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As a young Englishman, when I watch a game of American Football, I feel like foregoing the nail clippers and instead reach for the pliers to rip off my toenails.

Painful experiences, the both of them.

The reason that I find American Football so painful is because I was raised as a football fan (I still cannot bear to write the word soccer). So when I watch other sports I compare them to my beloved game.

American football doesn’t flow; the gaps in between the action are too lengthy, and this is what puts me off.

So when we introduced goal line technology, recently, I was a little worried. On one hand I could understand the need to innovate. We had the technology, and teams who were affected by poor decisions were losing a lot of money; but on the other hand, I didn’t want my game to turn into American Football.

Fortunately, the decisions are made in a matter of seconds, and the upshots are: the decisions are 100% accurate, nobody can complain anymore, and the game continues to flow. It turned me into an innovation optimist.

This morning I made the young cable guy a cup of tea as he installed Sky TV in my home. Whilst showing me the sports channels, the young man said, “You have to watch this dive…it was never a penalty,” as he showed the Stoke City winger, Victor Moses, clearly diving in the penalty area.

Charlie Adam stepped up and slotted the ball home, Stoke City went on to win the game 2-1, and all hell broke loose in the subsequent press conferences, with Moses being labeled a cheat and the referee incompetent.

So do we innovate?

Do we introduce a stop-start procedure for potential diving infringements? Where do we stop? Do we also stop the game to check offside decisions, sending offs or bookings?

Fortunately, for this football fan, men and women have been playing this game for centuries. It’s like a religion in most countries, and it’s barely moved away from the core of its genius. Despite the advancement of technology, the football purists stand strong. They keep the very essence of our beautiful game intact.

Goal line technology will do for now.

In the first 10 days of the new Spin & Go game on PokerStars, there were 7.3m games played, 20 $30,000 jackpot winners, 377 1,000x jackpot multipliers, 787 players who had won five-figure prizes, and one lucky punter who took only 229 seconds to win $30,000 from a peanuts investment.

Innovation at its finest.

Or is it?

The world’s largest online poker room is a different beast since it changed hands in the summer. Debt will do that to a company – just ask Manchester United fans.

It always needed to make a profit, but now it REALLY needs to make a profit. And you can see the changes. They may be blurry, passed off as insignificant, but they all add up to an office full of people, plenty of Post-It notes, a whiteboard, and hours of brainstorming with the words “Cost Cutting” cast up high in neon lights.

The death of affiliates, sponsored pros, and a few cleverly disguised rake hikes/welcome bonus cuts, all cutting fat away from operating expenditure.

“But what about revenue!” cry the cost cutters.

Spin & Go arrives right on point.

Gambling is a pastime that divides opinion. Some people believe it’s a healthy, and enjoyable hobby, whilst others believe it has the propensity to be as dangerous as Ebola.

So it’s ironic that so many millions of people play the lottery each week. It’s the most popular gambling game in the world, and yet so many people who play it will swear that it’s not gambling at all.

If you are responsible for driving growth in an online poker room, understanding that ideology is a license to print money, and PokerStars have started to print it.

The question of how we can get more people into the game has been tattooed on industry insider’s eyelids ever since the grinders came into the online poker rooms and turned water into dust.

It seems innovation might be the answer to the problem of attracting fresh fish into the online poker waters, but we mustn’t forget that it was innovation that emptied the tank of water in the first place.

What would our online ecosystem look like if there were no HUDs, table selection software, and Table Ninja’s? Can you remember our once beautiful game? Nine players, a chunk of chips, and a deck of cards? It wasn’t that bad was it?

Just like I don’t want technology to move football away from its beating heart, the same is true of poker. There are so many different formats of the game it’s frightening – and now we have another one. A game that looks like poker, it smells like poker, but after your sweaty 229 seconds, you look across at sex-stained sheets and see lottery staring back at you.

Poker is supposed to be a game of skill. It’s an argument that those who are trying to fight for the future of our game need to be solid. With each new game, each new innovation, this solidity becomes about as stable as Scotty Nguyen’s legs minutes after he won his $50,000 H.O.R.S.E bracelet.

Innovation has created the most magical medical advances of the past few centuries. It has also created GMO foodstuffs that are killing us in quantities never before known to mankind. Soon we will all be like the humans in the movie Wall-E. At least innovation will also be used to create the tiny space machines that will keep us afloat.

We have moved too far away from what we were.

When we look in the mirror we don’t recognize our reflection.

10-seconds in an online poker room lobby feels like two hours on the Waltzers.

Instead of turning to innovation to solve our solution, why not try taking away the innovation? Why not peel back the layers to reveal our beating heart. The game that started out on the riverboats all those years ago, and did pretty well until innovation started screwing around with it.

Online poker rooms do not have a right to create careers for players. In a recent interview for BLUFF Europe magazine, the British pro Jamie Sykes said, “We became poker players to escape from the rat race, so why does everyone keep treating it like a regular job?” He also said, “It was a hobby that turned into a profession.”

The role of the online poker room is to provide value for their ultimate customer. But who is that? Is it the member of Supernova Elite? The person who managed to turn their hobby into a profession? Or is it the person who still thinks that poker is their hobby? Perhaps, it’s the person who now likes playing these lottery-style games, because they don’t think the lottery is really gambling?

The best description of value that I have read comes from the book Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.

“Value is only meaningful when expressed in terms of a specific product (a good or a service, and often both at once) which meets the customer’s needs at a specific price at a specific time.”

If the current numbers are to be used as a yardstick, then at PokerStars, Spin & Go games are that value. I might not like it. We may have moved too far away from the heart of poker, but if this is the approach that pays dividends, then so be it.

I just wish that we could remove all of this make up, and just spend a few more nights with that familiar face, because the way I see it, if everyone in poker is thinking out of the box, there’s nobody left doing any thinking inside of it – and that’s where I really think our problem lies.

 

 

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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.

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