Nick and Mike take us through the big stories in online poker this week.

Partypoker has a new mobile client out, and it brings a new portrait design to the Spins table. It also adds a curious new social currency called Diamonds – will it be a hit?

Run it Once has gone back to the drawing board with its rewards program. In response to customer feedback, the online poker upstart has added in a more traditional rewards program, called Legends, that returns cashback directly to players accounts each week. Will it be enough to finally start building consistent liquidity at the tables?

And PokerStars has run not one, but two rare cash game promotions in the last few weeks, which has seemingly had a big impact on the online poker giant’s cash game traffic—enough to number 1 spot in the global traffic rankings.


Full Transcript

Mike Gentile: Hello and welcome everybody to the Pokerfuse Podcast. It is November 27th, 2019, Episode Number 35. I’m your host, Mike Gentile along with my co-host, Nick Jones. This week on the podcast. To great fanfare, partypoker has debuted a new mobile app for Android and iOS, portrait mode, throwable objects, rabbit hunting cards, and a new diamond currency are some of the highlights. We take you behind the scenes with party’s major new product line.

The fledgling, Run It Once Poker has unveiled legends, its new rewards program. A weekly system which works much more like a traditional tiered loyalty programs, runs alongside its unique Splash the Pot mechanism.

Finally, PokerStars is enjoying a surge in its cash game table, thanks to a pair of promotions running back to back on its online poker. Not seen in over 18 months, these promos are clearly proving to different players enough to propel the giant back to the number one spot in the cash game traffic race.

A new mobile client at Partypoker

Nick Jones: On Monday, after a few weeks of delay, partypoker unveiled a big new update to its mobile app. Live now on Android and iOS, players can enjoy a pretty significant overhaul to the online poker experience. It both introduces a new portrait layout for tables and curiously introduces this new social diamonds currency that players can earn and then spend at the table on fun table interactions.

Mike: Yes, there’s been a pretty big buzz about this new release. Both of those features that you mentioned seem to be gathering or gaining attention out in the poker world. Let me ask you this, Nick, portrait mode, people are making a big deal about it, what makes it so important? Why is this such a big thing?

Nick: I think it’s perhaps the natural way that most people will want to play on their mobile phones, like it’s certainly a more casual experience. The tradition is playing landscape, and I think that’s more what you’d expect because tables on the desktop or in landscape orientation, they’re wider than they are taller.

I think that was the obvious thing that operators did when they took their clients to the mobile environment, but perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate how people use phones. I think a lot of phone apps are in portrait mode, so if you want to be playing a table of poker but you’re also checking your messaging, you’re checking Instagram, and stuff, and that gets switched back to portrait mode, you’re constantly rotating your phone. This feels like a lot more of a casual way to play poker in portrait.

It’s not like partypoker is the first to do this, but I think they’re the first major top tier operator. It’s certainly something that we’ve seen influenced from both more Asian Focus or on poker rooms, so GGPoker has a portrait layout and some of the private game networks, which maybe we’ll get onto in a bit, but they have this layout. In terms of the big tier, like 888, PokerStars, this is the first time someone has tried this portrait layout.

Mike: I haven’t had the chance to play it myself, I know that you have. When I was seeing the write-ups come out and such, I was like, “Hmm, portrait mode, yes.” I use landscape when I play Hearthstone, and I guess I didn’t really appreciate the portrait mode being a big deal until I heard you just now tell me that switching back and forth between different apps, which most of the other apps are in portrait mode. That really sunk in when you said that because if I’m a casual player and I’m multitasking on my phone, there’s a lot of things I’m going to want to do and I’m not going to want to be continually changing the orientation of my phone.

Hearing that, that really strikes me as, “Wow, okay. Maybe this is bigger than I thought originally.”

Nick: I think perhaps the biggest thing that we saw was just that partypoker have invested in their mobile product. It hasn’t really seen an upgrade in three years, it definitely lagged behind the competition. I will say that I don’t have great experience with the mobile app landscape. I don’t play poker on mobile, I don’t really test out the client, so my knowledge is I’ll be having to get up to speed the last couple of weeks.

We trialed this in the GVC offices a few weeks ago before release and got it to try out. At that point, I didn’t really have much experience of what it was coming from and how it compares to some of the big operators, but definitely, my first experience with it was, it was very smooth, the landscape made a lot of sense.

Another nice thing is on the landscape, it’s very natural to swipe left and right. We’re on the landscape, it feels it’s a bigger, bigger motion to be swiping. If you want to switch between tables, which you can do with this swiping action, portrait feels a lot more natural to do. That was very nice, but yes, I think the big thing is they’re investing in it. This is definitely, potentially, a leapfrog over some of the competition in terms of this upgrade.

Now there’s a lot still to go. They’ve only released this land portrait mode for their spins, their Lottery Sit and Go tables. They’re doing it piecemeal, so they will need to get this out. Ultimately, the whole software will be moving over to this. They say they’ve already made big strides in doing this. They’ve done the replayer is in in portrait as well, and that supports up to nine-handed tables. It’s ready to go.

They started with the SPINS because that’s obviously the most casual, quick format game. It’s also any three-handed, but they’re saying they’ve already got this working at four tables in portrait mode. At the moment, it’s kind of they’re in this halfway position, which we were talking before about how it’s not nice switching between portrait and landscape or now like, you’ve either got— If you play a classic game, you have to be at landscape, and if you play SPINS game, you have to be in portrait.

The software is actually locked down to only let you play one type of game, so you’re not constantly switching between those two formats. They’re in this unfortunate no man’s land territory, but only the sooner they can get this working on all their games, the better, but it was broadly speaking, look like a big step forward in terms of the overall experience.

Mike: Yes, I’ll be interested to see how they implement this with full table, so as you said, this is currently only available for SPINS. Just the screenshots that I’ve seen, it seemed spacious, there’s room, but if you were to add nine players in your four tabling, I would imagine the screen is going to get quite busy and maybe even difficult to navigate with a single finger, or thumb, or however you’re using to play. That should be something that’ll be interesting to see how they pull that off.

Nick: Yes, and you touched on there a feature that is also— I think is unique to partypoker is they’ve got this split-screen mode in portrait, you can have four tables in split-screen view. Now, that’s definitely obviously that’s very small tables. I had a little play around with that, and even when you’re just playing three-handed SPINS, that’s a lot going on on a small screen.

I think the feature really comes down to it’s only for playing in tablet. I think other operators in the mobile tablet apps have got split-screen, so this might not be entirely unique, but it makes quite a lot sense though. Even on a phone, if you’ve got a large phone, you can definitely play four table split-screen, but even if not, it’s quite cool to just be able to zoom out, get a snapshot of all four tables, see the progression of different hands. Then you can click on one table, and it will zoom back into that table. That was really slick to kind of move around four tables at once. That works really nicely.

Mike: The other major feature is the introduction of the new social currency diamonds. Now, this currency you earn diamonds, currently just by playing hands, and you can use them for a number of different things. I think probably the biggest one currently is being able to throw items at one of your opponents while at the table. This is, I think, an interesting concept, and I will be curious as to what direction they end up taking this. It has the potential to affect, I think, the greater online poker industry, depending on how they end up taking it and how successful they are.

Beyond the ability to throw items at people, there’s also now the ability to rabbit hunt, which is to see cards that were not actually dealt in the hand because it was the hand had ended prior. That’s getting awfully close to revealing— Well, it is revealing information about the hand, so it’s getting awfully close to the actual poker play, as opposed to throwing items at an opponent at the table. It’ll be interesting to see if they cross that line and use the social currency in a way that does have some implications into gameplay.

Nick: I’m certainly not familiar with any operator that has tried having a social currency baked into their real money online poker operation. It’ll certainly be interesting to see ultimately, if real money poker players care about enough to— Right now, you earn then simply by playing and you see your account, it go up. Then when it gets to a certain amount, as you say, you can buy something to throw at your opponents.

A feature that we have seen at other operators, 888 has always had this feature, PokerStars is trialing it. As you say, rabbit hunt cards, which is kind of cool but again, doesn’t actually impact the game itself, I imagine they’ll keep it like that. You could see them selling custom themes, or card decks, or card backs, or that kind of thing, so there’s definitely stuff that you could do. It ultimately just comes down to whether enough players care about it for it to be a hit. There’s certainly a lot of room to grow this idea if it’s something that proves successful.

Mike: Yes, it’s interesting to see them implement this. The first thing that came to mind, and though it’s still quite a departure, was something that Run It Once is doing. They give people rewards based on streaming, for example. With this one here, it stops short of actually paying people for accumulating the social currency. It will be interesting to see what direction they take it in. As you say, the plans are to be able to use it to buy new themes and perhaps card backs.

The rabbit hunting one doesn’t affect the hand in play but could affect your read on your opponent, based on what cards are seen. Especially if you had put your opponent on a particular range, and some other cards in those range appear from the rabbit hunting, that could help you further narrow their range, for example. It’s kind of straddling the line there.

Nick: Yes, I actually hadn’t considered that. You’re absolutely right, it does reveal, very fractionally, slightly more information that someone else wouldn’t have based on card ranges. You’re absolutely correct. Going back to your first point about rewarding play, I think the one thing that perhaps I don’t like so much about this, is obviously PartyPoker already rewards people for playing poker hands. They have a VIP program that gives you cashback for playing hands. Now, when you play hands, you also earn diamonds. It just seems like those— I understand why they’re separate because they’re different things, but ultimately, playing poker now just increases to different things, both your VIP points and your diamonds.

I know they’ve talked about this and I think the system would work better, the diamonds, if you get them for completing achievements, like winning a hand with a pocket pair or getting someone to fold preflop. All these kinds of missions, achievements things, it seems to make more sense that way. Otherwise, it just feels like another thing that you’re grinding up and ultimately the two are going to be intrinsically linked if you’re just earning them as you play.

One thing we should probably touch on is this idea has to be inspired by a poker network or a private poker club called PPPoker, which is not something we’ve really spoken about on this podcast before or talked about, but it’s quite a big deal for, as we understand it, a lot of people play on this site. In fact, we know that Rob Yong, who is a consultant of GVC and I think has had a lot of the ideas that they’ve been coming out with, plays in a private club on PPPoker.

PPPoker says they’re not an online poker network, they allow you to run these private clubs. If I set up a private club and then you can play on my site, and then I’m basically the operator of this private club. I deal with cash outs and withdrawals and can deal with that entirely manually, offline with agents. Things can get pretty sketchy because PPPoker says that they don’t deal with real money, that’s your own problem. They say like, “We’re a platform for you to run these private poker clubs.”

Anyway, there are a lot of these private poker clubs. Some of them are really high stakes and pretty big deals and some of them are fly-by-night operations, and they have a diamonds currency. It’s called diamonds, but you don’t earn them as you play, you buy them in the store. They can’t be withdrawn, but they are used for rabbit hunting cards, they are used for throwing objects. There’s no way that I don’t think this is not inspired by that feature.

The diamonds thing goes a lot further than that. A, that’s what you use to be able to host private poker games, so it’s a big internal currency. It costs, I think, hundreds or thousands of dollars sometimes to run these big poker clubs. That’s what these diamonds are used for. Even in the game playing thing, they absolutely cross the line in that diamonds you can use to pay for extra time bank. That 100% adds value to the poker play, having them. That might be one thing which definitely would cross the line into kind of manipulating the game in some way.

Mike: I also wonder if they can use this diamond currency to get people to promote their online poker room or their promotions via social media. We’ve seen that certain— PokerStars, for example, announced this week that they’ve given players the ability to link their Twitch accounts directly to their PokerStars account within the PokerStars Client.

We see, as I mentioned earlier, Run It Once rewarding players for live streaming. Those are different forms of social media. Something maybe like Twitter or Facebook, which is a lot less involved. Perhaps an operator can come along and reward them maybe not with direct reward dollars, but more with social currency because it’s a smaller activity. I wonder if that is a way that we can see them implementing this, the diamonds currency in the future.

Nick: Yes, potentially. I’m not sure. I think they would have to add quite a bit more value to what diamond is for people to care enough to do that. That’s the thing. The big thing with social sites, with Zynga is, I think what people want to spend a lot of money in is, you can then access higher buy-in games with this fake money, which obviously could never apply to real money poker, but you could also pimp up how you look on the table. You maybe, you unlock custom avatars, you can buy paraphernalia around you that other people can see.

You can see in PokerStars VR as well, you can buy like a cigar at the table and things like that. Maybe that would be enough that a casual player would be— It’s kind of showing off what you’ve got. Maybe then, but as it stands right now, no one’s going to care that, “Okay, you’ve got an extra pigeon to throw at me or you can maybe hang cards.” Enough that people are going to be like, “Oh, God, I’m going to become a streamer together.”

Keep in mind that, as you say, you’re already highly motivated to grind on partypoker. They have a VIP program that pays up up to 60% in rakeback. That could be thousands of dollars. I don’t think people— If they’re not encouraged by that, they won’t be, because they get some more throwable objects. Yes, we will see. It’s very much unknown territory about whether this will resonate with enough of the player base to follow through into. Ultimately, they plan to introduce this at the desktop client as well. If they make that step, I think we can say that it’s been a success.

The new rewards program at Run it Once

Mike: We’ve touched on Run It Once poker in the last segment. They are on the list of headlines this week because they have introduced a new rewards program. This comes just months after they actually opened the online poker room. They were applauded by the industry for their innovative Splash the Pot rewards program, which they had at launch. Now they’ve gone and they’ve changed things up a bit. They are providing players with a chance to earn up to a total of 75% in rakeback each week. Nick, what are some of the details around this new program?

Nick: Now, the details are very tricky to understand. I will probably keep it somewhat at a high level because it’s been much too long writing about this today and asking Run It Once about how the system works because it’s not entirely clear to me. Very broadly speaking, Splash the Pot, they still have, so their system of all rate they collect, it was 51% of all rate they collected is returned to players in the form of random cash drops added to pots at the start of hands, and then you contest for those pots.

As you say, everyone thought this is a very, very cool feature. It is a very cool feature because it makes it fun, it makes it great as a Twitch stream moment when you get a big pot to contest over, add some extra strategy to it, and it’s ultimately quite generous. The downside is that a lot of people didn’t want to have to, A, face the random nature of these cash splashes to get their money back, and then have to contest for that money. Not only do you have to be in the splashes, but you have to then fight for those pots, which sometimes could be, if it’s a big splash, just going all in pre-flop and crossing your fingers. People didn’t like that aspect.

What Run It Once has done if they’re keeping splash the pot is being reduced to 30%. Then they have a fairly traditional weekly rewards program, where based on how much you play, how much rake you pay ultimately sets you a tier. You work through these tiers every week from clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, up to a legends tier. That will add somewhere between 10% and 30% rake back on top.

Then they have this streak rewards and blah-blah-blah that can ultimately get you up to 75%. Broadly speaking, you’re going to be somewhere between everyone has a 30% splashes to contest and then on top of that, you’ll get between 10% and 45% more. Some people will be slightly worse off, although they’ll still be guaranteed a weekly bonus in their accounts. No strings attached. Most people I think, you play a tool will be back up in that same level, but at least half of their money will come as consistent weekly rewards.

Mike: I wonder how much the randomness of Splash the Pot played into the decision to move into this direction. I think that, at some level, players like to see those rewards added to their accounts or be able to count on a certain amount every month based on the amount that they play. I think what Splash the Pot bet that line is blurred and erased, and they’re unable to maybe distinguish between what is rewards and what’s actual wins and losses at the table. I wonder how much that has played, if at all, into the decision to move into this direction?

Nick: I think it’s very much based on the customer feedback, and the realities that the online poker room has not had the traffic that it wants or needs to sustain it as a business. It’s been trickling along a few tables, running in the European evenings, but nowhere near enough to sustain it 24 hours a daym to think about expanding to other games and stakes. That’s a big problem.

A lot of the feedback people got, they made a lot of bold decisions when they say anonymous tables, no hearts, all these things. A lot of people push back on all of them. It’s good to see that I think this one that they’ve addressed in the way they’ve addressed it is very smart. I’m glad they kept Splash the Pot. I’m glad that they’ve added this system. As I say, it is a bit complicated.

It works a bit different to other rewards programs, in that you don’t achieve legend status, and then you are a legend, and you maintain it. Every week, you start back at zero and you work your way through the tiers, which I’m not sure if that would be demoralizing. I think some people like to win. It’s like, “I’m partypoker VIP.” I can’t remember what their term is but, “I’m a supernova elite. That’s who I am. I’ve achieved that VIP status.”

This is very much every Monday, you’ll zero, and maybe at the end of the week, you’ll get to hearts. Maybe at the end of the week, you get to legends, and that is locked in. That’s just a bit different to how others systems work. Once you get past that fact, and honestly, with the whole four-week streak rewards thing, and it’s a percentage of a percentage, and then it’s based on your last week, all this is very confusing. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because in the client, the way they’ve integrated this is really nice. You’ve got this big bar at the bottom that says, “At the end of the week, you’re going to get 25 cent bonus. If you complete this progress bar, it’s going to be there.” When the progress bar fills up it goes, “Okay, cool. Come Monday, you’re going to get a $1 bonus.” It’s really obvious what’s happening and what’s going on.

For the vast majority of people, they probably don’t need to crunch the numbers and work out, “Oh, how much do I get if I move up to spades by Friday? How does that effect my four-week streak. If you’re into that, you can probably crunch the numbers, but you can just play and see this progress bar moving up. Then every Monday you’re going to get a nice little cash bonus in your account that you can withdraw or play with.

I think it can only help. I think they had to do something. They’re definitely locked into a lot of the decisions they’ve made, hearts, anonymous tables, these kinds of things. The blind lobby, six max tables only for now, all of this, I think it’s probably locked in. This was a smart change they’ve made, and I hope it does what they need and gives traffic, the boost it needs.

Mike: This change has more of a mission like feel to it. You’re shooting, as you said, not for a status level but individual targets, filling up their progress bar. Reminds me a lot, PokerStars had a similar component to their reward system back in the day. Do you remember what that was called?

Nick: No. If anything, I think it’s more like what they’ve got now. Their overall program, which had the bronze, chrome star, supernova systems—

Mike: Right, but in addition to that, they had these bonuses that you would achieve every month. I remember seeing the progress bar, that when you said that, that’s what triggered my memory.

Nick: You do and you always would have that, and I think so with partypoker system. We could talk about that, and that’s how that works now. You attain a VIP level, and then the next month, you get that level and you have to hit a certain target to maintain it. You still got to progress but you still got to get something to work through.

The point is if you achieve whatever, I don’t know what tiers partypoker have got off the top of my head, is that you achieve Platinum, let’s say, next month, you’ll start at platinum and you just need to do something to maintain it. Whereas the Run It Once system, even if you achieve spades, the next month, you’re going to start back at clubs, and you have to work your way through it. You obtain spades, but it’s always reset.

The end result is ultimately the same. It’s more just how it’s presented really. It took me a while to work out that’s the case because again, you get all these one-off bonuses when you complete a tier. I was crunching these numbers thinking, “Well, your percentages are much lower,” but in fact, every week, you are working through these levels and hitting these bonuses, and so getting this extra kick bonus every time you complete a level. As I say, complicated, but the end result is much the same. You progress through progress bars, unlock money, get cash rewards.

Mike: I wonder how this new rewards program is going to impact their promotions that they run. Their current promotions or the promotions that they had run prior to introducing this new reward system, a lot of those were based upon increased rakeback. They had 35/35 promotion, which would let players accumulate up to 70% rakeback. They had promotions where players can achieve 91%, 101% rakeback, and that’s without even the streamR program. These were some of their major promotions that they were running on the site. It’ll be interesting to see if they stay in the same field for these types of promotions now that they have this new reward system.

Nick: Yes, obviously. They still got Splash the Pot, so they can still do that. They can still do Double Splash, Happy Hours, and all the cool things they did before. Now, they’ve just got an extra string in both, the things they can do, depending on what kind of activity they want to encourage. In fact, to launch this new legends rewards program, they are running a promotion this week and next week.

Won’t even begin to try and explain how it works. I think you start into week three of a four-week streak or something. The bottom line is, it kickstarts your tiering through the four-week system. They can do stuff like that. The other thing they can do is they can tweak how you earn the points to move through these tiers. This is quite interesting. The baseline they’ve got is that you earn a point every $.5. If you rake a dollar, you get 20 points. Fine, whatever, but they can obviously give away points for other things.

At launch, they have quite a few other ways that you can earn points. If you play your first hand of the day, you get a bonus of like 20 points or something. That encourages people to come back every day. If you log in, I think once a week, you get a little bonus. If you play heads-up or three-handed, which again, they only have six max tables, so that’s basically if you start tables or stop them breaking by sticking around, you get like in one case, double the earned rate for your points.

Mike: That’s different from the traditional way that shorthanded tables have been handled in online poker, where operators would normally give a break on the rake that they pay. This is now increased rewards for playing shorthanded.

Nick: I would guess that their rake table is still going to be less, a two or three-handed table, which would be standard. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head if that is the case, but I imagine that their rake table is different when there’s two or three people at a table. On top of that, yes, they’re encouraging these two or three-handed tables. Now, because they have a blind lobby, tables won’t stay two or three-handed for long. The idea is that you keep that table from breaking and it’s going to fill back up again. They won’t want to encourage it if you’re just sniping two or three-handed tables, then you start again, but because of the nature of how their lobby works, this encourages people to stick around in tables and get them started.

Mike: Does this new rewards program have any impact on the streamR program? For listeners, they may not know what that is, that streamR is a program that Run It Once Poker offers for players that stream a certain amount of hours online. They earn rewards that actually equate to money.

Nick: I don’t think it’s changed. I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that has been changed. Their system was always designed so that the streamR program is always based on the net rakeback. Sorry, your net rake after your rakeback. That was quite sensible way of doing it. Basically, regardless of your initial rakeback, the remainder, you’ll get a percentage of that back up based on the streamR program. That way like, although you can now get 75% back through the legends rewards program, or in fact, even high.

If you play those to two or three handed, you can probably get up to like high 70s. If you’re also a streamer, that’s now just less the percentage that you can get. Now you’ve only got a 20%, 25% window, which of that, you can get back up to 100% of or 101% of— As I say, it’s not a simple system. Yes, they now have three or four moving parts to it, but I’m sure if you’re a streamer and a grinder you can take the time to work it out.

Two new promos boost traffic at PokerStars

Talking promotions and players at the cash game tables. PokerStars, which is not a name you would consider synonymous with going to cash game promotions these days has actually run to back to back this winter. They had a new promotion called Cardex, which ran for two weeks, a couple of weeks ago. That was followed up with Golden Button challenge, which is running now and finishes at the end of the week. Now normally this wouldn’t be particularly interesting. They used to a couple years ago run these all the time but they stopped about 18 months ago. They’ve added them back in again, unannounced and out of nowhere, and it has appeared to have a huge response at the cash game tables,

Mike: These promotions, I’m curious as to what types of players these appeal to. Do they have a broad appeal across both recreational and high-volume players? Are they more appealing to one group or the other? I’m curious who they’re targeting with these promotions.

Nick: It’s always tricky to say because their promotions now, and it’s the case with both of these two, is that their personalized based on the player. We don’t really know from the outside, how rewarding they are. They both say- you play cash games and you fill out some bingo-like board. You’re either collecting hands based on the whole cards you get dealt or winning hands with certain cards. These this kind of thing.

When you do it, and you fill out your card in a certain time period, you’ll unlock a random prize. That could be cash, it could be a ticket, it could be whatever. Both of the promotions working that way and both of them say the top prize is $5,000. We believe that personalized, which means, for some people, it’s much more likely you’re going to get a $5,000 prize, the percentages are much higher. Some people maybe it’s kept to a much lower thing or just the percentages are stretched out a lot more, and maybe your bingo board is much harder to complete for some people.

When you read these promotions, it’s hard for us to know how generous they are, and so whether they’re going to resonate with casual players or high-volume players. Or we can say in this case is from the first day that they launched the first promotion Cardex, their traffic shot up 10%, which is massive for PokerStars. It has sustained that for the last two weeks.

Mike: Wow. With their traffic spiking like that, it leads me to believe that it’s got to be appealing to a wide variety of players. This doesn’t sound like it’s just one group. Though I guess it could be all the high-volume grinders have flocked and now are playing tons of tables because they find this reward system so generous or rewarding. It’s on its space, it feels like this is something that a casual player would enjoy, playing games while they’re playing poker or having this additional excitement. It seems like something that might be targeted more towards casual players. I’m not really sure who this appeals to more.

Nick: Again, it just comes down to how generous they are. If it’s very generous and it works out to be quite a high-effective rakeback, then you’re going to get a lot of grinders going like, “Hey look, let’s get back on those tables.” If we’re right and it’s traffic spike is due to these promotions, which again, it was the day that Cardex came traffic went up 10%, and they went back-to-back. Literally, one finished, the next day, the next one started under a very similar structure and the traffic has maintained that level.

Obviously other things have happened, PokerStars have launched new cash games, but that’d be very surprising if that’s caused anything like this. They’re also run some tournament series, they ran MicroMillions. Again, that would normally affect tournament traffic, not cash game traffic, but it can often have like an additive effect, but our best guess is these promotions. If that’s the case, then 100% obviously, they’re pretty generous.

We’ve seen Winamax came up with this idea a few years ago with the game called Cash Game Bingo. That was hugely successful, massive spike in traffic. I think the first time they ran it, it was like 30% or 40% spike in traffic, to the point that they made this game permanent, and it’s still permanent in the client today because customers love it. There’s a lot of random nature in it, but it ultimately results in quite a bit of cash returned to players net overall.

Maybe PokerStars wanted to do that. They wanted to get grants back on the site, and they’ve done it through this methodology, but what’s happened is, PokerStars is back number one at the cash game rankings. They lost their pole position to a not particularly well-known network called IDN, which claims to have more traffic than PokerStars. I believe it’s self-reported numbers, but GameIntel that tracks these numbers and provides them to us, has independently verified that these numbers are as they seem. They overtook PokerStars earlier on this year. The two have traded places once or twice, but PokerStars has been out of that top spot for a couple of months now. This big spike has taken it back into the number one position.

Mike: Getting back to the nature of these card collection promotions, is this similar to the promotion that we talked about recently on this podcast? The monopoly promotion, which I think was Winamax that ran that?

Nick: Yes. It’s very much that kind of filling out a board type thing. That was their Expresso tables. That was a tournament game, but other than that, yes, it was ultimately the same, but at the start of their Expresso tournament, you’d be playing over a monopoly card. Then if you complete your monopoly board or you complete your set, then you get a special prize. It’s that kind of thing, it’s adding that extra layer of collecting something in either a tournament. Again, PokerStars has done this in tournaments as well.

It’s interesting, 2016, 2017 PokerStars ran this all the time. It was the thing they did. Every couple of months, it’d be CardHunt, CardMatch, Pyramid, Jacks or Better, you name it. This was the structure they used. Then in 2018, they just stopped and they focused, I guess their development resources on the new game novelties that we’ve talked a lot about this podcast this year and stopped doing these promotions entirely. They haven’t really run a promotion like this for well over a year, so it’s really interesting to see them add this back in.

One other component that you should be worth mentioning is PokerStars made a big change a couple of months ago, where they limited the number of simultaneous cash games you could play at one time. We talked about it on this podcast. That resulted naturally in a drop in cash game traffic by about 10%, 15% overnight when they made that change. This has brought it back up to the levels that it was prior to that change. Unless we’ve entirely missed the boat, and they’ve got to enroll that change back, which I’ve heard no one say is the case, but I will say I haven’t actually verified that. Maybe somebody who’s listening can tell us if we entirely misspoke.

In which case, everything we said in this segment, the podcast is pretty much irrelevant, and it’s all because they rolled back this cap on simultaneous tables, but you might notice, that isn’t the case. It’s interesting to see that it’s backed up to those levels that it was prior to that change.

Mike: The drop that we saw that came following the implementation of the table limits, have we seen traffic then rise steadily back up, or did it really just flatline at that point and maintain?

Nick: It’s difficult because we’ve always got the seasonal effects as well. At the time that they implemented this change, traffic was dropping because we’re still in the late summer. Ultimately, what we’ve seen over the last few years is, is during the winter, during the high season, traffic flatlines and then in the summer, it declines. Then it flattens and it declines. With a lot of people moving over to tournaments, that’s what happens.

PokerStars’ cash game traffic is still down double-digits year-over-year. It was declining then there was this big drop, and then it flatlined after that big drop. In terms of absolute numbers, it went from something like 6,000 average cash game players down to 5,200, 5,300, something like that, when they made the table change. It flatlined there for a while. Started growing a bit because we were going into the winter season, and then it spiked back up over 6,000 with in the last two weeks with these promotions, where it now sits to slightly growing again probably because of the seasonal effects.

Mike: Yes. Well, it’ll be interesting to see how the holiday season or the winter season, which is usually the high time for online poker, combined with the return to these card collection promotions, impacts their traffic overall. We were talking absolute numbers there, Nick. Can you give listeners an idea of how those— For example, what are the other top online poker rooms sitting at number wise, so that they have a relative idea of what these 6,000 or 6,800 butts in seats means?

Nick: Yes, good question. If we wanted to look at the European operators, PokerStars is- it’s actually at 6,500 just looking at the data today. Then you’ve got 888, party, and Winamax in the 1,000 area.

Mike: Six times than their closest competitors.

Nick: Yes. Even with that big drop, when they went down to the 5,000 and 5,5000, and that was their lowest for a decade I think, that’s still five times more than the Winamax, and the partypoker, and the 888poker. Now with that said, I’m excluding from that count IDNPoker, which like I said, is at PokerStars’ level. They’re in the five to six area. Then GGPoker. GGPoker is a clear third. It is, let me just bring it up, although it’s only 1,600, so it’s very much in the second tier. You basically got PokerStars and IDN at the top at 6,000, and then you’ve got GG, Winamax, PokerStars Europe. Then it were partypoker, 888 in the 1,000, maybe 1,500 mark.

iPoker is around there as well. I think iPoker is maybe 600, something like that. Then just to give you a comparison to the second segment we talked about, Run It Once, their number is like 20.

Mike: Wow. That’s a stark difference there, for sure. IDN though, what do we know about them? For them to be in the same stratosphere as PokerStars. We have full confidence in GameIntel, so who are the people that are playing on this site that I’ve only remotely heard of?

Nick: That’s a good question. Similar to what we talked about at the start with PPPoker, I’m not sure if they do the private poker club thing. I think they do. I think they have a public network, but they also run these private clubs and this figure represents that as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if PPPoker is up in this stratosphere as well in the multiple thousands. That’s just based on what I hear about the network, the amount of chatter there is around it.

IDN, very focused in the Asian markets. It’s got all their skins are licensed in the Philippines. If I read some out, you wouldn’t have heard of them. I’m trying to even think if there’s one that’s really broken out and tried to— Because I don’t think any of them are really focused or even operating in the European markets, which is why we don’t really talk about them that much or write about them that much. They operate in their own kind of world, with the exception that they decided a year or two back to get listed in GameIntel, and this is why we hear about them.

Mike: These poker clubs, help me understand this, how are they different from say, the pineapple app that people plan, where they arrange a game outside of the app itself and then settle up later?

Nick: Yes, it’s not, I suppose. It’s ultimately that, except it has this internal currency that people use to settle up with. Other than that though, yes— That would be, I guess, PPPoker’s arguments about why it doesn’t have to hold a licence and why it doesn’t have to deal with any payment processing or any regulatory bodies, because that’s the issue of the host of the poker room.

Mike: These hosts or these agents, they are responsible for collecting and distributing wins and losses.

Nick: Yes. They are, many of them known for allowing people to play on credit, so you will—

Mike: Oh, wow.

Nick: Yes. As I say, we’re entering a whole different world when we start talking about these kind of sites.

Mike: Well, I think for now, it’s prudent to keep them separate when we’re talking about the health of the industry.

Nick: Although, I will say that obviously it’s a growing thing. From a European operator’s perspective, that they may still operate in many of the Asian markets. We talk about Asian Focus, and GG Network, and IDN, and PPPoker, but it’s not like PokerStars doesn’t operate in many of the same markets. They are absolutely a competitor. They may just be competing on unequal footing in many regards.

Mike: Didn’t we see structures like these or these kind of poker clubs? Weren’t they popular in Italy?

Nick: Yes, certainly the agent system, unlicensed Italian rooms using that agent model, where basically you could go into an internet cafĂ© and hand over some euros, and they would set up an account and sit you down at a computer. Yes, that was a big thing a couple of years ago. I think there was a large clamp down on that, probably, mafia-round operation. I’m not sure if it’s been stamped out entirely, but yes, it certainly was a big deal.

Mike: Okay. Well, I guess it’s encouraging, nonetheless, to see the spike in traffic for PokerStars. It will be interesting to see how that they maintain that traffic over the busy holiday season, and if we see more of these card collection promotions in the near future.


Mike: Well, that wraps up this episode of the pokerfuse podcast. As a reminder, please give us a like and a subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us and interact with us on Twitter. Nick is at @pokerprojones. I am @SpookyBugs. Thanks, everyone for tuning in.