Does online poker have a skill gap problem?

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Oct 25, 2012 Posted in Poker News | No Comments »

A pair of op-eds that I’ve read today has given me pause to think about the current online poker economy, and what can be done to strengthen it in the future. Jeff Hwang started the conversation at The Motley Fool, where he wrote a lengthy piece about online poker, touching on the “skill gap” towards the end of piece. Hwang’s article spurred a follow-up by Chris Grove at where he offered up his own thoughts on the problem. But is the “skill gap” really a problem?

The argument the two have put forth seems to be that the preponderance of good players at online poker tables have made the games too tough to even compete in for recreational players. Therefore the poker sites need to do something to attract casual players.

I would suggest that the problem has nothing to do with a skill gap; in fact I would argue that the skill-gap between professional players and your average recreational player has closed since 2005, dramatically closed in fact. The problem is a lack of new players. The lack of fresh blood in the poker pond isn’t because new players are getting decimated by the winning players; what is causing the lack of new players is online poker.

Here is a look at some of the major reasons new players no longer flock to the poker tables:

* Regulations and Legislation have intimidated potential players into thinking they may be breaking the law.

* Casual players do not want to wait more than a few hours for their deposits and withdrawals to be processed.

* Players no longer believe that poker is a game of luck; the ignorant days of the poker boom are far behind us and people realize they are a major dog in a poker game.

* Scandals, cheaters, and fraud have scared players into thinking the game is not on the up-and-up.

The first two reasons are definitely the most critical. First UIGEA in 2006 started the decline of the industry, with deposit and withdrawals going from minutes to days, and weeks, and Black Friday sealed the deal when they basically shut-down the US online poker industry, leaving only grinders and degenerates willing to take the chance of participating in online poker games, the fish and new players who sustain the poker economy are gone until the old days of quick transactions and legitimacy return to the industry.

Additionally, the average newcomer to the game in 2012 is starting with far more knowledge than the average newcomer in 2006. The people who play the game on whims simply don’t compete in competitive games, preferring to stick with home games and an occasional trip to the casino.

Finally, the sheer volume of scandals that have plagued the industry since the Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet Super User scandals is astounding. The only thing your average person on the street hears about online poker is hundreds of millions of dollars “stolen” and DOJ involvement with terms like “Ponzi Scheme”, “Fraud”, and worse being used when describing online poker.

Now, there was one very interesting new idea thrown about in the two articles, and that was Chris Grove’s “Loss-Back” idea that would replace rakeback. Added to my previous thoughts on how to bring new players into the game I think this would be a winning formula.


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