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What Can We Expect from Online Poker 2.0?

April 19, 2011

Now that the initial shock of last week’s DOJ crackdown has passed, many poker players are looking to answer the question of what’s next? Not just for them, but for the industry as a whole.

Depending on how good a player you are and how much of your bankroll is currently stuck in limbo, the online poker shutdown isn’t the worst problem in the world. For players in Vegas, Atlantic City, LA or near a decent size casino with a poker room, playing live remains a viable alternative. Sure, the games are slower, you can’t multi-table and your hourly win rate is likely to drop, but it still beats working for a living.

For players who can’t manage to find a live casino game, there are always home games with your friends. Again, these games aren’t likely to provide the same action or potential income as you’d see online, but they do have the benefit of letting you hang out with people you like while you take the edge off your poker jones. Finally, of course, there’s the third option, which is to give up on the game and find other pursuits or – perish the thought – a job.

The fact is that for most poker players, last Friday’s shutdown of the online industry is, nothing more than a potentially expensive inconvenience. If you weren’t making your living playing online, life will go on and one day, hopefully, the game we all love will return in a regulated and legalized environment.

The question is, how much will things change when poker returns to the Internet?

There’s no doubt that the die-hard players will return to their favorite sites (if they still exist here) or find new places to play when the legal landscape changes. But what about the casual players and those players who are new to the game?

UltimateBet and Absolute never really recovered after the cheating scandals they suffered through a few years ago. Sure, some players were willing to play those sites because they thought the games may be soft, but I know very few people who ever fully forgave the sites for tarnishing the industry’s reputation.

Even if Full Tilt and Stars are acquitted of all the charges against them and manage to make it into the world online poker 2.0, how many casual players will be willing to put real money at risk on these sites now that their names are forever linked with the words bank fraud and credit card fraud? And what about new sites that might pop up in a post-regulation world? Will they be any more trusted by the general public or will they being fighting an uphill battle for credibility right out of the gate?

My guess is that even in a post-regulation environment, online poker may never reach the same levels of popularity that the game enjoyed over the past few years. Part of that is because casual players who have lived through the government-imposed blackout may simply drift away from the game and part is due to the fact that mass media outlets like ESPN, FOX, and NBC won’t be so quick to give the industry the same kind of exposure that they did before the indictments. Couple that with the inherent nervousness that new players may have about depositing online, and the next iteration of poker sites may end being smaller affairs with tougher games at all levels of play.

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