We have prepared for you an interview with gambling expert Edward Ackins, who is also well versed in the crypto industry and advises many well-known online casino software development platforms. Ed is a senior member of the BitcoinCasinoTop project. Today the topic of our conversation is the future of poker.
Tell us how you first learned what poker is?
This is a very old story. When I was 9, friends came to visit my parents. When dinner was over, one of them offered to play poker and let me stay and watch. It turned out that my father’s friend worked as a croupier at Caesars casino, on Pacific Ave in Atlantic City, and was very good at cards. He shook them very cool, threw them from one hand to the other, you know, to a child it was like magic. It was a Saturday and everyone had finished playing just before Sunday morning. Then I asked my father to teach me how to play cards.
Wow, and after that you decided to connect your life with gambling?
No, I was too young for that. I liked playing poker back then, but studies and basketball came first. Then I went to NJIT to get MS Applied Statistics and it was during my college days that I got serious about gambling. To help my parents pay for my studies and have the financial means to spend time with friends, I had to look for a side job and got an internship at the Borgata casino as a roulette dealer. It may surprise you, but at that time I earned at least 1.5 times more than my classmates who worked as waiters in bars-restaurants, shop assistants or couriers.
But that was just the beginning of your journey, right?
Yes, I worked there for several years, then online casinos appeared on the market and I started my journey as a live blackjack dealer in one of the first Evolution Gaming studios. Then I got MS Applied Statistics and was invited to participate in the launch of a new online casino as a business analyst. After that I performed similar tasks 3 times in 3 more casinos in different positions such as CTO And CBDO. Now these brands are quite successful and well known, but unfortunately I cannot name them because of the signed non-disclosure agreement.
And all this time you were far from poker?
You can say it like this. As I described above, I was well versed in roulette and blackjack games. In online casinos, a large proportion of users play slot machines. As for playing poker, on gambling sites it is mainly played by old-school users. I think everyone remembers the old video poker game, square cards on the blue table, that’s the kind of games the guys play there. But this isn’t the kind of poker we’re talking about today. It’s just a battle with the computer.
What percentage of total traffic are crypto poker players?
I can give pretty accurate numbers. It’s my specialty, remember? In my experience, only about 4% of gamblers play poker in classic online casinos. The statistics look like this:
4% – video poker fans
63% – online slots
23% live table games (such as roulette, blackjack, dice, baccarat)
10% – novelties in the world of crypto gambling, such as crash games, Sweet Bonanza CandyLand and others.
If we talk about cross-platform gambling sites, where both casinos and sports betting are available to the player, then the number of poker players there is at the level of 1%. 72% falls on sportsbooks and 27% on other casinos with activities I talked about earlier.
Why do you think poker is not popular in online casinos?
As I said before, in an online casino you play poker against a computer. This is not very exciting and bad for user experience and player retention. They have no sense of competition, cannot call themselves a participant in the tournament and share the table with their opponents. Indeed, in poker, in my opinion, the most important thing is to understand why it is called a sport. When you can use your card counting or bluffing skills to beat your opponent. When you realize that everyone who sits at the table with you initially runs the same risk as you. When the best player gets rewards like jewelry, like NBA players when they win a championship. These emotions are hard to replace.
Why don’t casinos develop the game of poker on their gaming platforms?
Firstly, it is not financially interesting for them. Poker usually involves small commissions. How much can you earn from a $1 million tournament? Maximum 5%. $50,000 for an event of this size isn’t much. At the same time, try to calculate how much effort you will need to organize it, pay for software and equipment, and pay salaries to employees. Also consider the commissions from payment systems and the costs of marketing activities to attract traffic. Only profile projects with a large community can earn from this, that’s why online casinos have nothing to do there, it’s just unprofitable for them.
How popular are cryptocurrencies and especially Bitcoin among poker site users?
In fact, cryptocurrencies are quite popular in all types of online gambling. People love that using cryptocurrencies gives them anonymity and the speed of transactions. This is kind of an engine for the iGaming industry as a whole. But to be fair, few of the top poker providers support bitcoin payments these days. We are all waiting for the US government to pass the proper laws on crypto regulation and all brands can use this as their competitive advantage. I believe that in the future all gambling sites, including poker platforms, will process cryptocurrency payments.
Do you have a lot of poker experience now?
I think so. A few months ago I attended a live WPT tournament in LA and was impressed by its size. A bunch of participants, viewers, specialized media, huge prize pools, cool awards, individual ratings. It’s really an entire ecosystem. I liked it a lot.
As an analyst, have you delved into the online poker niche?
Certainly. Market analysis is my hobby. I see a lot of new big companies. It used to seem that PokerStars had a monopoly on this entire market, but that is no longer the case. The number of active PokerStars players has dropped as their competitors have started spending more money on marketing. Now 888poker, WSOP, PartyPoker, bet365 and several other licensed operators share the largest market share. This is also confirmed by the attendance charts and direct visits to the site.
It doesn’t look like things went bad for PokerStars. Do you really think they are underperforming now?
I didn’t say they are bad. They’ve done a really tough job, they’ve created a huge poker community and acted as a locomotive that propelled this industry forward. I respect this very much.
They will never be poor in this life. But time passes, new competitors appear and important decisions have to be made. And as you know, not all of them are correct.
I have a huge range of marketing tools, feedback from industry members and insider information. I can justify my thoughts. Let’s look point by point:
1. In total, PokerStars has about 645 thousand monthly users. Most of the traffic to the site comes from Brazil. It’s really cool that they managed to conquer this market with their product, because there’s a lot of people there. But it is enough to use, for example, the GDP per capita of the United States ($70,000 U.S. dollar) and Brazil ($15,500 U.S. dollar) to calculate the LTV of the players.
2. They lost their audience in America a few years ago because they were too conservative. PokerStars also has separate sites with different stats for each state in which they were able to get a license.
3. Looking at the WSOPthey have almost 2 times less traffic – 399 thousand monthly, but at the same time the share of players from the USA and Canada is over 80%.
4. There is a large Indian market, which almost none of these guys have managed to successfully enter due to the fact that local poker brands are quite dense there.
I think we can now move on to the next question. When it comes to numbers, I can talk endlessly and it will be hard for you to stop me.
What would you advise gambling brands to do to be more successful and fully meet the needs of their users?
They all need to understand their customers’ problems and keep up with the times. The amount and size of bonuses, the variability of payment methods, the quality of support, the number of tournaments – all this can influence players when choosing a gambling site. If you can answer the question of what added value you can offer the user so that he remains loyal, you will solve this riddle. And of course – never save money on marketing. Every day there are more and more social platforms and traffic channels. If you’re a big brand, you need to build your presence where possible.
Tell us about what you do now?
I am now fully involved in the development of the bitcoincasinotop.com project. The main mission of this site is to collect all the best bitcoin casinos from around the world in one place and give players the chance to get to know their full features and rating based on our experience, expertise and real reviews of real players. We also plan to create our own forum and start a video blog with reviews of crypto casino brands. I am sure that we will soon become leaders in this direction and be as useful as possible to the entire gambling community.
Are you planning to participate in a poker tournament yourself?
Yes, I’m sure you’ll see me this summer at the WPT at La Grande Motte. This will be a good start for my future visit to France.
What else do you want to know about poker?
My dream is to visit one of the offline poker clubs that are quite popular in the USA. Like Laramie in WY or Kansas Star. When I talk about it, I imagine an analogue of cigar clubs with pompous visitors, a vintage atmosphere and, of course, a deck of cards on the table. I think it’s going to be a cool new experience.
Thank you very much Edward for sharing your expertise with us. See you at poker tournaments!