On this special edition of the Pokerfuse Podcast, Mike sits down with the Head of the GGPoker Network, Jean-Christophe Antoine.

In addition to reviewing the recent success of the WSOP Super Circuit Series, Mike and JC also discuss the breaking news that GGPoker will be hosting WSOP Online Bracelet Events this summer.

The discussion that follows touches on the things that make the GGPoker software stand out from its competition and JC’s insights and opinions on the greater online poker industry.


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Full Transcript

Michael Gentile: Hello and welcome everybody to the Pokerfuse Podcast. It’s June 8th, 2020. This is special edition number five. I’m your host Mike Gentile, and today my special guest is Jean-Christophe Antoine, the head of GGPoker Network.

We kick things off with a look back at the WSOP Super Circuit Series that recently completed on GGPoker and then dive into the breaking news that the extension of the partnership between GGPoker and the WSOP now includes Online Bracelet events taking place this summer. Next up, we discuss the addition of the new Multi Millions Tournaments to GGPoker’s Sunday slate, which already includes the GGMasters. Then we move on to discuss some of the special features available on the GGPoker platform. From there, we broaden the conversation to get JC’s opinion on a variety of topics surrounding the greater online poker industry.

WSOP Super Circuit Series Recap/WSOP Bracelet Events

Today I am joined by special guest, Jean-Christophe Antoine, from GGPoker. JC, how are you doing today?

Jean-Christophe Antoine: Hey, Michael. I’m really good, man. It’s nice to talk to you again.

Mike: It’s great to talk to you. We have so much to talk about. For those of you that may not know, JC is the head of GGPoker Network, and he was previously before this, the head of Network Games at Betsson in charge of poker, bingo, and lottery. Prior to that, the head of iPoker France. I believe you got your start in poker with BetClic -Everest, is that correct?

Antoine: Yes, I did. Actually, I was working for them first as a customer service agent back in 2008, so 12 years in this industry. At some point, I joined the poker team in 2010, I guess— Yes, so it’s been 10 years in poker only. That was about the time that BetClic bought Everest and they— Actually, something I wanted to mention on this podcast, which is very dear to me, is my former boss, head of poker at BetClic Everest Benjamin Lucas, who died two months ago from cancer. I just wanted to mention him because without him I wouldn’t be here. I felt for him, and I hope I’ll make him proud.

Mike: I’m sure he will. It’s pretty impressive, your resume so far, your CV, and from the looks of it, you’re doing some really good things over at GGPoker. To our audience, GGPoker is actually the skin or the front end of what we’re calling the NSUS Network, which is the platform, correct?

Antoine: Yes, the network is called GGPoker Network. We do have a B2C brand called GGPoker, which is licensed to the UKGC. Then we run the usual network that you might know from MPN, iPoker, stuff like that.

Mike: Tell us a bit about the background of how you guys got started. It seems like you’re a relative newcomer, but I think there’s a couple of years of experience there.

Antoine: Yes, I joined them 18 months ago or 16 months ago, something like that, so I won’t be able to give you the full extent. What I know is that it was a bunch of friends from university that just were unhappy with the way the poker software were looking and feeling. They were like, “Wow, all these poker software look like they were done in the ’90s,” which actually they were. They actually realized, “Okay, we’re engineers, we can do something.” They started in Asia, they started growing there, then they expanded. As I said, they got the UKGC license for GGPoker, and you know that we got so many more skins now and so many more partners. That’s pretty much it. They’re ex-poker pros, ex esports people, so they’re really into gaming, really into poker. That’s why I think was it successful, because it’s not just guys that had money and wanted do something, it’s they know poker well and they have it at heart.

Mike: How long has GGPoker been around itself?

Antoine: The network, it’s been six years— Five years, six years, and the B2C brand would be three years, 2017.

Mike: Okay, 2017. Yes, so that is relatively new. I think a lot of the notoriety has come even more recent than that. I think that even though 2017, that’s three years ago, it feels like— That you guys are newer to the game.

Antoine: Yes, we are, I know. It’s because up until I would say six months ago, we didn’t really push marketing too much. We were just focusing on product, product, product, and it worked. Even 18 months ago when I joined, some people in the industry were starting to hear about GGPoker. They knew that the product was good, but we took our time. To us, the product is key. What we want is to have the best product in the world. We know that marketing would just help promote that, but our focus was 100% product, and it worked.

Mike: Okay. Well, it seems to be working quite well. You landed yourself quite a big partnership with the World Series of Poker, and congratulations on just completing the WSOP Super Circuit Series. That was I think unexpected by a lot of people, that the WSOP would partner with an online company that perhaps was not as well-known, but from the looks of it, JC, you guys did quite the job. I would imagine the World Series is pretty happy with your performance.

Antoine: Yes, I think so. Again, I will say that it’s our product. When we showed it to them, they were like— I think they were blown away, or at least they liked it. I think that’s why they chose us to go with the Super Circuit, right? I mean, we guarantee [$100] million, and we just [did almost] $135 million, which is pretty big.

Mike: 100 million total guarantee was what you started out, and you ended up paying how much? $135 million?

Antoine: Yes, was 134, seven hundred and something, let’s say 135. Let’s round it up.

Mike: Okay. Yes, wow, that’s quite something. I know that at the time that you guys had announced it, that was the biggest guaranteed prize pool for an online poker tournament series ever. I think maybe one of your competitors got a little jealous, PokerStars came out later and bumped up their guarantees scoop, but— Wow, $100 million is— That’s a lot of money.

Antoine: It is, yes. It’s also the number of entries, I mean, almost 500,000 entries. The main event got like almost 10,000 entries for $1 million guaranteed in the end— Not guaranteed, but distributed prize pool. Also, I know that— Some of us know that from the high rollers , the 25Ks, and we had one high roller at 25K. This was— I mean frankly, we didn’t expect that. 505 entries, with the largest prize pool we ever had, $12.3 million or something like that. That was— Even us, we were shocked. We were like, “Wow, did we just do that? Yes, we did. Okay, that’s good. That’s pretty good.”

Mike: That is quite the accomplishment, so that you gave out a total— I think it was 18 circuit rings during that series? Is that correct?

Antoine: Yes, 18 rings.

Mike: Okay, and the WSOP was so happy with your performance there that they decided to give you some more business?

Antoine: Yes, so what’s going to happen, and you’re probably going to see the article on Pokerfuse today, is that we’re launching the WSOP Online with WSOP. I should say WSOP Online Bracelets, I guess.

Mike: Yes, it’s [crosstalk] .

Antoine: Yes, so I guess that’s pretty big for everyone. You’re going to be able to play on GGPoker and win a proper bracelet from the WSOP, because as we all know, the WSOP Vegas was postponed to fall 2020, but I think WSOP felt that a summer without WSOP Bracelets is not a real summer. They were so happy with that, and we agreed that it would be perfect to go for it, so yes, we’re doing this. We’re doing this, it’s going to start July 19th. It’s going to last for several weeks. You’ll probably see the final date on the article, but— Just read the article, you’ll see. [chuckles] What’s going to be awesome as well is that PokerGO, Poker Central, is going to work with WSOP as usual, to produce TV shows on our platform, collaborate with GGPoker TV that we launched a month ago, our Twitch channel. They’re going to work with us. We’re going to stream the major event final table, every event that is worth it or that we deem worth it. I can also say that Norman and Lon are likely to be involved. The broadcasting, all the big guns are probably going to be on this one.

Mike: That’s— I won’t call it unprecedented territory, but to have, especially on this level, the broadcasting of online poker is going to be very different, I think, than a lot of things that we’ve seen so far in the industry. Usually, a lot of the streaming events outside of Twitch, that is, are for live events. Now, it’s going to be a bit more online-focused. I’ll be very interested to see what PokerGO does with the platform and how they make that content interesting for the audience.

Antoine: Yes. I won’t disclose everything of course because some of it is being finalized as we speak, some of it we don’t know yet, but what I can tell you is that they are going to have interviews in their Vegas office, bigger studio, for sure. We’re going to have— Maybe you check our GGPoker.TV streams last month, but we’re doing cards up with some delay. I think we were the— Maybe not the first ones, but the first one that really did that every week for WSOP events. We just have like a two or three-hour delay and you have the cards up, you can see them as in if it was in TV. It’s going to be pretty awesome. I think people are going to enjoy it, and I really look forward to it.

Mike: It should be quite the experience. I think as a society, we’re adapting to the new normal, and this is right in line with that. We’re used to having live events WSOP in the summer, now they’re online. We’re going to be doing new things with the broadcast of online poker. I’m excited. I can’t wait to— Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play, but I can’t wait to check out the coverage and just see how everything unfolds. It really, really has got me excited, and I would imagine it’s got a lot of the poker playing community excited as well.

Antoine: Yes, I hope so. Guys, just watch this space, you’ll get more news in the coming week.

Multi MILLION$ and GGMasters

Mike: This news is coming on the heels of some other news that I think is really big, and that’s, you guys recently announced Multi Millions. For listeners, if they’re unfamiliar with what exactly that is, there are three-phased tournaments that conclude on Sunday, so they’re basically Sunday majors with a $1 million guarantee, a $2 million guarantee, and then a lower event buy-in that is approximately— I think it’s $170,000, and that is denoted in Chinese currency, is that correct?

Antoine: Yes, Chinese Yuan. By the time— You know us, I don’t know if everyone listening to this podcast knows us, but you must know that by now we’re very— We take risks, and we wanted to test that. We had an awesome month in May with WSOP, we had a lot of players joining our platform playing poker. What do we do for them? Is there something that’s going to work well? We’re just testing the waters. Maybe we’re going to fail, maybe we’re going to smash it, who knows, but that’s how we roll usually. We test stuff and we see if it works. If it doesn’t work, we can always just not do it anymore, if it works well we can always increase the guarantee or whatever. It’s very exciting as well. Actually, it came from— Okay, we had this awesome, unbelievable, month of May. Let’s do something for our players, let’s see how they like it. Probably going to do an article tomorrow or something that says, “Oh my god, Multi Millions either missed the guarantee or smashed the guarantee,” so let’s look forward to that.

Mike: Right. I think, looking up and down the lineup, it’s pretty easy to say, “Okay, $1 million guarantee, $2 million guarantee, so what? Prize pools have been exploding and expanding for quite some time,” but if you look at Global Millions, which is the $1 million guarantee, that comes with a $100 buy-in. That’s pretty special.

Antoine: It’s special. It’s risky, it’s aggressive, it’s dangerous, and we like it. Again, it’s a test.

Mike: I was just going to say that we also have the $2 million guarantee, the buy-in for that one, the High Roller Millions it’s called, is $500. That one, I don’t know, for some reason, the Global Millions is really sticking out to me as special. Perhaps it’s because the price point is so closely related to GG Masters. Do you anticipate some cannibalization there? Do you think that GGMasters is going to suffer because now you’re now offering this Sunday tournament with a $1 million guarantee and a similar buy-in?

Antoine: I don’t really think so. First of all, the $100, $1 million guarantee, the Global Millions, is a phase tournament, so you can— If they want every day, you can play whenever you want and you play again too on the Sunday. The GG Masters, you only play on Sunday, you need to be here at the right time. There’s some late regs of course, but it’s a freeze-out. You only have one bullet. It’s $150, the other one is $100. You could say it’s not a lot of difference, but actually, at these ranges, $100 or $150, not everyone can play $150, not everyone can play $100, and probably, some of the people would play with the $100 during the week and play day two on the Sunday. It’s on different days, let’s say, and it’s not exactly the same. Of course, GG Masters, it’s still our flagship freeze-out. ... exactly how we wanted to push this tournament. There’s a specific leaderboard, or as I said, it’s a freeze-out. We’ve doubled the guaranteed in four months, was it? That’s a big difference.

Mike: Yes, it started out as the $250,000 guarantee for the first running which was in early January.

Antoine: I know you guys were used to see us up the guarantee every time we reach the guarantee, but our first goal was 500K, and June and July usually are the worst months for online poker. People in the industry know that summer is never the best time for online poker. GG Masters, it’s been working pretty well. We didn’t think that we would reach 500K that quickly. We had some help, of course, with the current situation, but we’re very satisfied with where we are right now.

Mike: Yes, and you’ve met that guarantee. For a while there, every time you would meet the guarantee, you would raise it. You’ve now met the guarantee, I believe it’s four weeks in a row, possibly five weeks in a row, depending on how things turn out, but it’s— One of the things that I think that had slipped my mind, because when I saw the announcement for Multi Millions, I was like, “Wow, is this going to replace GG Masters?” but I was quickly reminded that you have a year-long promotion running with GG Masters of the leaderboard, and you are going to award a sponsorship, is that correct? To the winner of the leaderboard at the end of the year?

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Antoine: Yes, that’s it. That’s up to $500,000 and a sponsorship. Go ahead and play it every Sunday because, okay, it’s half of the year now, so if you’ve never played it, you might be at a disadvantage, but who knows? You can win it once and do several final tables, who knows? Go ahead and try it. Frankly, I’m not going to say— Actually, I’m going to say it, I think it’s the best tournament in online poker we have right now. It’s not the biggest guarantee, but I really like it.

Mike: I think the freeze-out aspect of this tournament really stands out for players, at least from what I’ve gathered on social media and just talking to people that have played it and such. That’s one of the standout features, along with the combination of the guarantee and the affordable buy-in I think that have really helped the tournament succeed. I was talking with our super-sleuth over at pokerfuse, Anuj, and we were discussing the relationship between Multi Millions and GG masters. He reminded me that not only do you have a year-long promotion, but part of the prizes for that promotion are entries into GG Masters for 2021. Is that correct?

Antoine: [laughs] It is. Yes, of course.

Mike: It’s guaranteed to be around for a little while, I guess is what we’re— The conclusion from—

Antoine: Yes, why would we cut it? It’s been doing awesomely. We’ve been enjoying it, players have been enjoying it. You were talking about its affordability, but even if you can’t afford it, you can stake a player there. It’s pretty cool.

Mike: That is another important feature, is the staking feature that allows you to get into the GG Masters for less than the actual buy-in. I would get into that, but let’s move on, we can post an article about how you can utilize the staking feature on GGPoker. It is quite big news, and there’s more news that keeps coming. This may be more industry-focused and maybe not for consumers itself, but you were recently awarded a license by the Malta Gaming Authority, correct?

Antoine: Yes, we just got it like two days ago, I think. The B2B MGA license, which is a very important license to get in Europe. We couldn’t be more thrilled, because that shows we do things right and we want to promote online poker in all the markets we can, do it properly. That only shows our will to do things right and continue promoting poker everywhere.

Mike: Is there going to be— What advantages, besides reputation which you had mentioned, which is a pretty big reason to get that license, what other advantages are there for being licensed in Malta?

Antoine: Well, a lot of other companies and partners are licensed in Malta, so if you want to work with them, you need to have the same license. You need to be able to bring them on on the MGA license. That’s very important, actually.

GGPoker in the US?

Mike: All right. Are you pursuing licenses in other jurisdictions? The US, for example, is of particular interest, I’m curious as to your plans for continuing into these regulated markets.

Antoine: The overall answer is yes, we’re looking for new licenses. There are a lot of regulated markets all around the world. In specific countries like the US, each state is— Not each state, but some of the states are regulated, so we are looking for a lot of licenses. I’m not going to disclose any of these, but a lot are going to come in 2020 and ’21. What I’m going to say about the US is, sooner or later, in any way, shape or form, players in the US will be able to play on our platform. I know it’s a little bit vague, but that’s what you’re going to get today.

Mike: Yes, I understand some information needs to be kept confidential. There is some public information out there though, and that would be that I saw that NSUS has applied for a gaming license in Pennsylvania. How’s that going? Is there anything you can share there, or is that more of let’s wait and see?

Antoine: It’s a let’s wait and see. There’s nothing I can disclose right now, but I like that you have an eye on all these things. That’s very good. [laughter]

Mike: Fair enough. I thought we were done with all of the recent news for GGPoker, but I did leave out—

Antoine: Are we ever?

Real Names in Use at GGPoker

Mike: I did leave out one item that is— I think it’s capturing the attention of the poker industry, or has for much of this year so far, and that’s the use of real names at the tables. I know that there’s been some talk, Rob Yong, a partner with GVC and PartyPoker, has been championing that cause recently, and you guys have dove into that pool. What can you tell us about how real names are used on GGPoker, and is that something that’s likely to expand to include more games and more tables?

Antoine: We like it, absolutely. We think it’s a good thing for online poker. We don’t know yet if it’s good to do it for everyone on every format, every game type, et cetera, so what we’re doing is we are trailing it. We’re starting testing the waters, starting step-by-step. We are starting doing that. I think we started like two weeks ago, three weeks ago, our VIP tables. We’re slowly rolling it out, and if it works well, then we will expand it. If it doesn’t work well, we’ll review it.

Mike: How does the regulatory aspect of online poker play into the use of real names? Is that something that they encourage, discourage, or they really are indifferent to?

Antoine: Well, first of all, if you want, when you register, you can choose your real name as a nickname. I haven’t seen anything in the world, any law that is saying that you shouldn’t. I don’t think there’s any problem with it, but I’m going to say I’m not a lawyer or I’m not a legal person, so I might lack the knowledge, but I don’t think there’s anything there. I’d be happy to hear differently if anyone has any information, but I think we’re good there. I don’t think anyway competitors would promote it if it was a problem.

Mike: I was just curious if there were privacy considerations. I’m not quite sure exactly the reason, but I know that some operators have expressed privacy concerns in the past when asked to divulge information that the community wanted to know. I wasn’t quite sure if perhaps there were some privacy concerns around the use of real names, but I guess if the player chooses their real name as their screen name, then you as a company are not divulging any confidential information, they are doing it themselves.

Antoine: Yes, and I think it’s fine.

Mike: All right. What kind of feedback have you had so far on that? Is it something that you think players like?

Antoine: Mostly good.

Mike: It’s been adopted?

Antoine: Pretty well, yes. I think it’s like it’s more lively on the VIP tables. Everyone sees who their opponents are, everyone is playing each other. I think it’s better for poker. So far, it’s been really good. I can’t tell you how well it’s going to be in a month or two. Maybe it won’t be that good, but for now, it’s fine.

Mike: Okay, good. It’s interesting to see that kind of evolution happening. I think, overall, it will be good for the game personally. I think it will do a little bit to boost the reputation of online poker. There’s still all these players that sometimes try to accuse online gaming of being rigged. Rigtards, I believe they’re called in general, but I think sunshine is a good disinfectant. I believe that’s the saying. I’m hoping that online poker gets a reputational boost from using real names. It’s good to see that you guys are trending in that direction.

Antoine: Yes.

SNGs are Dead?

Mike: Okay, let’s talk about the platform a bit.

Antoine: Sure.

Mike: You had mentioned that the software is definitely something that people have been giving you positive feedback on. Looking at your software, trying to see what are some of the things that you guys do that everyone does, and what are some of the things that you guys do differently, one of the big things that jumped out to me is that you don’t have traditional Sit & Go’s. Tell us a little bit about why and when or if they may be coming.

Antoine: Actually, technically you’re wrong. We do have Sit & Go’s. We do have one— I think it’s one once on-tap Sit & Go satellites for GG Masters, I think we have that in the client . Technically, we do have them. We also have jackpot Sit & Go, Spin & Gold. Again, technically we do have Spin & Go’s, but the real answer to that is that we believe that the normal, the old, let’s say, the Sit & Go’s are dead. We don’t believe in them at all, so we don’t have any plans to develop them further. Jackpot Sit & Go’s and on-tap S&G satellite, to us, it’s sufficient, let’s say.

Mike: Beyond the satellites, what I hear you saying then is that the combination of Spin & Go’s and I guess maybe even fast-fold cash games are feeding the appetite for the online poker environment?

Antoine: Yes. It’s like all the formats that didn’t really do well in MTTs, for example, you can think about shootout or multi-entry. A lot of people try different features for MTTs and some of them stopped, some of them didn’t. I think it’s the same for Sit & Go’s. Jackpot Sit & Go’s I think just took over and made the old Sit & Go’s obsolete. I’m sure some people still play normal Sit & Go’s on competitors, but that would be like the bottom of our list. Again, we do have them technically, so it’s not like we can’t do it, it’s more like we won’t do it. If tomorrow the new fad and the new craze is Sit & Go, then it’s there, we can have it in a month or even less. We’re focusing on way better features in our opinion.

Mike: All right, that covers Sit & Go’s. What other kind of features on the platform— You’ve mentioned earlier that you have a built-in staking feature. That’s quite special, not one that is very common in online poker. I think you guys are the only ones that have that built into your platform. You also have built-in tracking software, correct? Are you guys the— No, there are other operators that also have built-in tracking. Party has their— I forget the name of it, but they have Mypoker— Oh, I forgot. I forgot.

Antoine: I think it’s MyGame.

Mike: MyGame, yes, I was going to say. They’re your competition, you probably know really well.

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Interesting features of the GGPoker Software

Mike: What are some of the other features of the software that users may not know about that you think makes GGPoker stand out?

Antoine: We have so many actually. We have Smart HUD and Smart Betting. For example, Smart HUD, you mentioned it, it’s our built-in tracking software. You can see if you’re running hard, if you’re running cold. Smart Betting would be some machine-learning help for you to bet. Again, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we’re telling you what to bet or what amount to bet, but based on your behavior, the machine learns what you prefer and gives you three or four different betting, 70%, 5%, or 50%, et cetera. 52%, 53%, you know. They just learn how you play and how you usually bet and they give it to you on mobile. It’s very, very good because— I don’t know if you play on mobile, but when you want to be very specific on the amount and you’re trying to move the cursor or whatever, it’s very annoying, so Smart Betting really helps. We have so many. I could list them all here, but then we will be here for three hours. [laughs]

Mike: One that I wanted to ask you about is cash drops. We saw cash drops is a way of distributing rewards right at the table. We saw that concept introduced with Run it Once, and very quickly, you guys were like, “Hey, this is a good idea,” and you implemented it right away. How have you seen players react to that? Do they like to get those immediate rewards right away, or what kind of feedback have you had with the cash drops that you have at your Rush and Cash tables?

Antoine: I guess no one’s complaining for when the free money drops to the table, right? We’ve never got, “Oh my God, you dropped €50 or $50 on my table. That changed the way I was playing so I hate you.” No, it’s all good. It’s pretty good. It’s actually nothing new. I would even go back to when I was at Betsson and we were on … MPN, we did have cash drops directly into players’ accounts I think, if I remember correctly. It’s nothing new per se. We already had it on the roadmap when Run it Once launched it. To us, it’s another feature that is very good for players. It changes the way they play, it gives more action, more fun. For those who don’t know us yet, GGPoker is all about the fun. The fun of poker, trying to make it fun again. It just adds to that. Simple as that.

Lasting Impacts of the Pandemic on Online Poker

Mike: Let me ask your opinion. A lot of the next questions are going to be us talking about the industry a bit, getting your opinion. Being a seasoned veteran 10 years in the industry, I think that gives you some clout. I’m curious, what do you think, if anything, will be the long-lasting effects of this pandemic? We’ve seen a lot of changes. Live poker has basically gone away, it’s just starting to come back. What do you think are going to be the long-lasting impacts from the pandemic?

Antoine: I would see one right away, I would think that live events, almost all of them that were supposed to happen during this pandemic, they moved online. I think that moved live players to online, and hopefully, they’ll realize online is best, or at least is better. It’s more fun than live. Again, I’m not going to say live is bad, because it’s actually pretty cool. You meet people in the real-life, so it’s fun. One of our goals is to manage to get a better experience than live online. People would come online and say, “I’m going to have that.” I’m just not going to play poker because, “Okay, I’m home, what am I going to do?” It’s like, “I want to go to GGPoker because this is awesome. I can run it twice. I can run it three times. I can squeeze the cards. I can do some stuff I cannot do live. Maybe I can see my friends with webcams in the future.” A lot of stuff you can do online and you can actually do at your local casino obviously. That’s one of our goals. We want to make it so good that, of course, we don’t want you to never go to your casino again, we want you to go there and enjoy your experience over there and have big live events and the awesome atmosphere. What we want is manage to give you the best experience you can ever imagine playing poker online.

Mike: I guess from that aspect that makes a lot of sense to leverage the advantages that the online space has over the live space that even beyond the safety and the pandemic that seems to be a pretty sound strategy. All right, okay. Anything else that you see as a lasting impact of the pandemic? We’ve seen, for example, traffic has shot way up. Is that sustainable?

Antoine: No, I don’t think so. For sure some new player discovered poker and hopefully loved it and they going to continue. You can already see that it is going down right now. As I said already, June and July are the worst months for online poker. Everyone is usually on holidays, it’s summertime. This time I think we’re going to get a double whammy actually because it’s the end of the lockdown plus summer. Probably, June and July are not going to be the best months in online poker.

Mike: I don’t know. I heard July is going to be pretty big. I heard that somebody’s running like 50 bracelet events online.

Antoine: I know but that’s the end of July. That’s, let’s say, mid-end July. That’s why I’m saying, of course, everyone’s going to enjoy online poker and some of the players are going to stick to it. What I’m saying is that at the end of the lockdown pretty much everywhere in the western world right now you going the end of a lockdown and it’s summer. I’m sure people are going to just go out and enjoy themselves and then we hope they will come back on July 19th to win some WSOP bracelet. Let them enjoy their holidays and the good weather and then let them come back to us when the proper, the real thing is happening. WSOP bracelet you don’t want to miss that.

Maintaining a Healthy Poker Ecology

Mike: The pandemic has caused maybe a mini second poker boom. Definitely, nowhere near the scale of the previous poker booms but still has given it a boost. What do you see is some of the challenges around online poker to reach more people? The pandemic has assisted, like you’ve said you’ve seen new players coming to the game. What are some of the challenges that prevent it from exploding even more?

Antoine: One of the challenges that players don’t really see, at least most of the players, some of the pro players know that but it’s building a healthy ecology. We always talk about the poker ecology and how it’s like a small world where every action of some kind of people has an effect on the newcomer et cetera. It’s true, it’s not a myth. We can see that with the numbers. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges, to keep and bring some players is to make them understand and actually level the playing field, yes, and make sure that when they come to play poker they have a good time, they enjoy themselves, they want to come back just to have a good time. I think that’s one of the simplest things to say, but one of the hardest things to do especially in 2020 when everything to be the best at poker to spend the time. You have all the tools, all the books, all the videos, everything. If you want to go there you can. We are on a totally different path. As I said, we want to give you the best experience for you to just say okay, “I just came home, I’m tired from my day. I’m just going to have dinner. Maybe I can spend one or two hours having fun try to win some money but even if I don’t win some money I’m going to have a good time.” That’s pretty much the goal and I think everyone should aim achieving that but as I said it’s very difficult to achieve. It’s everyday combat.

Mike: Yes, we’ve seen some operators take different tacks to try and achieve that ecology. You’ve seen rewards used for example to try balance that ecology with individualized rewards. We’ve also seen like, Partypoker who it appears their philosophy is bring everyone in and the ecology will manage itself. They’re out there, they’re recruiting high volume professionals. Recording the new players. They’re doing everything that they can to just try and include everyone. What are you guys doing at GGPoker to try and balance that ecology?

Antoine: We also open arms to everyone as long as they play in the spirit of the game, in the spirit of our, let’s say, online poker room, online casino. As I said, we don’t want to reward players that are bum hunting or let’s say, are toxic to the game and are going to give us a bad time to anyone. Newcomers but anyone playing. What we’re doing is that we’re trying to promote that in promotions and we spend so much in promotions every month. This month we’re spending $2 million in promotions in June and I don’t even think we’ve ever done that before. Two million is a very big number. We’ve been doing that for months. I think when I started we were giving away 500K, 300K a month and then as we grew we went to 1 million, 1.2, 1.5 now 2 million. We’re trying to promote every game we have as well in the fun games. We have All-in or Fold, we have Rush & Cash with the cash drop. There’s pretty much everything for everyone on our platform.

Mike:That’s an interesting philosophy is to provide incentives for the groups that you want instead of perhaps trying to limit the appeal to a particular groups. Interesting, okay.

Online Poker’s Biggest Opportunity: Mobile

Mike: What would you say, JC, is the biggest opportunity that online poker faces right now? What is staring online poker right in the face and all the industry needs to do is reach out and grab it? What’s that big thing that you think can really change online poker for the better?

Antoine: Everyone is doing it but I think most of them are doing it poorly. I’m going to brag a bit here. I do think we have the best mobile product out there. I think that’s mobile. That’s mobile because you need to realize that the new generation of players 18 to 25, what you call generation Z most of them never really have a laptop or actually a desktop at home and they only play on mobile. They don’t even think about desktop. If your product is not awesome perfect on mobile they will never know that it’s good or better on desktop. They will, “Desktop, what do you mean, it’s not good on mobile? Yes, okay. Let me play my game.” This is very true in other countries in Asia, for example, where frankly a lot of people only play on mobile. That was us from the start focusing on mobile, making it a good experience. I can only say because, of course, I cannot spend an hour explaining everything we do on mobile differently. I can encourage everyone to download the software and try it out for themselves. That’s mobile. Just focus on that. Make it well. We’ve been doing the vertical table. We’ve been doing so much about it that I think that’s the biggest opportunity if you do it well.

GGPoker Brand Ambassadors

Mike: Part of the way that online poker has traditionally tried to reach new audiences is through the use of sponsored pros. We’ve seen the traditional sponsored pro evolve in many ways over the short history of online poker from the names that you had watched on television to new social media tweet streamers. Live streamers. What’s your philosophy on sponsored pros and is that something that you see will continue for the industry?

Antoine: I think that’s up to every company how they see it. I can tell you how we see it. To us sponsored pros are working with us, of course, they have a contract and they put a patch on and they are the image of GGPoker as any sponsored pro would be but they work with us. It could be on content, it could be on maybe try to— depending on the nationality they can maybe help to get some licenses, they can get some players they know. They work with us. Actually, I can tell you we have them on Slack and we talk to them everyday. [laughs] So that’s exactly how we see it. They’re not just a pretty face with a patch and say, “Hey, guys GGPoker is awesome.” They work for it and they believe in it. Every time we got a new pro we show them our product, we show the values, what we thought our direction and they bought it. They’d be like, oh, wow, that’s interesting I want to know more, can you tell me this and that and they joined us and they’re working with us and it’s been doing— I mean, we’ve been doing well with them and been very happy with all the pros we got.

Mike: Well, I think that this conversation should probably— we should mention your sponsored pros after all you do have arguably the most recognizable name in poker in Daniel Negreanu as your top sponsored pro. Tell us a bit about your other sponsored pros.

Antoine: Sure. So we have Bertrand 'ElkY’ Grospellier which is the biggest winner of all time in live tournaments from France. He’s also a former e-sport player. We clicked well because he used to play Starcraft and I’m actually a fan of Starcraft as well. He used to play Hearthstone with Team Liquid. He’s very well versed in trimming so he’s doing some of that with us. We also have Fedor Holz who joined us a month ago with his Pokercode school, right?

Mike: Yes, you lured him out of retirement.

Antoine: Yes. [chuckles] Was he really retired? Sometime he was playing a bit et cetera, but yes, he was mostly retired. I think, yes, he saw an opportunity to come back and also do something different because he does have a poker school, let’s say, or master class any way you want to call it. And you could think that it doesn’t really match with GGPoker wanting to make everything fun and the skill base et cetera but actually, as I said, we welcome everyone so everyone can work on their game, make it better. We help you actually in the game with our Smart Hud, the PokerCraft, our analysis software built in so we’re not against that, we just don’t want it to be only about that. As I said, we also have Felipe Ramos from Brazil which is very cool, very dedicated, trim all the time. And of course, the first one the OG, let’s say, Bryn Kenny that is with us- that’s been with us for I think the beginning or very close the beginning. Well, is there anything to say about Bryn Kenny, he’s the all-time money list winner, every time he’s on the podcast he’s about good vibes and enjoying life and a bit of personal development pretty much, right? He’s also one of the best players, he’s not the best player right now in the world though everyone that’s supposed to play in it, everyone has been chosen for different skills or potential avenues to help us. So yes, I think we have a pretty good team now, right now.

Mike: It would be really interesting. I would be interested in seeing all your sponsored pros sitting down playing against each other. That sounds to me like that would get some attention.

Antoine: Well, some of it already happened on the table, I guess, but we didn’t do a SNG with everyone yet but that could be a good idea. Who knows if you ever manage to get them in the same room at the same time, that could happen. We don’t know when the planes are going to fly again, they’re all scattered all around the world so I don’t know, yes, we’ll see.

Mike: I don’t expect you reveal any names but I am curious are there any potential signings of new sponsored pros that we might see this year?

Antoine: Let’s see. I can say we’re talking to everyone that wants talk to us. [laughs] I can say that. Then yes, I don’t know. There’s nothing else I can say right now.

Mike: I understand. That was probably a question that I knew you wouldn’t be able to give us much information on.

Online Poker’s Best Marketing Campaign

Mike: Another question about the industry. We talked about how important marketing is and reaching new players and keeping that ecology balanced. I’m curious with all your experience in online poker. What are some of the best marketing campaigns that you’ve seen?

Antoine: One that stands out and actually encompasses everything we are about is the one with— I don’t know if you remember this one, it’s Kevin Hart and Usain Bolt racing on the beach with Daniel Negreanu explaining the rules before saying, okay, Kevin you going to get 30 meters as a head start and we’ll see if you can win. That happened, Kevin Hart wins because of course 30 meters on 100-meter is a head start that almost no one can [crosstalk] overcome. So in the end what does it say? It’s dumb, it’s silly, just two guys having fun just running so it looks like nothing about poker, but if you think about it it’s— I see it as poker, if you got the right cards, the right hand at the beginning, so let’s say, you have a head start you have a book of aces versus I don’t know, King nine or even seven deuce you can win against the pro and that’s really something that stands out because that’s exactly what poker is about. Of course, you can be good at poker you can build the skill game and you can always get better, but in the right circumstances anyone can win against the best player in the world. I think that if you think about it, that’s why it’s one of the best thing I’ve seen even though it seems like nothing just fun, but actually it really encompasses what we’re about, about poker.

Escalating Guarantees in Online Poker

Mike: One topic that I wanted to ask you about is— and we’ve seen it advance in our current situation with the pandemic is the ever-escalating guarantees around online poker tournaments and online poker tournament series. You participated in that yourself, you guys bumped up to come out with the first $100 million guaranteed series. How do you see that continuing? What is eventually going to happen? Are operators going to continue to try and push the envelope and try and make series and tournaments bigger and better until they can’t anymore or is that something that maybe we should expect to start seeing scaled back a bit?

Antoine: Well, frankly we did that, the $100 million, we were looking around and all the companies were competing on it. They were just competing on it right there like, okay, let’s push it to this number of millions. Oh, but we will go to this number of million. Oh, we will go over you, we’ll be bigger and so we’re like, okay, what do we do? We have the WSOP let’s make it big. Not as a joke, it was’t a joke it was $100 million and it was proper but [chuckles] we were like, okay, let’s do it big. It’s marketing anyway, right? It’s just fun again. $100 million WSOP, all the stars come to us going to be awesome. We don’t really like— it could get silly. I don’t think we’re going to continue going over and over and over and over, but the funny thing on this one was you can see us as underdog, maybe not anymore but up until then we were growing and growing and no one really knew us except competitors, I guess. Not even some of them, I would think. It was funny to see them try to catch up. We were like, “Okay [laughs] , that’s funny.” We don’t really think that 100 million, 200 million, 300 million, 1 billion, why not? It’s marketing, it’s fun.

Mike: I think maybe there’s an opportunity because it’s hard to be the first one to step away and not try and outdo your competitor. Maybe we have an opportunity right now where the whole industry could say, “Hey, look, those were pandemic-level guarantees,” and maybe the industry itself starts to scale downward going forward. I’m not sure if that will happen but it’ll be interesting to see if that’s an opportunity that maybe the industry decides to leverage and move in that direction.

Goals for GGPoker

Mike: We are getting close to wrapping up. I’ve got one more question for you. What are some of the goals that you have? Obviously, as the head of the GGPoker Network, I’m assuming that you set goals for your team and for your company. What, if any, of those goals can you share with us? Where do you guys want to be at the end of this year? Where do you want to be at the end of next year? Where do you want to be in the not too distant future?

Antoine: Well, the simple answer will be the highest possible. I can go back to, let’s say, a couple of goals that we have, and I’ve already touched on them in this interview. The first one that is, as I said, really important and really hard to do is building a healthy online poker ecosystem that we can sustain. Because it’s one thing to clean everything and have it healthy for like one, two months but can you do that for a year? That’s very difficult. I would say that’s the main goal. The second one also I mentioned is having an online experience that surpasses the live one. Again, not to replace the live one but to make it available to anyone, anywhere, at any time and just make sure they have a good time with us. The last one, which is probably obvious, but if you take the online rankings, we are kind of second, let’s say. When you’re second, where do you want to go? You want to go to the first place.

Mike: [laughs]

Antoine: That’s the goal. Maybe not this year, I’m not sure we can achieve that but that’s a mid-term, long-term goal, I’d say.

Mike: I was going to ask you what’s the timeline on that one because it’s always easy to shoot for the top.

Antoine: I will not give you a timeline, of course, because that will be held against me in X months or years and say, “He said that and he failed miserably.” Or actually, “They managed to do that and it’s awesome.” I’d rather not take the risk but let’s say as soon as possible, we’ll work as soon as possible. I’m going to use this last question to give a shout out to my teams, actually. Most of them I hired end of last year. Some of them didn’t have a lot of experience with poker but they were very experienced with other products and we did well. Our product team, our development team is astonishing. Our marketing team is grand as well. GGPoker I know it’s obvious that we work hard and we play hard. A big shout out to them and good luck to us reaching number one one day.

Mike: Thank you, JC. I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and discuss everything that’s going on. There’s so much going on over at GGPoker. I know that there’s probably a lot of interest to hear you. I’m not sure that I’ve heard you on an interview before so I’m guessing that there’s going to be at least some interest in that. We’ve covered some really great topics. Thanks again, JC, and good luck with the WSOP bracelet events online. That’s special.

Antoine: Thank you very much. We look forward to it. Go GG, I’ll say.

Mike: [chuckles] All right. Thanks again, JC.

Antoine: Bye.