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Recreational Online Poker Players Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Online poker sites have been trying to appeal to “Recreational” players since the very beginning, and following the industry-wide shakeup after Black Friday there was an even more concerted effort to target these jilted, disenfranchised recreational players and bring them back to the online poker tables.

In this renewed effort to appeal and attract to recreational players, some new, extremely interesting truths are being uncovered.

The definition of a recreational player

They weren’t always called Recreational Players, having gone through a PTSD transformation (Shell Shock became Battle Fatigue which became Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to soften the sting of words like “Fish” or “Casual Player,” and even Recreational Player is starting to go out of use, in favor of new terms like “Fun Players.”

Regardless of how we have referred to them, the problem has always been, what exactly is a recreational player and how do we appeal to them?

So what is a recreational player?

The answer to this question, like everything else in poker, depends. And it’s starting to seem that online poker operators are coming to realize recreational players can’t be placed into a single box. In fact, as PokerUpdate detailed last week, our entire understanding of who is playing online poker has been shaken to its core recently, thanks to new data.

Historically, the mythical “recreational poker player” is usually categorized as someone who plays the game infrequently and for low stakes, but this is not the case.

Sure, some recreational players are logging into their account just once or twice a week and playing penny limit games – the majority of “recreational players” probably fall into this category. However, As Group Director of Poker Jeffrey Haas told me, there are other casual players who also play once a week, but these “recreational players” spend that session playing a $215 buy-in tournament on Sunday afternoon: “25%-30% of our players only play on Sunday,” Haas explained.

The notion that recreational players are all small stakes players is simply not the case.

Haas went on to say that partypoker brought back their higher stakes games because they discovered there are recreational players at every level. Some recreational players only play for small amounts, while others with more disposable income prefer to play higher.

Echoing Haas’s comments was’s PR guru Warren Lush, who recently told my colleague Lee Davy, “I still think too many people, without direct experience of poker, fail to define correctly what people call – to say the dreaded word – a ‘recreational player.'”

What sites like partypoker are starting to discover is recreational players are a diverse group that will require multiple marketing channels to reach, and are not attracted by or retained by the same promotions and rewards.

The makeup of recreational players

There are three ways I would categorize a Recreational Player:

Consistency of their play

Their loyalty to your brand

The stakes they play for

So you could have a loyal, inconsistent, low stakes player, or a discerning, consistent, mid-stakes player, and they would both fall into the category of Recreational Player, even though they are nothing alike.

Marketing to these players in the same way simply will not work, which is why online poker sites may need to customize their promotions to each player.

Different recreational players will need different lures.

Improving loyalty and consistency

The stakes a person plays for is unlikely to change over time unless they either decide to improve as a player (in which case you would need to move them out of the Recreational category) or make a big score, but through promotions and rewards you can increase the consistency of a person’s play and their loyalty to your brand, but to tailor these promotions to the player you have to account for the stakes they play.

Increasing the loyalty and consistency of a micro-stakes player could be as simple as running an easy to attain daily bonus, using the strategies that social games have created and employed with great success – Log in and play 10 hands to receive a $1 bonus, available every 12 hours. Complete this mission 25 times in a month and receive another $25. Complete this mission for three straight months and get another $100.

Bingo, you’ve just created a more consistent, more loyal customer. If they do not play consistently and at your site they go back to square one.

This will obviously not work on a mid stakes player (the $1 daily reward is meaningless, and even the long-term rewards are probably considered token bonuses to someone playing $500 buy-in games), and is useless to the site if the person is already a consistent player.

For these players, it’s a matter of making your mid stakes games more appealing than your competitors’ games. Remember, these players are likely losing players, so simply offering rakeback will probably not be enough to make them brand loyalists.

While I don’t pretend to have the answers (I’m not really a marketing guy) it could be along the same lines as what makes a “whale” loyal to a certain land-based casino – free tickets to shows, hotel stays, and more. Or, play 10 consecutive Sunday Majors and we’ll give you a free entry to the next one.

Fortunately, it appears that online poker operators are recognizing how diverse recreational players are, and are starting to move in this direction.



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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.