Time to Change the Game

Mike Sexton

I have been defending poker my whole career. When I was an executive host for MGM, I booked a well-known poker player, who got drunk and knocked a female security guard across a gaming table. I was called because he was escorted off the property, and they asked me what to do about him.

He had a high-end sports car in valet, his things still in the room, and they wanted to know how to move forward. I have always been an advocate for my players. In a board meeting, I was able to convince them to give him a second chance.

Now that I reflect back on that, I think it was the wrong decision.

This customer was an elite poker player, and instead of being an ambassador for the game, he was the exact opposite. Rather than promote the game that he made millions playing, he gave it a black eye.

But I wasn’t blameless either. Because he was also a table games player, it was in my best interest to keep him as a customer. At the time, I earned my living off players that I would bring into the MGM.

Knowing what I know now, I probably should have allowed the lifetime ban to stand. The message I was sending was that money was more important than doing the right thing.

Speaking of bad ambassadors of poker, this next player takes the cake. I was playing at a card room in Los Angeles in a major tournament when a young player with a Team PokerStars patch walked in late with a small entourage. I didn’t know who he was, but the floor staff was shaking his hand.

He sat down at my table and immediately started criticizing people’s play. He knocked the tournament and the structure and was just a complete jerk. I went over to the tournament director, and said, “Surely, this guy can’t represent PokerStars.” He said yes he does.

This was the exact opposite of what an ambassador for poker should be. Instead of shaking hands with the players, he berated them. He acted like this tournament was below him.
Watching that was a disgrace. It’s time for the pros to be the protectors of the game.

We Need More Poker Ambassadors

TDA

Of course there are many icons of the game who are outstanding individuals. Mike Sexton is a perfect example of a poker ambassador. He is someone who has helped grow and protect the game. He is also a gentleman; when he sits at the table, you know you’re dealing with a class act.

Linda Johnson is another poker personality who has spent her career protecting the game. Matt Savage, along with Jan Fisher and David Lamb, co-founded the Tournament Directors Association.

The TEA has done great job of standardizing poker tournament rules worldwide. It’s now time for that same body to come up with a code of conduct and set of disciplinary standards to stop abuse at the poker table.

Some tournaments have done such things as penalizing players for using bad language. But we need to take it further.

It won’t be easy, but it is necessary to grow the poker industry by bringing in more recreational players. It may not be obvious to most, but I believe that a contributing factor to closing some poker rooms is the problems at the tables.

Too many professional players have taken a lot from the game without giving anything back. If you are going to call yourself a professional poker player, you also need to be a protector of the game.

Poker is out of the back room now and on the world stage on television and digital platforms. People watch poker all over the world. What they see, they emulate.

The world is watching. It’s time to change the game now.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player 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 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience 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.

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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.