The Successes and Challenges of Upstart Online Poker Room Run It Once Poker The Successes and Challenges of Upstart Online Poker Room Run It Once Poker

It has been over two months since Run It Once Poker went live, and so far based on player’s feedback and the traffic the site has received, RIO has been well received by the poker community.

The site launched with a limited range of game offerings, with No Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha 6-max cash games starting at €4 buy-in (2c/4c) and going up to €2000 (€10/€20). The client is still in beta mode and will remain in this phase until the platform is “nearly flawless,” according to Phil Galfond, the founder of RIO.

“I have to say, while it’s difficult and stressful most of the time, it’s a lot more fun and interesting than it was before launch!” wrote Galfond in his latest blog post titled 'Running a Poker Site: Two Months In.’ “There are so many potential areas to focus on, so much data to analyze, and we can now get quick feedback/results on any decision we make.”

Galfond went on to say that he is quite “happy with the launch,” but he is also finding it difficult to assess how things are going in general.

The Good

The site went live on February 6 with many unique features setting RIO apart from other online poker rooms. This includes a Dynamic Avatar system where each player’s avatar changes based on their recent play history; an AutoSeat blind lobby with fixed buy-ins which removes table selection; a ban on Heads-Up Displays; and a cap on the number of tables a player can play concurrently. All these features were designed to keep the games fair and to discourage predatory behavior.

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According to Galfond, the game quality so far has been “great.” He believes that the site’s innovative features may have contributed to providing good quality games as these policies generally tend to attract the recreational players more than the pros.

But, perhaps the most innovative of all the features, which was kept under wraps until the last minute, is the operator’s take on distributing rewards. Splash the Pot, as the name implies, returns 51% of all rake taken at the table in the form of extra money randomly added to pots. The extra money added to the pots range from 1 big blind to 1000 big blinds (on very rare occasions).

Although RIO Poker does charge rake which is higher than at other sites, the operator argues that its 51% rakeback brings the effective net rake—rake after rewards—down below its competitors.

RIO’s Splash the Pot idea is already proving to be a game-changing innovation as within a couple of weeks of its launch, another operator, GGNetwork, had already copied the feature. The Asian-focused network launched its own version of STP called Cash Drops which it introduced exclusively on its fast-fold tables with even more rakeback, 65%.

In addition to 51% rakeback offered by RIO, there have also been promotions running on a daily basis, effectively increasing the value of the rewards up to the equivalent of 80% rakeback. According to Galfond, these promotions have led to an increase in traffic to games that were previously dead.

The room is also offering a secondary rewards program called streamR to encourage players to stream their play on Twitch in exchange for 50% to 110% in additional rakeback based on the number of viewer hours accumulated in a month.

Galfond is pleased with the success of RIO’s streamR program. In his blog post, he wrote that 284 players have already been approved for the program with three players receiving 100% rakeback.

As far as the software is concerned, Galfond is also satisfied with the reactions players have had to the software, which according to him has been the site’s biggest hurdle. The software has performed well and players have seemed to enjoy it apart from the few glitches and bugs which a small group of players has been facing. The site has acknowledged these known issues, and the developers are working to fix them.

The Average

Traffic tracked by GameIntel and available live on the Poker Industry PRO platform, RIO’s cash game traffic (based on seven-day moving average} matches the levels of PokerStars New Jersey. The first few weeks were well attended, with traffic peaking at 117 concurrent cash game seats. However, once the novelty wore off, the traffic settled closer to 70 to 80 concurrent players. It currently ranks 42nd globally and is half the size of the UK-only Sky Poker and a fifth of the traffic of MPN.

Despite, these numbers not quite being up to the level of rooms like MPN and Unibet, Galfond is generally satisfied especially given the fact that the site is still in beta and the game offer is limited to cash games, with other formats such as Sit & Gos and MTTs yet to be spread. Galfond is optimistic about his site’s traffic growing significantly in the future once they add more game formats, payment methods, and get licensed in more regulated markets.

However, as Galfond states in his latest blog post, that he is disappointed with the traffic at the high stakes tables, as he had expected more high stakes players would try to figure out the slight changes in strategy presented by the room’s Splash the Pot concept.

“Unfortunately, those games haven’t been running as much as I’d hoped,” wrote Galfond. “I think that I underestimated how many people wouldn’t want to bother with the process of verifying their accounts and making large deposits.”

What Can Improve

The site still undoubtedly has a long way to go until it reaches parity with the competition. Galfond is aware that RIO will always face an uphill battle unless it launches MTTs, Sit & Gos and the jackpot-style lottery Sit & Gos which are immensely popular on other sites and are now ubiquitous with online poker. The site also lacks a mobile client on Apple and Android devices. Mobile is a key growth area for online poker, with the majority of new customer acquisitions today thought to come through mobile channels.

The site is also not available in certain key jurisdictions including the US, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia, Greece, and the European segregated market made up of the shared player pools in France, Spain, and Portugal. The operator is understood to have applied for a license in some of these countries.

RIO also lacks some popular software features such as the ability to resize tables, and there is no hand replayer or hotkeys. Some players have expressed that they would like to see the Splash the Pot algorithm tweaked so as to not encourage players to move all-in once a big Splash is added to the pot.

What to Expect in the Coming Weeks?

Despite all these challenges and hurdles, RIO likely considers the launch a success. Galfond is optimistic that the site will continue to grow in the future, and he has hinted that a big update featuring a number of additional improvements is coming soon. The company is working on features like resizeable tables, more customization options, and modifications to Splash the Pot, according to Galfond. An affiliate program is also in the works, the room has confirmed.

Furthermore, the RIO team is also working on adding more payment options including bitcoin deposits and withdrawals. The site is also awaiting approval from regulators to add a player-to-player transfer option.

Sit & Gos are also expected to be added in the near future, but Galfond has not provided a timeline yet. The addition of SNGs will be the room’s first major post-launch addition.

“I’m very excited to improve our platform for you in the coming weeks and months,” Galfond wrote. “Right now, we’re working toward more consistency and traffic so that those of you who are waiting for those things before jumping into the action can finally make that jump.”