PokerStrategy.com Column - Poker 2.0: What Could Facebook Poker Do For The Industry?

Is Mark Zuckerberg
bringing us online poker?
My latest column, originally published by PokerStrategy.com

The history books may not look back on this week as one of the turning points in the story of online poker, but this may have been one of the biggest weeks in online poker, at least since Black Friday.

This week, Bodog announced that their new platform would be 100% anonymous and player notes would be removed. So every time you sit down at the tables, you are doing so with no reads on the other players.

This means that the use of HUDs and datamining sites like PokerTableRatings would be deemed obsolete.

PokerStars have unveiled their first foray into mobile gaming, with a phone based client on PokerStars.it. This is also a big week for them for another reason, as they will attempt to host 250,000 players in a world record attempt tournament.

Finally, and most significantly by far, this week it was announced that Facebook is in preliminary talks with several poker rooms about hosting real money poker in the UK.

What all these moves (All of which I think are immensely positive) illustrate is that we are heading towards a new world order in online poker. One that looks out for the interests of recreational players first and foremost, rather than the 24 tabling professional player.

Not a day goes by without us hearing the words 'the games are getting tougher'. This is because there is so much great free strategy information readily available, but it is also because for several years now, online poker has had a cannibalistic ecosystem.

Big rakeback deals, poker software like HUDs, and datamining sites like PokerTablesRatings have all contributed to making low and midstakes games incredibly difficult.

Mass multi-tabling pros can be found at just about every online table with a free seat, and recreational players find a double figure queue waiting to clean out their roll almost as soon as they start playing the game.

These changes are not only great for the casual losing players, they are going to make the games so much better for the grinders too.

Facebook Poker - A Game Changer?

Onto the news that Facebook might be throwing their hat into the online poker ring. Real money poker has been knocking on the door of social media for a while now. We have all been waiting for Zynga Poker to launch a real money product, but they have just confirmed they will not be launching one for their 30 million registered players.

ChiliPoker, 888 Poker, and PokerStars are three rooms who have already made some progress in the social realm, but only as a supplement to their current client. 

As someone from the UK, I find the news about Facebook incredibly exciting, in fact I almost salivated when I first heard about it. We have all been looking for that second 'boom', this could be it people.

Why has the UK been singled out for this? Probably because historically gambling has been looked upon a lot more liberally over here than in other parts of the world. We don't (currently) pay tax on gambling winnings, and sports betting has always been celebrated by the mainstream media.

Bear in mind that Facebook has two hurdles to jump through here. Not only do they have to appease the country in questions gambling regulators, social media is also becoming a major topic for government and media regulators, with best practices and social responsibility being hot topics surrounding them.

So I think the UK is a natural starting point for Facebook to test the waters. I fully expect if it is successful, the operation will be expanded around the world (Hopefully not with segregated poker rooms per region).

Why is Facebook Poker such an exciting prospect? Because it opens the doors to players who would never normally have considered playing for real money. Facebook has over 800 million active users (30 million in the UK), that is a database that dwarfs the online poker population by a huge margin.

Rather than advertising or sponsorship, Facebook uses 'permission marketing' which is so much more effective. Word of mouth and recommendation from a friend is vastly more effective than watching a TV commercial, and that is exactly what you get on Facebook.

Brand new demographics will see that their friends are playing real money poker on Facebook, and that will make the thought of playing themselves all the more plausible.
The largest player database in the world

Although we have no idea what it will look like, or how it will be regulated, Facebook Poker is likely to be (Or at least perceived to be) much more financially secure than a standalone online poker room.

With everything that has gone on with Full Tilt, this could be of massive importance in regaining public confidence, and removing the 'Ponzi' label we are currently stuck with.

Social Responsibility & Safety

As excited as I am, I do have some concerns, which I am sure will be taken very seriously by Facebook, and already major topics of discussion in their negotiations with potential partners. 

One big one is that Facebook seems very easy to hack. Most of us have either had it happen to us, or at least to several people that we know.

Right now accessing a Facebook related app or website is usually just a matter of clicking 'Yes I Allow Permission To Access', but this would not be acceptable for real money poker. There will definitely need to be a secondary, independent, wall of security.

The second concern will be around vulnerable people. Although it is just as easy for someone who shouldn't gamble to open a poker account right now, this is a debate that is going to take place.

There will be extra temptation to play for people who probably shouldn't, and anti-gambling groups are going to be very opposed to Facebook Poker. So self exclusion and identify verification measures will need to be taken very seriously.

Finally, to go back to what Bodog have done this week, I hope that anonymity will at least be an option. It will be really cool to actually see who the person I am playing against is in real life, and could add a brilliantly fun social aspect to the game.

But by the same token, we don't want some poor soul who has had a massive losing week to wake up the next morning to 700 friend requests from predatory online poker players who have caught wind of their losses.

It could lead to online stalking much worse than takes place because of datamining sites, and could get seriously out of hand because of the much more personalised nature of social media.

But all in all, this is tremendously exciting news for online poker, at a time when it needs it more than ever. I will certainly be pressing the 'like' button for Facebook Poker.

by Barry Carter


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