Scott Wilson has been at Paradise Poker for five years, as Paradise was one of the first online poker sites on the web, and continues to be one of the leading sites in the increasingly crowded world of online poker. In this interview, Scott talks about the current state of online poker, and what life is like in Paradise.
PN: Where do you feel Paradise Poker is in the marketplace today, and where do you think it will be in two years time.
The market when I was first in this, we represented 50% of the market numerically. There was basically us, Planet Poker, and the Highlands Club back in 2000. And very quickly, we had 80% of that market. Now, we're easily ten times the size that we were back then, but we represent single figures in terms of market share. It really shows you what has happened to this market. If you decline from 80% to single digits, market share wise but you grow ten fold...it really shows you that there is something going on here.
PN: So, two years from now, where is it going?
SW: Well, its gotten to the point where the market is saturated with online poker sites, I would say. From those original two or three rooms, you now are at about 500 rooms. Many of these are skins, and parts of networks etc, but I would say there has to be some consolidation in the market place. I say this with bias, because obviously we were consolidated.
We felt in order to stay competitive in the market, and take advantage of some synergies that were offered to us by hooking up with another company, we had to make that move in order to stay competitive with the networks that were growing pretty fast. You have Cryptologic, and Prima Poker and that type of model. Although those aren't as profitable as stand alone operators, if you want to be competitive as far as you what you can offer for prize pools, and you must have this critical mass of 10,000 players or so a night to do that. We are there now, and are quite proud of the progress we have made.
We are sending 200 + players to the WSOP, and between us, Party, and Stars, I think that will represent 1/3 of the field.
PN: You just had your huge event, the Masters Two last week. Talk about how that went, and what plans are in store for more of these types of events.
SW: Exactly. We did Masters one a couple months back, and guaranteed $1,000,000, then we just did Masters two, and pushed the prize pool to $1.5 million. We actually added about $200,000 to that prize pool.
We are doing Masters III on September 17th, and the prize pool will be over $1,000,000. We will also shoot number three for television.
PN: Talk about the transition since the Sportingbet acquisition, and how this will effect Paradise players, as well as the company itself.
SW: Other than a couple companies who started as a sports book, and now offer an inferior in my opinion poker product to what we have, we now are offering a sports book product at Paradise. Also, this is a known, longtime online book, Sportsbook.com so people can trust their money there. Within a couple months, players will be able to transition pretty seamlessly between the sportsbook, and the poker side. Pretty much everyone is trying poker these days, as everyone thinks they are good at poker, so we feel we will have a big influx of players to the Paradise site.
So, we will give players a lot of choice. This new flexibility will allow players more options, and the new influx of players from the sportsbook.com side will maybe be not as mature or developed as players, which will be a big advantage to current Paradise players.
PN: In your position, what will your goals be toward effecting positive change in the online gaming world.
SW: When a customer comes in, and has a problem, we want to make sure that we deal with it appropriately. For example, when we are done with this, I have a longtime customer who has a problem, and I am going to call him myself. I think it is that serious of an issue. This is a longtime player, and this is a serious issue, so I feel the personal contact is worth it.
PN: What do you see as the future of online gaming? Do you see more acquisitions? Rooms merging? Rooms folding?
SW: I don't know about outright folding. Customer base is pretty tough to establish these days. In the early days, we could get players on a per click ad basis for pennies. For the price of a Kool Aid, we were getting new customers. Now, that is just not an option.
If you are a new company, or a similar type of company, and you want to start a poker operation, you have a few choices. You can go out and saddle up to a skin type "white label" operation, or you can acquire somebody. I think as we get more down the line, and some of the mid level operators lose interest, or stop wanting to fighting the good fight, there probably will be some opportunities for larger companies to swallow up those big fish. I do think we are near the height of the number of poker rooms that are out there. Why would you play at a place with four tables, when you can play at a place with 400, and have giant prize pools, etc.
PN: From a software/user perspective, what will the average user be seeing in their online gaming experience five years from now.
That's a tough one to figure out. Its tough to see what players are showing an interest in. When we initially came out, we were really fearing this one room that had fantastic graphics, and we felt people were going to flock to this particular site, as the visual experience was fantastic. Over time, we found out that visuals were not that important for poker players, and that players cared much more about speed of play, and the ability to play several hands at once, etc. The pure game of it is much more important to most players, as opposed to avatars, and bells, and whistles, etc.
Ed Note: You can qualify for nearly any WPT tournament at Paradise Poker