Note: This is an abridged version of an article previously published on pokerfuse PRO.
The September edition of GQ magazine in France contains a major feature story about the world of French online poker.
“Welcome to a world where the 85% of losers produce the fortunes of the 15% of winners.” The magazine is one of the largest men’s magazines in the country, with a print readership of over 300k—plus 12m pageviews a month online. Most of these readers are in the target market for online poker operators, so Anna Topoloff’s exposé style article could by itself influence attitudes to online poker and, ultimately, traffic numbers.
Noting that the French poker market revenues reported by ARJEL have continued to fall, Topaloff contrasts this with the incomes of online poker grinders. She briefly explains how they manage “to play up to 25 tables at a time” and ascribes their success to the use of “trackers.”
The generic reference to programs such as Hold’em Manager and PokerTracker prefaces an explanation that states that they are the principal reason high volume players can continue to win such large sums: “Welcome to a world where the 85% of losers produce the fortunes of the 15% of winners.”
The concept that poker is a game of skill and mathematics is referred to, but the results of the online players she has interviewed are all put down to the mysterious “trackers.” Following the introduction of the terms “fish” and “sharks,” she explains how the use of “trackers” provides an advantage which enables sharks to exploit the fish—to become “fishermen.”
Several online pros are interviewed, and their lifestyles briefly exposed—long hours in front of a computer. Comparisons are made between financial traders and players, and between the capitalist system and the poker world where some participants gain an unfair advantage because they have access to “trackers.”
“The impression that online poker players can make thousands of euros playing a computer game in their own apartment may not be entirely unattractive to some GQ.” The references to capitalism and financial traders carry much more resonance in France than in the UK or US—the references are not complimentary.
Online poker professionals are described as “living life in a restricted space,” while they are confined for a dozen hours at a time to their apartment in order to pursue their profession. Topaloff concludes that the nature of the work contains the seeds of its own destruction as players tire of the isolation and long hours in front of their screens.
Laurent Dumont from French community site ClubPoker.net explains that the career of an online poker player is short, five to ten years at the most. During that short career, the French tax man represents a particular occupational hazard.
The case of Jérôme Zerbib is used as an example. He was fined €400k, equivalent to two years of his income for non-payment of taxes on his poker winnings.
According to the article, the hapless professionals also suffer at the hands of the poker operators. There is an abridged account of the dispute over VIP changes at PokerStars that led to a French sit out over two years ago.
Topoloff spoke to the players that PokerStars subsequently invited to the Isle of Man. Rake and rakeback is explained briefly and “Skip” reports that the meeting “obtained satisfaction on 90% of the issues raised.”
At which point, the article neatly revolves the story with a brief account of the complaints the operators made about the French gaming taxes a few months ago: Implying that companies were losing as much to the high volume online gamblers as to the government in taxes. Topaloff suggests that the companies were also “demanding help against the fishermen.”
Paradoxically, the article’s somewhat negative depiction of online poker may encourage more young men to give the game a chance. The impression that online poker players can make thousands of euros playing a computer game in their own apartment while avoiding taxes may not be entirely unattractive to some GQ readers—especially now that they know that to win they only need invest in a “tracker.”