You may know Tony G from his many television appearances, including the World Poker Tour. What you may not know is he has been a leader in the online poker world in Europe for some time. Tony was named CEO of top online poker room Poker Champs today, and I got a chance to catch up with him after a long day of meetings in Copenhagen, and talk about his new role in the exploding world of online poker.
PN: Tony, first of all, thanks for sitting down with us on such short notice.
Tony G: My pleasure, John
PN: Tell me the events that led up to you being named CEO of Poker Champs
TG: We had a general assembly today, to consider an offer from a major player in the market, and there was a proposal for a takeover situation of PokerChamps. I have been an active buyer of Poker Champs shares from other shareholders in order to try to stop the proposed take over offer. The reason for that is I strongly believe in the product, and believe we can help the poker players have more value for their money.
I think we have the most lucrative affiliate program in the business, and just looking at that, I felt that this company was worth so much more than what was available to us today. Everyone saw I was putting my money where my mouth was, and that I had a strong belief in the product. I think my passion led to this change for me.
Plus, I believe I brought a lot of my experience that I had in the marketplace, having been a prime affiliate for many sites for a long time, and everyone saw this. It was so nice to have the full support of everyone in the meeting, and on the board, and I am thankful for the opportunity.
PN: What was your prior title at Poker Champs, and what were your responsibilities?
TG. My position was Marketing Director up to today. So, my job was to improve growth for Poker Champs. Our growth was 23% a month on average since October of last year. Since I took over we had 60% jump in rake, and I think a lot of this is based on experiences I have had from Party Poker. They are really brilliant on how they market. And, being a prime affiliate for a long time now, and working closely with them, I think it has taught me a lot, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Party.
PN: Do you think that it is an advantage to have a player who thinks like a player running an online room?
TG: It can be, but I think at the end of the day, poker is a business. There are players who are gamblers, and players who are business people. I'd like to think that I am a business person first and a player second.
From poker, I have a lot of experience, and I have had a lot of ups & downs. But I think as a player, sometimes you don't have easy decisions, and playing gives you a strong backbone, and an underpinning that serves you well in business.
I'm sure many people base their opinions on me from what they see on television, but I am quite different away from the poker table, the thing that counts the most is doing right by people. I think my skills serve me well in this new role.
PN: Does this mean the end of Tony G the poker player?
TG: Absolutely not, and in fact I will continue to play a lot, and play a lot on Poker Champs itself. At what other room would you play a sit n go with the CEO of the company?
PN: Tell me where you think Poker Champs is going, and what specifically you will do to try to take it in a new direction.
TG: I want to take Poker Champs on a course toward the goal of getting listed on the AIM exchange in London. I am going to London next, where I will meet with the current suitors, as well as some others who have indicated interest. I am working hard to build maximum value for shareholders. Still, I will meet with suitors as we move toward the goal of being listed on the AIM exchange.
We are a very secure company at Poker Champs. We are subject to stringent licensing laws in Malta, as Malta is part of the EU. All of our depositors money is secure, and kept separately from operations. We have an extremely strong, and talented development team in AGLET, they work exclusively with us on developing our software. Recent market surveys have indicated Poker Champs software to be one of the top rated, which is amazing considering there are some things that need further development, like our histories, and notes features. The software functionality has been incredible, we have had large jumps in player traffic, specifically in the last couple months and it is amazing how AGLET have developed such a smoothly functioning client. There have been virtually zero hiccups.
PN: How involved was Gus Hansen (the face of Poker Champs) in this decision, and will he continue to be heavily involved in the site?
TG: Gus is very much part of Poker Champs, and he is very behind the entire company. He was at the General Assembly today, and in fact when the meeting broke, Gus, myself, and Erik Sagstrom (online legend Erik123) took a long walk. On this walk, here I was talking about this great site, with two of the most respected players in the game, and seeing their excitement about Poker Champs only fuels my motivation further. Having Erik, who many consider to be the most successful online player ever and Gus this excited about the site only bodes well for the players who play on the site. These guys are players, they think like players, and this can only help the people who play at Poker Champs.
PN: So, What do you see for the future of online poker? Do you think the smaller rooms will be eaten up by the bigger ones, or will they just die away?
TG: I'm not sure, but I know there are a couple rooms that started on nearly the exact same day we did, and they are no more.
The thing about where online poker is now, the market is very tough. The player acquisition costs are going through the roof, and it is becoming impractical for some of the smaller rooms to compete. Poker Champs is acquiring about 1,000 new players a day, which is quite good for a room of our size. I'm amazed that we can handle this kind of growth, and again, I attribute it to our partners at AGLET, who have been doing incredible work.
We are heavily investing in support, and this is something I feel is very critical. It is important that players feel secure, and this is something I will focus a lot of my energy on.
PN: What about governmental regulation? Will the US government ever see the light?
TG: Well, Malta is part of the EU, and therefore Poker Champs is part of the EU, and we feel very confident the EU will give us support, should the American regulators come in a heavy way. They want to support their companies who employ people in the EU, in the business of gaming. Obviously, the gaming industry does not sit well with certain churches, and certain lobby groups in America, but we feel we need to have a license that is very strong. If your room is licensed in a less governed area, like Central America, or the Caribbean, you are taking a big risk with your money. We want people to feel safe at Poker Champs, and we feel we have a huge edge over the competition in this regard.
PN: Tony, I want to thank you for your time today, and I wish you all the best with Poker Champs.
TG: Thanks John.
Ed Note: With Tony, Gus, and Erik123, Poker Champs has to be the players favorite.