One of the more interesting reads this weekend was an interview in Poker Daily News with Dan Stewart, the very clued-up owner of the independent online poker tracking website PokerScout. In the interview, Stewart makes some astute observations about the introduction of mini-tournaments running parallel with major competitions, and the negative effect this could be generating.
Stewart used major events at the Internet's two biggest online poker sites, PokerStars.com and Full Tilt Poker , to make his point.
Apparently the current Full Tilt Online Poker Series XII main event failed to reach its $2.5 million guarantee, drawing only 4 581 entries and requiring a $200 000 overlay. Stewart revealed that the $535 buy-in tournament was the centerpiece of the series, but Full Tilt's decision to run the miniFTOPS alongside, with a much smaller buy-in but a still respectable guaranteed $500 000 prizepool may have backfired.
The MiniFTOPS main event attracted thousands of players and comfortably overtook the guaranteed prizes with a buy-in one-tenth that of its big brother, which started only minutes ahead. The conclusion is that the cheaper event cannibalised the business of the major tourney.
The level of overall interest in Internet poker remains strong, with Stewart reporting that traffic to Full Tilt is up 56 percent over the year, very close to that of PokerStars which is up 57 percent, and the burgeoning Cake Poker Network which is up year-on-year around 54 percent.
Stewart emphasised to Poker Daily News: “The [need for tournament prizepool] overlays don’t have anything to do with traffic or how well the site or the industry is doing. All you have to do is compare this FTOPS to the last one. They ran a similar schedule and if you look at the ring game traffic, it’s up about 10 percent.
"They’re busier now than they were then, yet you have a different outcome in terms of guarantees.”
Stewart analysed the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) and found a similar practice of offering low, middle and high multiple stakes this year, with similar negative results for the high stakes action.
“The FTOPS schedule came out before the SCOOP ran," Stewart told PDN. "When it ran, it became clear that low-stakes tournaments were cannibalizing their high-stakes counterparts. Both sites are probably learning from the experience.” Nine of the 22 high-stakes SCOOP tournaments did not reach their guarantees.
Broadening his outlook to the wider online poker industry, Stewart observed that despite the global economic slowdown: “It’s quite healthy. All we can do is compare right now to the same time last year. When we do that, we see that the industry is up 30 percent year over year. That’s probably a slow rate of growth in comparison to three or four years ago.”
But some individual operations have not done well, according to PokerScout records. Year-on-year, Bodog has experienced a 30 percent drop in player traffic, while Swedish state gambling monopoly Svenska Spel is down 14 percent.
The largest gain year over year went to the Entraction Network, which soared by 140 percent.
Stewart took a positive view on the overall situation for the online poker sector, telling PDN: “I don’t see the economy affecting online poker too heavily. Some people say that poker is counter-cyclical. A person is laid off, spends more time at home, and gambles online to make money. I don’t see it being counter-cyclical; it just chugs along regardless of the economy.”
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