It is being reported at 2+2, the world’s biggest poker forum, that Absolute Poker has set a limit of $250 per week on withdrawals from their site. However, no limit has been set on how much money may be deposited, and it is suspected that Absolute Poker does not have enough capital to cover the amounts of money in players’ accounts. The move has caused considerable fear and distress for customers who have deposited funds with Absolute Poker. Others have been less than sympathetic, pointing to AP’s unfortunate past of being involved with fraudulent activity. Many feel that this site should have been boycotted after their handling of the 2007 Online Cheating Scandal.
European poker players have been inundated with promotional E-mails, since Black Friday, from companies hoping to capitalise on the paranoia among the customers of the biggest operators.
When news broke that three major online card rooms, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker had had control of their websites seized by the FBI, many players panicked. Rumours circulated though online forums that players might never see a dollar of their money, and that these companies were going to be permanently shut down by the US government. It was even published, by at least one irresponsible website, that these companies had stolen their players’ money!
It did not take long for European-based competitors to jump on the bandwagon – sending out messages to boast of trustworthiness! Here are a few examples:
As already reported by PokerBlackFriday.com, European sites have been increasing their traffic during the past week, as a result of the panic. But now that the District Attorney’s office has passed back control of some .com domains, things might change. Along with this announcement is the fact that the largest site, PokerStars, has issued a reassuring FAQ for its customers, and are also offering a 50% deposit bonus – the most generous deposit bonus in their history (discounting first-time deposit bonuses).
The largest competitor to the indicted sites is Party Poker. They enjoyed a huge boost to their share price in the aftermath of Black Friday. Party was one of the sites who banned US players back in 2006 with the advent of the UIGEA. At the time of this legislation, Party Poker was the biggest online poker room, both in terms of assets and customers. They suffered enormous losses in revenue after taking the decision to boycott the US market. But they managed to survive, and must now feel as though the decision is paying off quite handsomely.
The likelihood is, after the dust settles, that many players will return to the biggest card rooms, as they offer the biggest selection of games and the biggest prizes online. But for now, the smaller European sites have been given the chance to attract more business. And perhaps, if they provide a good enough service, they will keep some of those customers for years to come.
One phenomenon of the poker-boom has been the explosion of the World Series of Poker. From a tiny, obscure event at ‘Binion’s Horseshoe’ back in 1971, it has now grown into an enormous, multi-million-dollar festival, drawing poker players from 117 countries, and being broadcast on TV all over world.
Looking at the Main Event, here are the numbers of entrants for the past five years:
- 2006 8773
- 2007 6358
- 2008 6844
- 2009 6494
- 2010 7319
In October 2006, the UIGEA came into operation. This clearly had an adverse effect on the size of the Main Event. Before this act, sites like Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars were able to register their satellite winners into the Main Event. One of the results of UIGEA was that these sites had to award cash to satellite winners and then hope the players would use that money to play at the World Series Of Poker.
However, the WSOP comfortably survived this bill, and it did seem as though the numbers were going to pick up again. But now there is some anxiety over the future of the WSOP. Although there is almost no chance of the WSOP coming to an end, if entries were to drop by a very large number, the Series might fail to draw the same number of television viewers it has enjoyed in recent years.
The 2011 World Series, where fifty-eight champion’s bracelets will be awarded, is scheduled to begin on 31st May at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. None of the indicted websites had begun promoting satellites into the WSOP at the time their domains were seized, but this was expected to start very soon. Historically, online card rooms have been the most prolific contributors for players at the Main Event. PokerStars alone sent 839 players to the world’s biggest poker tournament last year – 11.5% of the total field.
ESPN holds the broadcasting rights for the WSOP. They renewed their partnership with Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment in 2009, for an undisclosed sum, to run until 2017. However, ESPN is already taking action to distance itself from the troubled world of poker by removing programmes and advertising associated with any of the accused poker sites. Although, a later statement made it clear that, at least for now, the 2011 World Series coverage should go ahead as normal.
Having said that, what will be normal? Any US players, who wish to participate, will have to win a live satellite, or pay the entry fee themselves. This will definitely lower the number of entries by a significant amount. Then there is the question of advertising. In the past, players who won a satellite online were covered, from head-to-toe, in advertising logos. Even if ESPN does broadcast events from the WSOP, it is likely they will rewrite the rules, disallowing any type of advertising for online card rooms. This will obviously make the festival much less attractive for online poker sites to become involved with, and it might reduce the number of promotional, or ‘money-added’ satellites that have been offered by poker sites in the past.
Another possible reason for fewer players, is that without the large amount of amateurs making up the numbers at the Main Event, those who travelled from around the world, to play in this tournament, may not be so tempted to do this in future.
It is possible that the smaller events at the World Series might see an increase in players though. People who want to take part in the WSOP, but who cannot afford to pay $10,000 for the Main Event, may well make the trip to Vegas to play smaller events. In the past, the organisers have run daily satellites to the Main Event, and the number of those satellites is bound to go through the roof in 2011, as people from around the country gather in the desert to chase their dream of becoming the World Series Of Poker ‘Main Event Champion’.
Since the ban of US players at online poker rooms, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, peak times have not changed very much. Of course, peak traffic has fallen by a significant amount. Absolute poker lifted their ban on US players on 18th April, but let’s take a look at some numbers for the other two sites.
This graph shows the daily high count of traffic for the first twenty days of April. We can see the sharp drop of traffic at both PokerStars (red) & Full Tilt (Blue). There are expected sharp increases at the end of each weekend (4th, 11th, 18th days).
This graphs shows the time of day that traffic was at its greatest (Pacific Central Time is used). We can see that the loss of US players has only had a very small effect on this statistic.
This might appear strange at first glance, given that the vast majority of traffic now seen at the major sites consists of players from across Europe and Asia. But there is a good reason for this anomaly.
When PokerStars launched, at the end of 2001, the site had focussed most, if not all, of their attention on the US market. The same can be said for Full Tilt Poker, which launched in the summer of 2004. The evidence of this can still be seen all over the software, with the default site-times being in EST, and the default currency for real-money poker being USD.
Their daily traffic peak naturally fell at times suited to players in the United States. This means the busiest times were late afternoon/early evening during the week, and all afternoon/evening at the weekends. This resulted in the important multi-table tourneys being scheduled at, or around the peak each day. As popularity spread throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, players outside the US had to adjust to EST if they wanted to take part in the most popular events.
The first player to top the PokerStars Annual Tournament Leader Board, for the year of 2003, was Riverloser from Sweden. PokerBlackFriday.com caught up with Riverloser who told us,
“In those days the only option was to work all night if you wanted to be successful in multis. After some time, this became the normal pattern for me.”
Riverloser, who has 25 cashes in the WCOOP continued,
“The WCOOP is more of a problem for European players. Considering how long the tourneys take, the start times are way too late for most people living outside the US.”
Another successful European player – copi from Austria, who is 4th on the all-time WCOOP cashes list, said
“I try to play as many events as I can, but it is never easy starting a 15-hour tourney when the rest of the country is going to sleep.”
Most serious regular players from outside the US have had to adjust their sleep patterns to coincide with the inconvenient schedules at PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Because the schedules have not been changed since the ban on US players, neither has the daily traffic peak.
What we cannot see from available statistics, is how many more people would be playing in multis, and the big events like FTOPS, SCOOP, WCOOP if the start times were moved back a few hours. Of course, one cannot please all the people all of the time, but the major operators really need to look at where the volume of their players now reside, and tailor the start-times for those customers.
Full Tilt is currently running their 20th FTOPS series. Going by Central European Time, there are a total of 45 events, starting at 20:00, 23:00, and 03:00. With the most popular events starting at 23:00 and 03:00. It is unrealistic to expect a player to start playing a tourney with a long structure at this time of night. It makes the events practically unplayable for anyone with regular jobs or a family. Anyone with an engagement the day before or after a tourney that starts at 3am is going to be seriously inconvenienced at best, and have to totally miss the tourney at worst.
The upcoming SCOOP at PokerStars is not much more appealing to European players either. The start times there are 20:00, 23:00 & 02:00.
Using statistics from PokerStars’ WCOOP as a guide, let’s look at which countries cashed the most number of players. Without including US players, there have been 32,112 cashes in WCOOP history.
Although these are cashes, it is probably safe to assume that this data gives us a good guide to the number of entrants from these regions. It is clear from this graph, that when choosing start times for multis, the European player should be considered the most important.
It is the opinion of PokerBlackFriday.com, that the biggest sites would gain a lot more business across Europe, and indeed Asia, by rethinking the start times of their multis.
PokerStars have created a FAQ (this link works but not if your local DNS server still has the old data) to answer all the concerns for US players. Here are some of the key points:
Regarding player balances:
- You will be allowed to cashout the money from your PokerStars account.
- It will take several weeks before PokerStars will be able to setup a processor to undertake these cashouts.
- No player to player transfers will be allowed involving a US player.
- Any accumulated tourney tickets or tourney dollars (T$) will be converted into cash.
- No ruling yet for FPP Balances.
Regarding future play for US Citizens:
- No player will be allowed to play real money poker from within the United States – even a tourist with an account registered overseas.
- No account registered to the United States can be used to play for real money – even if logging in from overseas.
- Players who can show legitimate residence outside the US will have their accounts reopened and be allowed to play as normal.
- Play money accounts can still be created via PokerStars.net
A summary of these points is that US players should be able to get all their money back, and will not suffer any financial losses, however it will take weeks for this to happen. Furthermore, it seems unlikely at this stage, that we will ever see the return of American players to the major online Poker Rooms.
Department of Justice issued a statement that it has reached an agreement with FullTiltPoker and PokerStars. The two poker giants are getting their .com -domain names back. Since last friday, also known as black friday of poker, the two biggest in online poker world has used other domains. PokerStars started to use pokerstars.eu and FullTiltPoker started to use fulltiltpoker.co.uk.
This is the first step for US players to get refunds underway. At the moment both sites have stopped real money play for US players.
Following the events of Black Friday, some US poker professionals are already making plans to move abroad. Academically qualified players may return to other careers, a few might even have other sources of income they can rely upon. But there are still many professionals in the United States who are simply out of options.
High-volume players, some of whom were netting a six-figure income from online poker, have been left reeling by the recent crisis. They have not only had their online funds frozen, but have effectively been forced out of work. Some of the hardest hit players are those with ‘Supernova Elite’ status at PokerStars. This enhanced VIP level earns a player various bonuses and benefits, easily worth over $100,000 per year. PokerStars is already making contact with its Supernova Elites and is offering them advice on how to relocate.
In terms of continuing to play online, It is clear that the current restrictions facing US Players are not based upon location but, rather, to which country the individual account holder has registered their account. In order to play at one of the sites in question, one would need to prove residence in a country outside the United States. This would mean forwarding a utility bill for example. The customer would also require an overseas bank account. As long as these criteria are satisfied, it should be possible for an American player to continue playing at the affected sites.
Canada would be the nearest country for most people in the United States to move to. But a more tempting option might be to move to a European country. On average, the cost of living is higher in Europe than in the United States, but this should be easily offset by the potential tax benefits. European citizens do not pay income tax on poker winnings if the site they are playing on is based in the European Union. Better still, British citizens are not required to pay income tax on any gaming profits whatsoever.
Along with the benefits of being able to play online again, there is also wide potential for live play in Europe. PokerStars backs the lucrative European Poker Tour (EPT) along with several other live poker tours in individual countries including Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and the UK.
There is a question as to whether it would be worthwhile for the regular grinders to continue playing the game. It is estimated that at the time of the ban, players based in the United States accounted for around 35% of revenue at PokerStars, Full Tilt, & Absolute Poker. This reduction in players might make goals of Supernova Elite somewhat less realistic. It might not be possible for former players to relocate and still generate the same amount of play in the long run, given a 35% drop in traffic. On the other hand, this crisis may yet have had an effect on the overall quality of play seen at the tables.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which resulted in most poker sites pulling out of the US Market, along with the main payment processor for gaming sites, Neteller, forced many casual players away from online poker. This was through fear of losing their money – under threat of being involved in an illegal activity, loss of confidence in the sector – due to market instability, or just by the awkward logistics of transferring money to and from the poker sites. Removing some of the casual players obviously leaves a higher percentage of serious, or more experienced people at the tables. Therefore the quality of play among online players from the United States probably increased at this time. Some have suggested that removing these players from the market, so suddenly, will allow European professionals to increase their win rate in the long run. Only time will tell if the average level of poker competence has been affected in the long run.
But although a regular player may find it harder to maintain his volume of play, the temptation of an increased ROI just might make that move worthwhile after all.
Juha Helppi ( http://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=2157) talks about Black Friday of poker to Pokerisivut.com.
What was you initial reaction?
- Initially I was a bit surprised but after all I think it was all bound to happen.
So you thought already before this would happen?
- I wondered it took this long. Not that this affects me at all because I don’t play on those sites. For poker this is still really bad.
Do you think these actions taken by DoJ will be limited to ones taken so far?
- Hard to say. There are still quite a few sites accepting US players and I believe those will need to leave sooner or later. I don’t play on these sites either so it really doesn’t affect me.
What’s going to happen to World Series of Poker?
- The fields will be much smaller. I planned to go there but now I have to think if it’s better to stay in Finland. This whole situation sucks.
How do you think this will affect games of EU-sites?
- Most likely they will pick up more traffic which is obviously a good thing. It’s not guaranteed though as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker have lots of traffic from Europe and South-America.
What happens to Nosebleeds?
- They won’t exists anymore as they were running mostly because of US players, weren’t they. Of course this depends on what is considered as Nosebleed, I believe 100/200 games will run in the future.
Pokerisivut talked to Ilari ‘Ziigmund’ Sahamies on Monday. Ziigmund lost $37k the previous night which is in the line how he has been running lately. He lost a big pot to a one outer last night and told he’s done with Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.
What was your first reaction to Black Friday?
- Nothing special really. I don’t know what happens next and I won’t be depositing to Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars for now.
Do you think player’s money are safe at PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker?
- I believe so. Though you never know what happens.
Do you think Black Friday will affect World Series of Poker?
- Of course. I wasn’t planning to go this year anyway.
Where are you going to play in the future?
- Only EU-sites and live poker until we all know more about what will happen.
What happens to Nosebleeds?
- Hard to guess. Maybe they will move to some EU-site.
According to PokerScout’s statistics global poker traffic took a severe hit shrinking 23% after the historical Black Friday of Poker. Full Tilt Poker is down 48%, PokerStars 25% and Cereus network 39%.
At the same time smaller networks accepting US players are growing lead by 23% growth of Merge. European facing poker rooms are gaining momentum as well lead by PartyPoker with 9% growth.
Pokerscout estimates that biggest short term winners will be small US facing networks. As Pokerscout states this is very risky business and PokerBlackFriday.com thinks these sites will close their US action pretty soon. This development can already be seen as VictoryPoker CEO asked Cake to block their US players from Victory Poker.
PokerBlackFriday.com thinks these sites will close their US action pretty soon. This development can already be seen as VictoryPoker CEO asked Cake to block their US players from Victory Poker.