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. Throughout this series, 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 Savage, noted tournament director and manager of the Commerce Casino poker room; Brian Balsbaugh, founder of player-representation agency Poker Royalty; famed high-stakes cash and tournament player Barry Greenstein, a member of Team PokerStars Pro; Matthew Parvis, Editor-in-Chief of Bluff Magazine; Nat Arem, the founder of the PokerDB; and Pauly "Dr. Pauly" McGuire, the author of the Tao of Poker blog and columnist for Bluff Magazine.
Today's question: Could a brand new online poker room storm to life in 2009 and somehow capture a major share of that market?
Nat Arem: It depends on how you define major; I think the answer is that it takes time to gain that [player equity]. You just can't build up a big enough player base fast enough. I generally say no, with the exception of someone who is just willing to absolutely go to town and spend probably eight figures on marketing. I generally say, even someone who is willing to spend eight figures on marketing probably couldn't do it. It seems unlikely to me.
Matthew Parvis: My gut says that with the right people behind it, a new site could storm the market. It's all in how you market it and how you present your product, but it would have to be something [different]. It would have to be some sort of new approach; the same [vein] that Full Tilt works in that they are grabbing as many pros as they possibly can to link up to their site. My idea would be slightly different than that; however, I don't think it's going to happen. I guess the answer is — no, I don't think it's going to happen. Do I think it could happen? Yes, there is the possibility of it happening, but it would have to be a group of people or a person that is an extreme visionary and that could wrap themselves around this, not only with a very big budget, but also a very, very strong understanding of the business.
Dr. Pauly: I would say no, basically because right now it looks like we're seeing a consolidation within in the poker industry as well as the general gaming industry.
Brian Balsbaugh: I absolutely think a brand new online poker room could gain a significant market share in 2009. If there is one thing I have learned about online poker in the last five years, it's that you never know what is going to happen. In 2005, PartyPoker was the 800-pound gorilla and I was told by their director that Full Tilt had "zero chance" of succeeding. This was the smartest guy in the business at the time and he never saw it coming.
Matthew Savage: I doubt it because the success of sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars is all about critical mass which they have and is very hard to attain. Money attracts money, which will make it hard for a new site to break in.
Barry Greenstein: Right now, it's just really difficult. I have people coming to me all the time, especially people connecting to charity – talking about if we got involved in charities and gave some of the proceeds. Usually people that just don't understand that there's just not a lot of money there. It's just really difficult. The economy is down around the world; it's very hard to get in there and compete. I've had, over the last year, people tell me, "It's the greatest software." But again, what people don't realize, that software that all the sites that are currently up have, has been changing incrementally for many years. You just don't write a piece of software at that level initially, so if you come in, you just can't compete. You don't have the software, you don't have the players and it's very, very hard.
The only way that you will see something come in, if we do have the laws changed, where you get an MGM or one of the other sites to be involved, where they come up with something new to draw players, there could be some combination. Harrah's is usually the one that people think of, where there's a way that the live and the online play are meshed together in some package where people get to play stuff that Harrah's properties or MGM's properties or something like that and online. People have been talking about that for a couple of years ever since the UIGEA happened. They were saying, "What will happen after this law is repealed?" So the theory from a lot of people is that the major brick- and-mortar gambling sites will buy the major online sites and operate them. Even with their resources, they would never try to start an entire new site to compete against the existing sites. What we [always said] in the software business was, "Only two products make it, the first and the best." So the point here when it comes to online poker is obviously if you come in now — and we saw many people try and go broke doing it, who said it was free money — you can't be the first anymore. There are a bunch of them out there, and as I said, you can't just write a piece of software from scratch and have it be the best and stick it in there. It's just too complicated a piece of software.