The 2009 Poker Roundtable, Vol. 1
Editors' preface: PokerNews welcomes the New Year by asking a number of industry experts to share their views on the past, present and – most importantly – the future of poker. Over the next several days, these experts' opinions serve to outline the shape of the modern poker world and provide an indication of what 2009 and beyond might hold. PokerNews also notes that these experts' opinions do not necessarily represent the views of PokerNews.
Contributing to today's question are: Matthew Parvis, Editor-in-Chief of Bluff Magazine; Brian Balsbaugh, the founder of top player-representation agency Poker Royalty; Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the World Series of Poker; Paul "Dr. Pauly" McGuire, the author of the Tao of Poker blog and columnist for Bluff Magazine; PokerDB founder Nat Arem; noted tournament director and manager of the Commerce Casino poker room, Matthew Savage; and famed high-stakes cash and tournament player Barry Greenstein, a member of Team PokerStars Pro.
Today's question: You've been sent back in time to Jan 1, 2003. If you could, what one thing that could be attributed to poker's "boom" would you prevent or change?
Matthew Parvis: I would prevent ESPN taking six months to edit down the coverage and I would have changed the lead time to be much more timely. I think that ESPN and the World Poker Tour at that time, not knowing really what was going to become of poker, they took for granted that they had to make a product that kind of already had the power to sell itself. That, in turn, lead to this domino effect where all poker production, until maybe this year, has been stale and has been dominated essentially by the fact that poker fans know the outcome of events before we watch the actual events occur on television. Nobody is going to be interested in the Super Bowl if they know who wins the Super Bowl before they watch it.
It's taken us five years to get to a point where we're trying to push the envelope, and it's such a big deal with Harrah's delaying the final table and trying to get as live a broadcast as possible. I do understand the need for the hole cards for the general viewers; however, I think that people were capable enough in 2003 to put together a more timely product and I think that if we had done that, the boom would have been even greater than it was.
Brian Balsbaugh: If I had a magic wand and could change anything in 2003, it would be the legal ambiguity surrounding online poker. Instead of dealing with offshore operators, I would be negotiating with Microsoft, Yahoo, MGM, Harrah's and Google. At the very least, it would open the door for more mainstream sponsorship and provide more competition for player deals. That's been the black cloud surrounding poker and I'm hopeful it won't be long before online poker is regulated.
Jeffrey Pollack: That's a great question... If I were sent back in time to 2003, I would have encouraged Harrah's to make an earlier acquisition of the World Series of Poker and allowed me to put our team in place right then and there. It would have been nice to have started doing what we've been doing since 2005, two years ahead of time. It would've made this all even more interesting and fun.
Nat Arem: If I could do something like that then sure, I wish that… this is going to sound bad because it is an industry that I helped to develop, but I wish that all of the things that made the poker world less fishy would've never developed. That would include things like datamining stuff, like what we do at the PokerDB or all those other things. It would also include CardRunners. It would include StoxPoker. It would include things like rakeback; I wish rakeback had never been developed. All of this stuff. I just wish that it never happened. There's nothing I could do to stop it. The reason why is because it turns poker into this business that essentially exists entirely for the good players to extract money as quickly as possible from the bad players. I know that good players are going to win and there's nothing that can be done there.
I feel like poker has become a little too predatory and a little bit less fun over like that last three or four years for a lot of people. I think that's just a bad thing. I know the guys who are grinders, who play eight tables for seven hours a day. At one point I was that person. I know those people who do that, bring a lot of business to the poker room; they keep games running and all this other stuff, but I feel like the rakeback incentives for people to essentially just sit there and grind all day – I feel like it's bad for the game when people can play 12 tables, slow down every table, make the game less fun for the folks who just want to come in and gamble. It's too late for some of this stuff. You can't get rid of the PokerDB, OPR (Official Poker Rankings), SharkScope, CardRunners, Stox, PXF (PokerXFactor)… All those business are entrenched now and people are used to it, so there's not that much that can be done. I think it would be more negative to try to get rid of all of them than it would be to have originally stopped them. I actually think that the PokerDB is less predatory than some of them, but now that I look back on it, I think it would've been better if there had just been a blanket ban on all that stuff.
Dr. Pauly: My immediate answer would be to show up with large bags of cash to certain key members in our society that supposedly control the power. So that would be the large payoff in bribes to people in the IRS, the Department of Justice, Dick Cheney, and certain key members in Congress. I firmly believe if that the powers to be — the politicians and certain members in the banking industry — if they had their palms greased before all of this, they would've just looked the other way and they would've pretty much ignored any sort of campaign by pro-UIGEA persons and that might have prevented the UIGEA getting attached to the security bill. That is kind of far-fetched, but at the same time too, we can't really travel back in time.
Matthew Savage: I wish the WSOP was less corporate. It you ask any of the pros they all agree that poker was more fun and most of the tradition has been lost. I do however realize that Harrah's has done many good things for the growth of the game.
Barry Greenstein: Well, it's really clear that there are three things that people will attribute to the internet boom. One they call the "Moneymaker Effect", where a guy with $40 wins some satellites and ends up in the Main Event. He's just your average guy, so other people try it, too. [Then there] were the hole-card cameras because we got to see what people were doing and so it made the television coverage much more interesting than it had been in the past. The third thing that people attribute to the poker boom are the Internet sites being a breeding ground and also, coupled with that, it also meant the Internet sites had a lot of money to spend on advertising, which trickled down in many ways, one of the main things being large-dollar advertising for those television programs.
These are the things that the poker boom is attributed to and the thing that I would've certainly done very differently was the way the internet sites handled politicians and the potential of a UIGEA. Now what a lot of people don't realize is this whole thing was totally mishandled and it came from PartyPoker being the leader at the time. There was something like that within the Poker Player's Alliance and Party wanted to be the owners of that list of players who were going to be involved in the grassroots PPA, which would be American voters who would pay a lobbying group to make sure the politicians were on our side, and there was a lot of disagreement between all the major sites with PartyPoker. They wanted to, like I said, have the lead in all of this because at that point, they were the 800-pound gorilla and they didn't think they really needed to cooperate with the other sites. On the one hand, they ended up being billionaires, so they're sitting pretty, but on the other hand, really, this whole disagreement was going on.
A lot of people don't know – this actually happened for a couple of years, then what happened at the very end, when it was like impending doom was coming on right before the UIGEA got passed – [Party] woke up and then all the websites started cooperating and it was too late. We have done a lot of lobbying since then. If that lobbying would have been done in 2003-04, this would've never happened and it would be a totally different situation. So it really was bungled and so that's the one thing would've changed. I would have told them, "Don't you realize what's going to happen if you don't lobby correctly?" It's just the way the system works.