Keep it Closed? Not All Ontario Online Poker Players Want a Global Player Pool Keep it Closed? Not All Ontario Online Poker Players Want a Global Player Pool

Ontario’s current poker ecosystem is significantly more sustainable. When Ontario launched regulated online poker two years ago, it sparked discontent among Ontario players because of the adoption of the closed liquidity model.

This move confined Ontario online poker players to face off against fellow Ontarians only. Segregation meant bidding farewell to the global player pool and instead contending for smaller prize pools and limited liquidity.

Ontario poker players protested. A grassroots movement was formed and a Discord server under the name “Ontario Poker Players for Global Pool Access” (now renamed to Ontario Poker Players) emerged as a platform for voicing dissent. Multiple petitions were also created to convince the regulator to reconsider their stance on opening up poker liquidity.

Now, two years later, as Ontario considers rejoining the international player pool — thanks in part to lobbying efforts by GGPoker — a peculiar turn of events has transpired. Many players have reversed their stance.

“I strongly feel that segregation is in the best interest of both the players and the government,” Ryan Martin, an Ontario-based poker player and longtime Run It Once coach, told pokerfuse. “Ontario’s current poker ecosystem is significantly more sustainable than that of the international pool.”

Martin isn’t the only one who now feels this way. The ring-fenced player pool, initially met with resistance, has now found general favor among many regular players. The same group of players that initially campaigned against ring-fencing now advocates for its retention.

Why? Profitability. Contrary to initial apprehensions, the Ontario-only player pool turned out to be notably softer.

“The full-time and part-time regulars at each stake are, on average, less skilled than their international counterparts, leading to a healthier ratio of regular to recreational players,” Martin explained.

Ontario Regs Happy Ring-Fenced

Many Ontario players who previously struggled to turn a profit when they were part of the dot-com pool noticed improvements in their prospects — and return on investment. Although closed liquidity resulted in reduced prize pools in tournaments, the trade-off comes with a significant reduction in variance owing to the smaller field size.

The global pool is rife with a lot of grinders, coaching stables, colluders, bots, etc. that will hurt the average Ontario player in bottom line Martin further highlighted the economic disparities between regions like Ontario and places such as Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia, where poker serves as a more significant source of livelihood for many players because of lower median income.

“We have one of the higher costs of living in the world and as a result, you cannot grind 25nl or 50nl (or probably even 100nl) and make a living here. That you CAN do this and live comfortably in places like Eastern Europe, South America, SE Asia, etc. is a big factor in why the NLHE cash environment in international liquidity pools is in as poor a state as it is,” Martin further said.

“If Ontario finds itself back in the international pool in the near future, the result will be less Ontarians spending time playing poker and thereby less revenue for the province,” he explained.

Limited Shared Liquidity Still Appeals

We contacted several players to gather their perspectives on the ring-fenced model. Another, who wished to remain anonymous, echoed similar sentiments, expressing concerns about the challenges posed by the global player pool.

“The global pool is rife with a lot of grinders, coaching stables, colluders, bots, etc. that will in general hurt the average Ontario player in bottom line,” a player told pokerfuse.

However, when asked if they would prefer the idea of inter-provincial shared liquidity with other Canadian provinces — or potentially even pooling with the US — the consensus was a unanimous yes.

“I personally LOVE the idea of inter-provincial shared liquidity and shared liquidity w/ the United States,” Martin told pokerfuse. “All of the things I mentioned above would be true for both of those scenarios and contribute to a second North American Poker Boom.”

“I would love the idea of an inter-provincial shared liquidity with the rest of Canada or shared liquidity with the US states,” another Ontario-based player told pokerfuse.

What’s the Best for Ontario?

This sentiment — shutting out the international player pool, either entirely segregated or limited sharing with neighbors — is surprising given the initial stance of players and their protests. However, a similar pattern has occurred in other markets that have take the segregated path: Regular players and pros enjoyed much better games in Spain post-regulation, for example, often more than offsetting the downsides of smaller player pools and tournament guarantees.

But this picture is only half the story. Playing in softer games benefits everyone, but casual and recreational players — playing poker for entertainment rather than pure monetary gain — presumably hold other priorities. For them, liquidity is key.

International liquidity means games around the clock, less waiting time between tournaments and Sit and Gos, a wider selection of poker variants, and bigger tournament guarantees. While polling this group is harder, one can certainly find sentiment online from players lamenting the closed liquidity for missing out on big tournaments in the global player pool.

The closed liquidity model also has downsides that are less apparent, but just as important. With lower prizes, regulated operators have less to promote. This hampers the ability to attract players, who may instead be drawn toward unlicensed sites. This trend has been observed in ring-fenced markets like Italy, Pennsylvania, France, Spain and New Jersey (prior to their merger). It reduces competition, as many operators will avoid segregated markets. This, in turn, means less tax money for the state or province, less money put into problem gambling awareness, and fewer consumer protections.

Long term, it inhibits market growth. Open player pools foster a healthy, competitive market environment. Black-market sites find themselves with little to offer, while legal, regulated platforms attract more players. Regulators can increase tax revenue generation with greater market control, while operators can provide consumers with a better product offering.

This translates to a better player experience, increased choice and more protection. But sure — short term, it may boost player’s profits.