History of the ups and downs of online poker
The 20-year history of online poker can be divided into two large parts based on traffic dynamics. Unfortunately, statistical sites like PokerScout were created in 2006, so there is a lack of traffic information at the beginning of the industry.
The Moneymaker effect and the golden age of online poker
The first, and so far, the only, universally recognized online poker boom occurred in 2003, and the trigger was the so-called "Moneymaker Effect." In short, a Canadian accountant — Chris Moneymaker — who won the WSOP Main Event after qualifying for $39 in a satellite at PokerStars.
According to available data, in 2003, the number of poker games across the Internet grew by 12%.
PokerScout confirms that online poker kept growing steadily in the following years until the end of 2010; two main reasons influenced such rates:
- Lack of regulation (except in the United States, where most rooms simply ignored UIGEA act until 2011);
- The presence of a vast initial base of poker fans, not yet covered by online poker rooms.
Black Friday or counter boom
The chart above shows that the difference between the New Year's traffic peaks in 2010 and 2011 had nothing to do with the previous three years. Even then, online poker started to reach the top in its development, but what happened in the United States on April 15, 2011, changed everything forever.
That day, later called "Black Friday," the FBI, in compliance with the UIGEA act, blocked the websites of the four largest poker rooms in the USA and issued arrest warrants for 11 people from their management.
As a result, the largest group of players — Americans, were suddenly kicked out of almost all poker rooms and networks. Since then, the overall poker traffic has dropped by at least 10% per year.
But then, the spring of 2020 came, and almost the whole world switched to a regime of self-isolation.
The biggest traffic boost in the history of online poker
This unexpected situation led to a significant jump in the popularity of the entire Internet entertainment industry. For poker, it turned into a new boom, one bigger than ever if we consider the growth rate of traffic in the last two months.
Below, we provide a table on the average number of cash players per week across the six largest poker rooms and networks (according to PokerScout):
|Poker room/Network||December 2017||December 2018||March 2020||April 2020||% 2020 to 2017|
The number of players in online poker rooms has doubled in a month. And compared with the annual peak of 2017 — +146%.
We must highlight that we consider only six of the most important poker rooms in the industry and not all the sites. In part, this is because PokerScout is unable to track all traffic right now. Poker applications (PPPoker and others), and private local rooms (American, Israeli, Chinese) can account for up to 10% of the global poker traffic, and the number of games in them has also increased significantly.
Therefore, it's logical to conclude that now the number of games online is at the level of the first years after Black Friday.
Has the peak been reached yet?
How long can the boom continue? Has traffic reached its maximum?
To hypothesize about these subjects, we used the Google Trends tool. After all, all newcomers and fans from brick and mortar casinos always do an initial search.
There are the dynamics of the basic "online poker" query over the last five years:
We can see a twofold increase in this topic and its decline in late April.
But the outlook for the last 16 years is not as enthusiastic and reveals something more interesting: Black Friday had a substantial impact on online poker, but the decline in popularity began a few years earlier.
In general, the peak of the boom has already been reached, and the decline is beginning.
The following image shows the data from the query "PPPoker" (for other apps, the result is about the same):
Mobile poker apps will probably be able to hold tight much longer than classic poker rooms and will lose less traffic.
It is clear that the above forecasts about the dynamics of the boom are very arbitrary, and it's impossible to talk about any specific details of online poker due to the large number of external factors that affect it.
However, we can identify some positive and negative factors that started to manifest themselves in the spring of 2020, which, in our opinion, will have a significant impact on the further development of online poker after the pandemic.
- Live brands that have migrated online will understand the perks of a more significant presence on the Internet and won't reduce it even after quarantine is lifted;
- Many live poker players who have never played online will also understand all the advantages of online poker. This is especially true for "club" apps like PPPoker, which are similar to live games;
- Many companies have experienced positive effects by transferring their employers to remote work schedule, and won't abandon them. This can lead to an increase in the potential audience for online entertainment;
- Those who played at home with friends on the weekends were forced to switch to PPPoker, Upoker, and PokerBros.
- The sudden increase in load on servers, support, and payment systems led to a rise in the number of crashes in the rooms. The number of negative reviews and comments about these is growing, and that may alienate some newcomers;
- The worsening economic situation in the world and the increase in unemployment will lead to a collapse in the activity of recreational players.
The last point deserves additional comment because, although it might be true, in our opinion it is exaggerated.
Yes, the crisis will take away from the industry some of the players who played a little poker, who are now forced to save money, but at the same time, high stakes players will be obligated to cut their stakes due to the same economic factors.
The outflow of people who began to experience the impact of the crisis will be compensated by offline players who came to the Internet. In other words, the live poker industry will suffer the most damaging effects of quarantine.
New user habits
Something that will benefit online poker after the self-isolation is the new user habits of live players, who are changing their life as we write this article.
Many players who discover online poker during this time will realize that, besides being a fun activity, it could be a profitable one, and even they will mix some of the games and beer with friends at home with online poker for real money.
We believe that, despite the changes the world is facing right now, online poker, as a sub-niche of the gambling industry that has co-existed with the humanity forever, will be able to enter strengthened and "mobilized" it the second half of 2020 which is a good sign for the future.
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