multi-day poker tournaments.

Now to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article.  Youth clearly is an advantage in poker, but experience has its place, too.  Doyle Brunson once said, “When we put our feet under the table, we are all one big family.”  And I’m proud to be part of that family for nearly half a century.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker.  He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.  Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.