On this week’s pod, Nick and Mike discuss the changes at partypoker with analysis of the interview of partypoker’s Tom Waters and Rob Yong and a recap of the information that has come out since. Pennsylvania is set to open its online poker market in 2 weeks time, and the guys discuss what they know about which online poker rooms will be ready at launch. Live poker in Sochi, Russia has become a priority for all of the major online poker operators and the guys discuss why.
- partypoker changes
- Pennsylvania online poker is just 2 weeks away – here is what we know
- Live poker in Sochi, Russia is uncommonly popular
- Outro – mistakes in transcriptions
Mike: Hello and welcome everybody, to the Pokerfuse Podcast. This is Episode 19 coming at you on June 27, 2019. I’m your host, Mike Gentile, along with my co-host, Nick Jones. Nick, how are you doing today?
Nick: I’m doing very well thank you. How are you doing today, Mike? I can hear a slight, maybe a 10% drop in your usual pizzazz levels.
Mike: Yes, my pizzazz is not where it usually is, but should be good enough to crack on and do the pod. So hopefully, any creaks that you might hear in my voice won’t be too distracting, and we could provide a quality product for our listeners.
Nick: Excellent. We haven’t got a segment on the WSOP this week. Is it something that you’ve been following from your home?
Mike: Not really. I have been looking for some big headlines coming out of there and as a poker fan, I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen has been the kickoff of the 50K Poker Players Championship. I did see that there’s some old school names playing in that tournament.
Nick: It’s always one that I follow as well, as someone who doesn’t really watch and follow a live poker scene much at all. I can play, look down the list of people and actually recognize a decent proportion of the field by their names. Phil Ivey, as we speak right now, is the chip leader. I imagine some of our listeners will know him . He was chip leader at the end of day three.
Mike: How great would that be for poker, if he were to win that event?
Nick: Yes. T the field is obviously so stacked that it’s very high chance that someone extremely famous is going to win it. I think they’re down 12 now. Even I recognize like eight or nine of their names. I think eight of them have all won WSOP bracelets in the past and in fact, the ones who haven’t— PokerNews have got this really cool feature where it lists everyone and says how many how many bracelets that they won. Of the four that haven’t won a bracelet in the remaining [crosstalk] —
Mike: Who’s got that feature?
Nick: On their on their chip counts thing, it’s like they’ve got like a little badge where it says like 10 bracelets or five bracelets. There’s three who haven’t won bracelets- or four haven’t won bracelets. Three of them I recognize are David Oppenheim— I can’t remember the other ones, but it’s a super stacked field. Your guy, Talal Shakerchi, is still there, I think, with a short stack.
Mike: Is he? Good luck to him.
Nick: That’s obviously a railbird’s delight . That’s about it from my end as well, from like WSOP action that I’ve seen.
Mike: I normally don’t pay a lot of attention to what happens at the WSOP. I have a question for you. You may have been a little bit more connected this week than I. Has there been a double bracelet winner yet this year?
Nick: I pass. [chuckles]
Mike: Okay. I know that’s something that’s always at the top of the things that I’ve been looking out for in recent years.
Nick: I haven’t seen it, so maybe not. The only other thing I’ve seen is, Luke Schwartz has won a bracelet [crosstalk] —
Mike: I got another question for you on WSOP. Who’s leading Player of the Year?
Nick: No idea. These are questions I would ask you. Why do you think I would know that? If you’re listening to this podcast for hot WSOP facts, you have very much come to the wrong place. [chuckles]
Mike: Yes, that’s for sure.
Nick: Instead of that, Mike, let’s talk about- probably, some super esoteric industry and regulatory news.
Nick: We’ll start off this podcast episode, where we left things in our special edition last week, where we interviewed Tom Walters and Rob Yong from PartyPoker. Quite a lot to disseminate from that podcast, Mike.
Mike: Yes. They covered a lot of topics. I think they’ve actually gone out and covered some of those topics, even on other podcasts since as well, but there’s a lot of interesting information coming out of PartyPoker these days.
Nick: Yes. They’re certainly doing well to hold the attention of at least, the European online poker player base, whether rightly or wrongly. As we speak now, we’re like nine days since the ban on HUDs came into effect. When we spoke to them a week ago, they said that their cash game numbers were up 10%, they expected and were prepared for a double digit decline, but the first response was quite positive. Obviously, it’s still a bit early to tell from the data that we’ve got. So from the cash game data track by GameIntel, which we have on the Poker Industry PRO platform, does show that cash game traffic has risen slightly. Although, there’s very few data points to compare on a week-over-week basis and obviously, with kind of seasonal effects as well and obviously, just short-term changes with promotion stuff. It’s a bit too early to tell, but we can say it’s like the traffic didn’t collapse overnight when they implemented this, the HUD ban.
Mike: As far as seasonal changes go that, to me, indicates that the traffic, the cash game traffic and PartyPoker is more susceptible to influence of other events. Because the traffic usually declines over the summer months that anything, whether it be a promotion or the elimination of HUDs, might have a larger than usual impact on their overall traffic.
Nick: Yes, we saw some chatter about their MTTs overlay quite a lot last weekend but the reality is, PartyPoker is genuinely happy to have some weekly tournaments overlay. They say it’s kind of a marketing expense. And going into like late June, is exceptionally quiet for these tournaments. All the major operators have problems filling there like big Sunday tournaments. If they try and maintain them at what they do in winter time. We don’t really have a year-over-year comparison to know whether like MTTs are being particularly impacted or not. PartyPoker said on the podcast last week that regardless, they’re going to keep the change. So it’s more just for our kind of interest to see how players respond, and it definitely seems like players haven’t left in droves. That’s for sure.
Mike: Player response is something that I’d like to ask you about. I know you keep your finger on the pulse of things over- across the community, especially over a Two Plus Two. So there was a lot of talk prior to us doing that interview, about how the banning of HUDs and the removal of downloadable hand histories, was such a big bad for the community. How has the community responded to the answers that Tom and Rob gave us on the pod?
Nick: I wouldn’t say it shifted perception dramatically. I didn’t think the arguments that they put forward, to those who were critical before, would have made anyone a convert, I guess. I would say that whether due to our podcast or other podcasts or just the time aspect, is that the criticisms have waned since they implemented it. Maybe that’s just because the players realize that this is not going to reverse, and so they’re just kind of wasting their breath. When there is chatter about it, certainly on forums like Two Plus Two, it’s overwhelmingly negative, I would say. But then, we get people— From our podcast last week, we got people replying to us on Twitter who commended what they were doing, what they said, and the arguments that they put forward. Things like the cash game numbers are going to be- long-term, are going to be a much better read on these changes.
I think other operators like PokerStars, like 888 , will be looking on the interest to see whether their competitors numbers decline, or whether they see an uptake themselves. There’s now obviously, PokerStars is a place for- where you can play with HUDs, where you can run your hand history through the tracking database, that kind of thing. Interestingly, MPM, on the day that PartyPoker announced their removal- or implemented their removal of hand histories, reversed their policy. They had a policy on their new Prima client that you could not get hand histories. They’ve now made them accessible after the fact, you couldn’t- you have to manually email customer support and ask for the hand histories, but they will be provided so you can run through your tracking tools after you’ve played.
Yes, it will be interesting to see also if competitors take over some of those multi-tables because it can— With the multi-tables with the people playing eight to 12 tables, if they move, they can have quite a big swing in terms of a cash game traffic. Whether it actually impacts the bottom line’s revenue or not is another question, but they can kind of dramatically swing cash game figures. We’ll have to wait and see throughout the summer what the impact is.
Mike: One of the topics that we covered in the special edition, the podcast with Tom Waters and Rob Yong, was catching cheaters. It seems there’s been a bit of discussion that has continued on since we did that pod. I know that we wrote an article on Poker Industry PRO with regard to some of the efforts. And I guess, I’m not entirely clear. Are these efforts by PartyPoker, or is this Rob Yong individually taking on this initiative?
Nick: It does seem like it’s Rob Yong personally taking on this initiative. Listening to and reading through the transcript of our podcast, that really wasn’t clear. Although, it was clarified on a later podcast, on a PokerNews podcast, in an interview with Sarah Herring. He did and it was actually explicit there and said, “This is my efforts.” Presumably, he wants obviously PartyPoker to be one of the main people who partner with this industry effort. B, it does seem to be his thing. What are your thoughts? You listening to him, were you skeptical of the effort that he was making?
Mike: It’s not the effort that I’m skeptical of, I think it’s the dynamics that really makes me pause and question whether or not his efforts will be successful. If you look at it, without PokerStars, it seems that the project is going to be a failure. I’m struggling to see if your PokerStars and your are contributing the most information. You have the most information on cheaters, I would assume, just basically because of the the size, the volume. It seems like they have less to gain from participating, and it just seems without them that it’s not going to work.
Nick: I’m not sure. If he did work with everyone but PokerStars or the majority of poker operators but PokerStars, it would still be an additive effect, they would still benefit. Obviously, there’d be a huge benefit from an operation like PokerStars joining, but I think even without them- even if it was just PartyPoker and MPN, let’s say, and I mentioned them because there was some public chatter on Twitter where MPN being interested in this concept of across the industry group to try and catch colluders and cheaters. Even it was just those two, I presume that would bring benefit to those two operations. I guess in theory, it might work that if those two work together, if they banned cheaters across both rooms, other rooms will be incentivized to join that group because obviously, a cheater is now going to bounce to a non— And I’m not quite sure what this is going to be called. He referred to it as #fairplay on our podcast. I’ve since heard him call it OPAC; Online Poker Against Cheating [crosstalk] —
Mike: Yes, I was going to ask you about that.
Nick: I’m not quite sure which he’s going with. Apparently, the website is going to launch this week or next week, so I guess we’ll find out more. If you’re a non-OPAC member, I supposed the cheaters and colluders in theory would bounce to you because you’re not part of the group now, thus encouraging you to join the group. It is not like you have to launch and get everyone on board. The point that you bring up, obviously the larger you are the less incentivized you’re going to do. PokerStars has a very good reputation for catching cheaters. They have, historically, I think, done very well in terms of being as transparent as they feel they can be in letting people know when money is being confiscated from cheats, and when people are being reimbursed. They have in the past, really touted their detection abilities. They would definitely have less to gain by joining a group like this.
It was interesting listening to Rob on our podcast. He listed people he wanted to join the group, and they were all operators larger than they were. He was like PokerStars, 888, GG Network and stuff, and didn’t list the smaller operators. He didn’t say, MPN. In fact, he didn’t mention. That’s because obviously, from his perspective, the larger ones you get the better and obviously from PartyPoker’s perspective. Then there’s the question of, as MPN and Alex Scott, the head of the network put on Twitter that there was an attempt to do this in the industry a few years ago and it fell apart due to data protection laws in in Europe. He since said that having like a blacklist of people potentially wouldn’t be possible, but you could still share detection techniques and that kind of thing. I get the impression very much that Rob Yong, in his mind, it’s all about like a blacklist of people. You get caught in one room, you can’t play on my room type thing. I’m not sure if that can get off the ground.
The most skeptical interpretation is that you say something like this, which is non-feasible and it makes you look good. If it doesn’t get off the ground, you say, “Well, that’s because no one would join us in it.” I’m not sure if that’s the case. Listening to him, I do think he genuinely believes this is something that he wants to put together. Whether it’s actually technically feasible or not to the level he wants, I don’t know. But that’s something that, yes, that we should see in the next week or two coming out.
Mike: I think I have an answer to the difference between the OPAC and Fairplay. I remember seeing something come across my desk a couple of days ago and on the Partypoker blog they have a post, #fairplay. In that post, they seem to outline all of the changes that are happening at PartyPoker. So it seems that might be connected to the ecology changes. Whereas the OPAC might be Rob’s individual effort to collaborate with other online poker operators.
Nick: Yes, and I’m not sure if Rob just misspoke on our podcast a week ago, when he said, “I’m starting this initiative called #fairplay.” Because even at that time when he said that, I thought he was about to refer to what the wider ecology changes that PartyPoker have mentioned and not this. Ultimately, what sounds like an effort that’s outside of PartyPoker entirely, so that might be just be a— But I’ve since heard him say the same thing. He said the #fairplay on the PokerNews podcast. Maybe there’s just branding clarification needed there in his end. The other really interesting thing, I think, that came out of the podcast was just all the other plans that PartyPoker have and how concrete some of them are. Before our podcast last week, a lot of things had come from Rob Yong specifically on podcast, on his blog, about plans that they had. But hearing also Tom Walters discuss these ideas and confirm that they were on the to-do list, on the road map, was very interesting. The first one is obviously the switch to real names.
Mike: Yes. In addition to switch to real names or as a part of that switch over, they also talked about using face verification technology to make sure that the person pushing the buttons, the person behind the screen, is the person that has been verified and attached to that account.
Nick: Yes. It’s not pretty out there idea, I suppose. I’m not saying that technologically that’s not possible, but there are a lot of people playing on desktop who don’t have a webcam. I’m not quite sure how [crosstalk] —
Mike: Yes, I’ve got think that that technology is so far from being able to be utilized in a real money, online gambling environment. My assessment is based on just other similar technology that I’m using currently. When you go and buy things using an app on your phone, a lot of times these days you’ll find the ability to scan your credit card, for example. I know that that process is far from perfect. I can’t even imagine if a site is implementing face verification technology and all of a sudden, declining people because the software or the technology, is not good enough to make sure that the lighting is perfect enough for their face to be recognized.
Nick: I do have a banking app that uses face verification to log in-
Mike: Oh, okay.
but it’s very much- It’s on your phone, you have to line your face up to the oval on the app, then you have to blink twice or something and it recognizes the blink. Then it’s got some 3D model of your face, or whatever, that it checks. So it’s like it’s possible, but the idea the- on a casual basis, you’re playing online poker and it’s just checking your face, seems out there. Then also he went on to say that- an idea, which I did kind of like- he was saying that you get like a Twitter style verification tick next to your name at the table. You can see that the person has passed certain checks, face verification being one of them. Maybe it won’t be the case that you get booted off a poker room if they can’t detect your face, but more that like you get this tick next to your name if you can, which I think is interesting.
Another one that he said was live audio chat. So removing kind of the text box and having live audio chat, which obviously is a big thing in real time gaming. It’s build into steam and discord and all that. It’s not like technologically that’s not possible, but not something we’ve seen, I think, in an online poker room.
Mike: That strikes me as something that’s more of a novelty than it is a security measure. Face verification is there to make sure that person is real. He painted or framed the picture of the voice chat as being in the same regard, but people sometimes just aren’t in the mood to chat, you turn it off. That doesn’t mean that that person is not really there, or that someone else is using that account. To me it seems more just like a toy or something, a feature to attract players.
Nick: Yes. One potential issue that I see with what they’re doing is on the one hand, PartyPoker is saying, “Our cheating detection ability is so good now that we don’t need players looking at hand histories after the fact, and telling us about these bought accounts. We’ve got an excellent fraud team who have full information and can deal with his thing.” But then in addition, we’re still going to have this verification ticks. That’s still putting a badge on you. I sit down on the table, four people have got a tick, one person doesn’t. Do I think that person is meant to be a cheater then or a colluder?
Now, all of a sudden, you’re now putting the burden on me to decide whether this is a fair game or not. On the flip side, you say no, you don’t need hand histories because all our games are fair because we’re so good at catching cheaters.
Mike: Good point.
Nick: That’s just going to be a field thing. I like the idea of these ticks in principle but in practice, now I have to be the judge of whether this is a good table or not, and now it feels like the Wild West. So I have to literally voice chat someone and say, “So you’re really Dave, are you?”
Mike: Right, so it’s not just the information that the tick gives you, it’s the information that a lack of tick gives you.
Nick: Yes, exactly. Then they have tables, which is only tick-only tables— I don’t know. To me, it seems like one of those ideas that definitely is interesting, needs to be fleshed out and could well be left on the cutting room floor in practice. I can certainly commend them for thinking out of the box on these things and thinking what they do. They also discussed, and we just touch on briefly, some just game features that they’ve got coming up. New game variants, I think A-Game is coming. They said 5-Card PLO.
Run It Twice, which was a surprise to us that they didn’t already have it but that is a feature that’s coming. I can’t remember who does have it. PokerStars has Run It Twice, doesn’t it? Run It Once, doesn’t have Run It Twice, I assume.
Mike: They also mentioned the process to leave the table. They had some ideas to change that so that people weren’t just hitting and running. Imposing a minimum buy-in for tables or was it fixed buy-ins? I can’t remember [crosstalk] —
Nick: Yes, I think it is going to be 100 big blind fixed buy-in, which is- it’s certainly the less controversial of the ideas that they’ve had. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is— It’s being adopted by Euro online poker rooms and I wouldn’t be surprised that becomes the norm. The arguments to not have it are fairly slim. I think it works on a lot of levels. If you haven’t checked it out yet, we have a full transcript over on pokerfuse.com so you can scan the topics you’re interested in. Obviously, the whole audio is up pokerfuse.com, and you can find us on Spreaker and all your— Well, you know because you’re listening to this podcast. [chuckles] It’s the one before this one. I’d definitely give it a listen too. I think there’s a lot more in there that I think was very interesting chat, and if it’s a topic you’re interested, definitely check it out.
Mike: A couple more things that I actually want to talk about too before we wrap this segment. One of the ideas that I saw develop after the special edition pod came out, was the concept that screen scraping was not something that could be utilized in an effective way to get the hand histories. They came out on the pod and they said, “Hey, listen, we are not aware of anybody out there that could implement this type of technology to start recording hand histories.” It’s evolved since then to Rob actually going out and offering reward for being on the can show, that they can do this. From what I’ve seen, even in my cursory view of what’s going on at Two Plus Two, there seems to be a lot of people that are pretty confident that they could do this rather easily.
Nick: I was quite surprised when they said that because I think it does already exist. I’ve since seen people saying— Oh, no, I already did this in oartypoker . With that said, I’ve yet to see a YouTube video of someone going, “Here’s a HUD working on PartyPoker.” As well as if you’ve got it and you don’t want to shout about it, and you don’t want to claim Rob’s reward, then fair enough. I suppose I will hold my judgment until [crosstalk] —
Mike: I remember back in the day when I was playing online, I had a tool that was able to be utilized as a HUD for CakePoker and Cake didn’t have those hand histories. That was a long time ago, I would assume that the technology to be able to do that has advanced.
Nick: That software is called— I don’t see the reason why we can’t talk about it because I think it’s the one that everyone seems to know about is called Holdem Indicator, and they also have Omaha indicator. They’ve been around for like 15, 20 years, and they are a commercial piece of software. I think they’ve even supported Bodog. That always seems to work but again— I can’t say with absolute confidence that CakePoker, which again was I think one of the first operators ever to be like no HUDs. Again, Holdem Indicator, it did like really basic tracking, it had a very basic HUD, and it had a little- like an live odds calculator kind of thing. It was very rudimentary back in the day. I think it even worked on Bodog when the switched to— In theory though, maybe those tools were saving some kind of file to the hard drive that they were reading, and it wasn’t screen scraping.
I always had the impression that it was but listening to Tom Waters, I believe him when he said they searched, and they couldn’t find any tools out there that did it. When Rob says he has secret accounts, he has an external fraud team and accounts and these bot forums and stuff, I wouldn’t be surprised about that. I know one or two of the bot forums, and I’ve had an account there before. That’s not unfeasible, and when they say they haven’t found this tool, I guess I believe them. I don’t think they would come out that strongly. Maybe I’m wrong in that. I’m sure time will tell in the next couple of weeks whether they’re right or not. What’s interesting is that I have seen— One thing they did was they turned off country flags, so you can’t see [crosstalk] —
Mike: Yes, I saw there was some controversy around that topic.
Nick: Yes, so this is one thing. They turned the country flags off so you can’t see what country somebody is from. I guess that’s just, again, like you have fishier countries and more reg-filled countries, so people use that to pick tables so they removed that. But people said that if they had the old client, and they didn’t upgrade it, they could still see country flags. That’s a problem because what that means is— If that’s true- again, so I didn’t verify that myself- but if that’s true, it means the what PartyPoker did is they only updated the client software to not display the flag information rather than change the server end that’s actually sending out the information. I think this is what happened before- and Tom Walters mentioned this a week ago, when they tried anonymous hand histories, people wrote converters that de-anonymize this information.
Again, if your server is not sending anything but anonymous information, it’s not technically possible to de-anonymize it. I’m not familiar enough with the topic, but just from those facts alone, I can only assume that the people who wrote these de-anonymizing tools, that’s because the server itself was sending the real names and it’s just the table was displaying it. It seems like that’s the suggestion, that’s what we’ve seen with the flag codes, and that does suggest that they’re attacking these problems from the wrong direction.
Mike: The whole idea that they want to hide the country flag is in direct contradiction to putting real names out there. Because if you’re going to hide someone’s country because you don’t want them to be targeted, how could you then turn around and say that you’re going to put real names at the table? Because that’s going to allow people to target the weaker players.
Nick: Yes, or audio chat. [chuckles] Where you’re going to be able to tell from their accent. I mean, yes, that is a very [crosstalk] —
Mike: Or berate them in real-time with- yelling at them. Yes, I don’t know.
Nick: I suppose maybe just in their defence, they think like, “Let’s start from ground zero, wipe the slate clean, remove full screen and changes, remove the flags, and no one can link anyone to who they were before. Set a new base and then we can add in these new features.” The problem is if they went for a wipe the slate clean, if these country flags are still being- the information is still being sent from the server, then they failed in that slate wipe.
Mike: All right. One more topic that I want to touch on, and then we’ll move on from Party because we’ve spent a lot of time talking about it. Is something that Tom Walters said and that was that US market is not a priority. I found that pretty interesting, given the potential size of the US market. You being, a Euro-centered, what were your thoughts? Did you agree with Tom in that regard? Did it shock you at all?
Nick: Well, here are my thoughts. On the next segment, that I see from my show notes, he’s talking about the US market. Maybe we wrap this one up, have a audio break, and then we’ll come back in and we’ll mention this at the time. Because I think we’ll end up branching into that conversation anyway.
Mike: All right, sounds good.
Nick: Cue audio break.
Pennsylvania online poker is just 2 weeks away – here is what we know
Nick: The US market, Mike, how about we talk about that? What do you think?
Mike: We are just over two weeks away from seeing the launch of another market in the US, Pennsylvania, scheduled to come on online July 15th. That is a pretty significant event in the overall scheme of things in the US.
Nick: This is the largest State to come online with regulated online gaming and online poker.
Mike: Not only the largest, but it will be larger than all of the others combined.
Nick: Barely two weeks out, things must be buzzing with information, branding, website launches, social [crosstalk] —
Mike: Right, promotions, all that stuff. You would think and yet, crickets.
Nick: Very strange, very strange. Just trying to piece together what we think will happen in two or three weeks time, is an effort in guesswork and supposition at the moment, which is bizarre.
Mike: Yes, so we did some digging around. First of all, we contacted the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and said, “Hey, who’s been tested? Who’s ready? Who’s cleared?” Even though that was pretty much a long shot that we would expect they would reply to that, they did come back with a, “No comment.” From that aspect, things have been pretty quiet, but we were able to find certain applications being approved and others that may still be in the process of being approved. That has given us a little bit of an indication of who might be ready and who might not be ready, come soft launch date of the 15th of July.
Nick: Who do we know that has been approved to go live?
Mike: All right. The one that we know for sure is PokerStars. They received approval, I believe, it was toward the end of last year. We also think that WSOP.com has been approved. The reason, I guess, that I’m less certain on that is because they are owned by Caesars who also owns Harrah’s in Pennsylvania. Their approval process seems to be a different path than that of PokerStars who’s basically a service provider. At this current point, I believe, both of those two are approved, less sure about WSOP.com. I think the interesting one was GVC, in that their application is still pending.
Nick: That’s interesting because in our podcast, a week ago, Tom Walters was saying how the US market isn’t- really not a big deal. We always asked about it and in fact, it was not interesting at all .
Mike: Yes. Perhaps, he was trying to downplay things a bit knowing that they may not be ready for the initial kick off of Pennsylvania, or maybe that was really how he viewed the situation. I have to say that I pride myself on my bullshit detector and when it comes to Tom Walters, I’m actually quite surprised that he is not out there speaking for Party more because he comes across so good. He comes across very genuine, with a lot of integrity. Rob is great, he draws a lot of attention, he’s very charismatic and he is making the rounds. Maybe, Tom is just- has other responsibilities that he can’t do the same but from a PR standpoint, I definitely think it would be advantageous to Party to get Tom out there and in front of more microphones.
Nick: Yes. When he says that, ultimately, it’s a huge potential, long-term but in the short-term, it’s excruciatingly slow. It’s very much wait-and-see. They are preparing, we think, to go live in Nevada, and potentially [crosstalk] —
Mike: Yes, they’ve been approved in Nevada and what their actual plans there or when that is going to happen, we really don’t know. From one aspect, Tom made a comment such as something like the market is actually worse off now than it was years ago. I don’t know how he comes to that assessment.
Nick: I think maybe, the interpretation there we say, if you go back two, three years, if you said, “Where would we be in 2019?” I think everyone would have said, “In a much better place than we are today.” That was my take [crosstalk] —
Mike: Yes, so maybe it’s worse compared to what expectations were five years ago, but the market itself is definitely not in a worse place than it was five years ago.
Nick: Another thing I think we should just book-end the Tom Walters thing with this, he did say they have a team in the US that focuses on that. He appears very much focused on the .com and maybe the .eu side of things. I think, again, from the genuine kind of integrity point of view, he said he doesn’t know those topics as much and he’s got a separate team who works on that. Let me ask you a question, Mike. We’ve always known for a long time that Pennsylvania would launch with- not connected with New Jersey or Nevada, and that’s always been the case regardless of the Wire Act, and they just weren’t ready for that. However, when New Jersey came on live online, there was a huge buzz. All these operator launch, we had like six or eight online poker rooms launch on day one or something. There was a lot of advertising going on, there was a lot of push on the State level. Pennsylvania is larger. We’re two weeks out, we know PokerStars is, from everything we can see, getting ready to launch. Why is there not huge social media push, huge advertising push, billboards in Pennsylvania saying online poker online casino is coming?
Mike: Yes. The big difference that I see between the ramp-up to the launch in New Jersey and the ramp-up that we’re seeing now in Pennsylvania, is that these iGaming companies that are going to be offering online gaming and Pennsylvania have sports betting, which they expect to be much more profitable than poker, for example. So I have to imagine that getting those products off the ground, and attention, and marketing, and generating the buzz, and getting legislation passed, that is probably taking up so much of their time, that as a company, they’ve decided to put their resources just in another basket.
Nick: Yes, even with that said, if you listen to Stars Group executives, the chat is always about how poker is going to be a driver for customer acquisition, how a great way to introduce the band, is PokerStars that has the partnership with UFC. I don’t know. That doesn’t seem like enough for me, why we’re not seeing it talked about, but then I don’t have the answer. I don’t have the answer for you either. It just seems bizarre to me. I mean, honestly, it feels to me like no one thinks they’re going to go live in two weeks time.
Mike: That’s the thing that could be as well. It is that they may know that this- already- that this is not going to happen at the initial date, or that they expect some type of delay. There could be a plethora of things in the background that could prevent the actual launch of some of these online poker rooms in Pennsylvania from happening now. It does strike me as really, really strange that we’re not seeing any type of promotion, or any type of PR around this, what is meant to be larger than the entire US market combined. Something is amiss.
Nick: There’s one other thing we should probably touch on in the world of US online gaming. That is the mega-merger announcement this week of Eldorado and Caesars. Mike, do you want to try and unpick that one for us?
Mike: Yes, I can try. There’s so many moving parts in that, that it’s really hard to understand what it’s going to look like without further clarification from the company itself. But just some highlight points. They did agree to merge, the two companies. I think Eldorado valued Caesars at somewhere around 17 and a half billion dollars between the money that they will be paying in cash and stocks- or is it even cash, I’m not even sure- and taking on a significant amount of Caesars current debt.
Nick: Yes, $8 billion of debt.
Mike: Yes, $8 billion in debt. I mean, that’s [crosstalk]
how much did PokerStars- How much did Rational get bought for by Amaya, do you remember?
Mike: Billion? They have debt equal to 1.75 or 175% of what [crosstalk] —
Nick: Even Eldorado had like two billion of debt as I understood it. I don’t understand. I thought people were making a lot of money in this gaming business. Clearly, not.
Mike: Well, a lot of the complications start coming together when you look at the different partnerships that the two companies had established separately. Eldorado, for example, they have their own conflicting partnerships. They’ve got William Hill and The Stars Group as partners that are going to provide, in some capacity, sports betting and online gaming. I’m sure that they have details within those deals that will specify who gets what. I think they announced in the press release when they made the deal with The Stars Group that they would have- what was it- first skin rights or something so that— For places where Eldorado had multiple casinos in a single State, that they would have the opportunity to have the first skin. Which I’m assuming is some type of priority branding. And that in other markets, they would have a secondary skin option to offer online sports betting and online gaming.
Nick: This is a worldwide— William Hill announced that they’ve got this deal with Eldorado, which is exclusive, and then two months later, you’ve got the Stars Group saying we’ve got this deal with Eldorado and now, you really don’t know what the word exclusive means anymore. That’s the Eldorado side of things and then obviously, Caesars is a huge bundle of fun as well.
Mike: Yes, they have their own group of partnerships as well. Some of the ones that may seem in conflict with the Eldorado deals, or just in general have some conflicts, is number one from an online poker perspective. Caesars has partnered with 888 to offer the platform for WSOP.com. One wonders, with Eldorado’s partnership with the Stars Group, if that may change in the future. It seems like Eldorado has the controlling management position in this new company and therefore— And this is something that actually I saw our former editor of Poker Industry PRO Joss Wood writing about over— I can’t remember where. Maybe, Online Poker Report. He was talking that he suspects that the Eldorado deals may be seen as more favorable simply because the management team from Eldorado is going to be in charge of the new company.
Nick: I think I’m right in saying that Caesars Interactive, which is what would be partnered with 888 running and run the online poker rooms, was spun off entirely Caesars because Caesars just had so much debt, and they wanted to separate the potential growing debt-free part of the business as a separate operation, is that right?
Mike: Yes, they argue right through was some spin-off there. I’m not sure because Caesars had so many different levels of companies. I’m not sure if it still falls under the umbrella of Caesars Entertainment. I’d have to double check, and probably should have before I started talking on that topic, but it’s possible that that is the case though. With Caesars Interactive, I also remember that they spun off their play money at Playtika to an Asian company, but that did not include WSOP.com.
Nick: Is the WSOP the brand owned by Caesars or Caesars Interactive? They were not on the live tours happening now.
Mike: Right, so WSOP the brand, I believe, is owned by Caesars Entertainment. Because if I recall correctly, there was talk on the conference call- there was a conference call discussing the merger that Eldorado was happy to now be in control of the WSOP brand. I’m assuming that everything falls in there, but it’s hard to imagine a world in which PokerStars provides the platform for WSOP.com. Because you have two highly recognizable brands, and I don’t see any way that they move away from the WSOP.com brand in favor of PokerStars. Yet, PokerStars is the largest online poker company in the world, so I’m not sure if those two will work in conjunction or if they will continue to compete.
Nick: Then, of course, we’ve got PokerStars with their partnership with Fox Sports, which is a huge media deal which is going to be in direct competition with I’m right in saying this new company and ESPN. They think they’re directly at loggerheads in what they’re trying to do.
Mike: Right. I’m no lawyer so I don’t know how these- I’m doing air quotes now- “exclusive deals” work when there are mergers in place, but I’m sure that with any contract there’s provisions for what would happen in the event that this deal will be broken. I would expect that there are things in place, and I don’t know that everything can co-exist. I would expect that additional details will start coming out as to what direction the company is going to be headed, in regard to some of these partnerships.
Nick: Well, there we go. US gaming, I feel like we just cleared the whole matter up. I’m sure all our listeners are now entirely up to speed.
Mike: Kind of feels like we may have brought up more questions.
Live poker in Sochi, Russia is uncommonly popular
Mike: One announcement that we saw come across the news desk this week, was that 888 is going to be holding a live tournament in Russia, in Sochi, specifically. We’ve seen PokerStars and PartyPoker, both venture into Sochi to do some pretty big events in the recent past. Nick, what does it mean that 888 is now also going to be putting out a tournament in Russia?
Nick: Yes, it’s certainly interesting in the sense that 888 and also PokerStars really are doing fewer live stops now in the calendar. You go back two or three years, and I think there was a lot more, and PokerStars had something every month. They had the European Poker Tours, did a lot more stops. Now, both companies are much more focused on just a few. Yet, Russia is the one that everyone now is going to. PokerStars , partypoker and 888 the big three European poker operators, and now they are all running an event at this resort, and in many cases multiple a year. In fact, incredibly- so this Sochi event is in August- there is a live event, by one of those three operators, every single month for the remainder of the year. We hope [crosstalk] —
Mike: Wow. I mean, that’s— [crosstalk] I’m sorry, go ahead.
Nick: No, you’re right. It’s not like there’s anywhere else in the world. We’ve got Partypoker in July, who are helping to host WSOP cercuit event. Then is the 888 Sochi Festival, then PartyPoker are back with the Sochi Poker Festival. I think PartyPoker, they’ve got some three four year partnership with the resort, to host at least three a year or something. Then it’s PokerStars, they’ve got the EPT Open. I want to say it’s their second this year. I think PokerStars run an EPT Open and maybe something else there. Then it’s PartyPoker who’ve got the EAPT Grand Final, and then they’ve got the Sochi- PartyPoker again- Sochi Poker Festival Grand Final in December over the Christmas period. Yes, you don’t see this anywhere. You don’t see this in Barcelona, you’re not seeing this in [crosstalk] —
Mike: No, you don’t even see that in Vegas.
Mike: That’s out there. While you got that, it seems like you have that information up in front of you. Let me ask you this [crosstalk] —
Nick: No that just came off the top of my head, Mike [crosstalk] —
Mike: All right. Then let me challenge you to see if this will fall of the top of your head [crosstalk] —
Nick: No, I’m kidding. Of course, I’ve got up in front of me.
Mike: What’s the approximate buy-in level of all these tournaments? Are these big major buy-in tournaments with guaranteed prize pools, or are they more just little tour stops that we would see in some off-market somewhere else?
Nick: Yes, so it’s a mix. The 888 one that they’ve announced is their top tier type of thing. This is like— What are their numbers? It’s a million dollars guaranteed total across the festival. The main event is a half million dollars with a $1,000 buy-in, just under $1,000 buy-in. They’ve got a high roller $2,000 buy-in. I think this is as big as the 888poker LIVE goes. It is their top tier thing. PokerStars, they have EPT Open, which is not quite like a championships, so it’s a bit down from the championship thing. PartyPoker, I think, runs the gamut in terms of what they’re spreading. If it’s not the absolute kind of Monte Carlo type levels, it’s the one tier down from that. Yes, it’s big money there. This resort only opened in 2017, so they’ve only been doing it 18 months, I think. Is that 18 months? Yes, two or two years, just two and a half years. And on top of that, we’ve got some of the local Russian operators, like Pokerdom has run live events there as well.
When you think about going to Russia, lots of non-Russian people don’t want to have to deal with the visas to fly into Russia. So this is not an easily accessible place like London, like Barcelona. Really, it just underscores [crosstalk] —
Mike: It must be-
Nick: Sorry, go ahead.
Mike: -catering to the Russian people there then.
Nick: Yes, so we’re doing a couple of things here. One is absolutely, Russia as an online poker market, is extremely important. I think obviously, it just helps with brand building. It’s the one opportunity that you have to run an event in Russia. Prior to this resort opening, you couldn’t do it. And so events- like I think PokerStars sponsored the Russian Poker Tour and events were held in the Ukraine and other neighboring countries because you literally couldn’t be in Russian borders. Obviously, there was some pent up demand for running it in Russia. Obviously, the operator having some success there because they’re putting these events on- I don’t really have the numbers for turnout and stuff- but they continue to do it. Just from a branding point of view, it’s important. But in my eyes, clearly there has to be a bit more going on here in terms of why operators are going to [crosstalk] —
Mike: Now, we get to the good stuff, Nick. Tell us, what’s going on in the background that could be enticing all of these operators to put live events on in Sochi?
Nick: So what we’ve seen with PokerStars who have— We’re seeing a clamp down, or attempt to clamp down, by the government, by the regulator, to stop offshore online gaming, which they consider illegal. We’ve seen them taking various avenues through pretty successful VPN blocking not just the websites, but of gaming servers, blocking advertising, blocking payment processing, and this has been going on for years. Something PokerStars did is they launched a PokerStars Sochi client. It’s an online poker client ostensibly to allow poker players to satellite in to their live events in Sochi. They can play online satellites, and they can just buy-in directly in Sochi client and they can go and play. They have said that they’ve had an understanding with the local authorities there that this is permissible. Now, this client also allows people to just play online poker.
Mike: Just to be clear, this client is still part of the international player pool?
Nick: Yes, still part of the international player pool, you have access to all the games. You do not have access to the casino, and that’s important because prior to this client launching, Russian players did have access to the online casino as well. Now, we haven’t seen any other operator do this, to my knowledge, having launched a dedicated a client with these reasonings. However, to see 888 entering the market for- the live market- for the first time, and PartyPoker signing this big deal, I wonder if these operators have been given the impression or at least give themselves the impression that if they do this— I’m choosing my words carefully here. This show of good faith to helping this resource take off, will go in some way to allow their online operations to continue. That’s entirely my supposition. Otherwise, it’s a very closed market. You don’t get the big grinders, even like the PokerStars pros who aren’t flying into Sochi for all their events.
At PartyPoker, there’s a huge stable of ambassadors. I don’t think we’ve seeing like Patrick Leonard heading there three times a year. It’s a bit of a ball-ache. To get there, you’ve got to get a visa. For someone in the UK, you have to go to London to go get an appointment, get stamped to be able to enter the country. These are not prime destinations that people think they want to go to. It sounds like a great place to go, like it’s on a ski resort. If you like your winter sports, it’s a cool place to go. As I understand it, this is a brand new resort, it’s glitzy, it’s fun. There’s definitely some attraction there, but I don’t think they’d be doing this just- for different other reason. Russians can travel outside their country, and probably enjoy traveling somewhere like Barcelona.
Mike: They’re not doing this because they’re making fistfuls of money from these live events.
Nick: No. I think the Russian market is important to 888. They used to have a dedicated skin lotteries poker, which was very Russian-focused, that ended up spinning off and being a part of another network. I’m not quite sure what went on behind the scenes there, but they still cater to Russian players on 888poker.com. I think it’s pretty important, their website is in the Russian language, so this just seems to be a play of 888 to make sure they stamp out their space in the live market, and make sure they’re doing- maybe just doing what everyone else is doing in terms of spending the money in the right places.
Outro – mistakes in transcriptions
Mike: Well, it’s outro time again. As usual, I am short of ideas for some witty banter to end the show. Nick, do you have anything for us this week?
Nick: I have got something for you. I came prepared for the outro, Mike. Something that I wanted to do this week is I’m trying to work on my unintelligible grade. When we upload our audio to the transcription service, and we have- a human transcribes all our audio, it’s fantastic service, like 24-hour turnaround. They’re really, really, really, good. Normally, in an hour’s audio, there might be 10 sections which are marked unintelligible that the transcriber didn’t manage to transcribe what we were saying. Over those 10 on average, 10 of them are me, zero you.
Mike: [laughs] On average 10, okay.
Nick: You might get one, but your median is like zero, and then I think my median is eight or nine. So I started this this recording I was like, “I need to remember talk slow, not get really British on them, and I want to hit a zero.” And then within like 10 minutes of recording, we’re talking about PartyPoker, I’m getting passionate about something, and then I babble. And now, I actually feel this podcast is probably going to be 10 plus.
Mike: What do you attribute that to? I know you said talking fast and such, but is it a US-based company? That could have a lot to do with it.
Nick: Maybe, I don’t know. I guess it’s just talking fast. They don’t seem to be rhyme or reason because I go and listen to the bits where they flagged unintelligible, and I’m like, “That’s obvious what I’m saying.” Although, I will say last week when Rob Yong- the first thing that he said when he was on our podcast, his first sentence got marked as unintelligible. I was like, “Yes,” [laughs] “It’s not just me.”
Mike: [laughs] Well, I could see how Rob’s accent might be difficult for someone not from his region to pick up on. Cadence seemed a little bit different.
Nick: What’s your guess? How many unintelligibles do you think I got and you got this week? Next week, we’ll refer back and see how we did.
Mike: Wow, the only thing I have to go on is just the numbers that you gave here. But I’m going to go with the over, for you, simply because I think we discussed a lot of topics this week that may not have terminology that is common.
Nick: You’re going over 10?
Mike: Yes, I will go over 10.
Nick: Okay. Well, I will take the under then, fine [crosstalk] —
Mike: All right. As far as me, I have no idea, whatever.
Nick: Okay. Listeners, make sure you check back in next week, and we will have the results of that exceptionally exciting survey for you.
Mike: Wow, they’re going to be on pins and needles until the next one comes out. Speaking of next week, are we doing a podcast next week? I believe next week runs into 4th of July. Yes, next Thursday is the 4th of July, a big holiday here in the US, so I guess we can do one early.
Nick: We can do one early and ensure there is extremely exciting news to talk about next Wednesday, and we can record then.
Mike: Okay, so we’ll play by you then, is that what I’m hearing?
Mike: All right. Look for next week and see if we’re going to do a pod and if not, I’m sure we’ll let everyone know via social media. And until then, have a good— See, man. I don’t know, I can’t do this.
Nick: I give you all these great material for an answer and stuff, and you still [crosstalk] —
Mike: All right, take care everyone.