I’ve got my trusty drum out and I’m going to continue to beat it until something is done to curtail nitty grinders mass-multi-tabling online poker games.
So be prepared for the usual metaphors and analogies that are littered throughout my opinion pieces.
Nits are the equivalent of cheapskates. They go to the early bird dinner, only shop on double coupon days, and complain about everything – not as constructive criticism, but to somehow get a rebate.
You essentially have a core group of players who sit at 20+ tables, play a style of poker that is robotic and boring to the point it’s often actually a losing strategy, but somehow make hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars by attaining the upper reaches of the VIP ladder in a few months and living off rakeback and rewards.
Why do we want players focused on one thing?
Take away these rewards and these players are losing poker players!
Imagine a basketball player that chucks up a shot every time he touches the ball. His team loses every game but he puts up 40 points per game.
I’m sure his teammates would love playing with him and other NBA teams would be clamoring to sign him… That last sentence was meant to be read in a voice dripping with sarcasm by the way.
Yet here are poker sites going after precisely this type of player.
And it’s not because they’re generating massive revenue for the poker sites either. Online poker players of this ilk (such as the mass multitablers who reach Supernova Elite in 60 days) are the poker version of Extreme Couponers.
Their style of play annoys other customers, and they, for lack of a better term, game the system at the site for their own benefit. They’re also prone to complain about the tiniest change a poker site implements – and they do this publicly while simultaneously sounding the alarm of online poker Armageddon should the proposed change go into effect.
My problem with these complaints is it’s not done out of concern over the solvency of an online poker site or the online poker industry though, their complaining is because it might cut into their profits. These players rely on a system (like extreme couponers) that needs the perfect set of circumstances to be successful, and if they had their way they would tell you they should not only be allowed to shop in your store, use a bazillion coupons to get six carriages of food for $2.11, but you should also hold the door and welcome them in, help them load their groceries, and help them find the items they’re looking for.
And in a lot of cases this is precisely what poker sites are doing. Helping the extreme couponers while their regular customers go unnoticed and unattended.
So why don’t they fix it?
If these customers aren’t good for business, why are poker sites targeting grinders?
The problem as I see it is one of fear.
Fear of losing current customers. Fear of irrelevance. Fear of competitors not following suit, and foregoing long-term success for short-term gains.
It’s as if every online poker company went to an apple orchard together and they all stared at beautiful ripe fruit 15′ off the ground. After attempts of jumping, and some half-hearted attempts of working together and hoisting one another up on their shoulders, they just give up and collect the half-rotten fruit lying on the ground – better than nothing right?
Kind of like this:
This is when some people make the astute suggestion of going to look for a ladder. An idea that is quickly shouted down by frightened companies:
“What if there are no ladders?”
“If I go get a ladder all these other people will take all the rotten fruit and I’ll be left with nothing!”
“If we all go look together, someone else might come along and takes these apples?”
As one iGaming insider told me, the problem is known, but everyone is afraid to be the first to tackle it, fearing their competitors would swoop in and exploit their new policies.
This fear is misguided in my opinion.
A lesson from land-based gaming
It’s not all that dissimilar from land-based gaming’s long held fear that online gambling would cannibalize their revenue.
This theory was not only proven to be false, as online gambling has proven complimentary for land-based operators, but because land-based operators were so reticent to accept online gambling they have done irreparable damage to an industry they are now involved in.
Their initial opposition allowed UIGEA and Black Friday to occur, and continued opposition from the likes of Sheldon Adelson is threatening the entire industry. Their procrastination turned a $100 problem into a $10,000 problem.
Instead of building on the thriving industry land-based gaming’s initial fears tore it down, and now they are trying to rebuild it. I’m of the opinion that online poker is heading in the same direction; allowing their fears to prevent much needed changes to the ecology of the game.
Had land-based gaming embraced online gaming early on its unlikely any of this would have come to pass. Banks and credit cards and perhaps even PayPal would readily accept iGaming transactions, there wouldn’t be ring-fenced, low liquidity markets, and little need to “reengage” with players from the Poker Boom.
There would have been no need to ever offer ridiculous amounts of rakeback and in effect create the modern day grinder.
I’m certain that implementing major sweeping policy changes would lead to an incredible amount of backlash (including the poker community’s favorite pastime of schadenfreude) and a decline in revenue in the near term.
That being said, the alternative is a continued steady decline in revenue as player acquisition costs continue to rise and more and more casual players are disenfranchised.
But, as I noted in this column, I really don’t think “grinders” want to play poker this way, it’s simply done out of necessity. It’s up to the online poker sites to make the changes, deal with the short-term fallout, and rebuild with a superior product and experience.
So which company would you rather be? The one that starts from a lower point but is trending up, or the company that starts at a higher point but is trending down?
These two lines are going to intersect at some point.