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FOR all the high-profile operators and the game’s undoubted enduring appeal, online poker has seen fewer revolutionary shifts than much of the igaming sector.

To find out how – and where – the vertical’s appeal is growing, CasinoBeats talked to Dmitry Starostenkov, CEO at EvenBet Gaming.

CB: Assess the current mood of the online poker market?

DS: “While it would obviously be a stretch to say poker was at the peak of its powers – and it’s certainly uncoupled from its boom days of a decade ago – the state of the online game is far healthier than many would imagine.

“The problem with poker has never been its popularity. Its intrinsically enjoyable and analytical format endures worldwide as strongly as it did when your mates were throwing endless poker parties back in the mid-noughties.

“…the challenge has been to reignite an online audience tired or frustrated at a static offering that left recreational players at the mercy of professionals…”

“Instead, the challenge has been to reignite an online audience that had grown tired or frustrated in some sectors at a static offering that left its recreational players at the mercy of preying professionals.”

How can you alter that perception?

“In short, different frameworks and formats can re-imagine the vertical, and bring back the fun for the many millions of regular poker players. Omaha’s popularity continues its inexorable rise; Open Face Chinese Poker is increasingly prevalent; while other forms of the game that blend poker with ‘snackable’ spins are delivering deeper user engagement, and catering for the natural breaks in the check-bet-raise cycle.

Dmitry Starostenkov

“Like a classic car, poker is a keeper to weather the storm of years. But if it was rusting up on blocks, you should give it a lick of paint and a new set of wheels.

“At EvenBet, we’ve dedicated the past year to the development of such innovative models for enhanced playability, all backed up by the most responsive, easy-to-integrate software. The results have already been incredibly encouraging, with the take-up rate among our operator partners culminating at a productive ICE Totally Gaming 2018.”

What way do you envisage poker developing in evolving regulatory environments?

“Developing regulatory territories like India, where there is a burgeoning poker following, represent exciting emerging markets. Indeed, poker has a track record for faring well in less mature markets, so we’re monitoring the space closely. Back in Europe, four of the continent’s pre-eminent players (France, Spain, Italy, and latterly Portugal) have finally converged on the principle of liquidity sharing, which will ensure increased cash-game pools, and far bigger tournament prizes.

“It’s high time consensus was reached on a reliably regulatory model. The associated pay-out boots can also help promote online poker around the major championship series.”

“…a lot of unrealised poker promise remains throughout Asia.”

What has propelled the growth in Asian poker rooms?

“Well, to state the obvious, today’s Asian market is a distant second to where it was in the noughties, and poker has just begun to reach a numerical tipping point during the past couple of years. Which means a lot of unrealised poker promise remains throughout Asia. The recent big bang in Chinese poker clubs, combining complementary online and offline activities, also accounts for the expanding universe we currently see.

“In fact, it represents such a positive trend that EvenBet will now be exhibiting at G2E Asia’s global gaming expo in Macao for the first time this May.”

How has the rise in social casino play affected the market? Could it help grow the real-money game?

“I see it as a welcome addition to the same squad, rather than a real-money opponent. After all, anything that offers improved poker engagement and repeated visits should eventually have a positive impact on the real-money game. For all online casino/sports betting have stolen a march on poker in recent years with their innovations, they still struggle for deep engagement and loyalty.

“Poker doesn’t and can slowly grab back market share. So while poker took some time to adapt its product to appeal to a more mainstream customer base, as I’ve mentioned, this is changing and EvenBet will remain in the vanguard of this movement.”

Is there any way poker can have a role to play at this year’s World Cup?

“Clearly, the sports-betting world already has one eye on the crown jewel in this year’s sporting and betting calendar in Russia. And there no reason why poker can’t boost the cross-promotional possibilities, especially as it ensures a deep dive for engagement and online ‘hang time’.

“We can now even integrate slots and table games into the EvenBet HTML5 poker client – an important development.”

“At EvenBet, we’ve been tying up deals with a number of CIS-facing providers, most recently Digitain, whose active operator-partners are perfectly placed geographically to act on the World Cup matches as they unfold. Creating a happy synergy between peak timings and flagship-football product, allows us the chance to migrate poker players over to sportsbook and vice versa. We can now even integrate slots and table games into the EvenBet HTML5 poker client – an important development since it allows operators to boost their cross-sell while also extending the user experience.

“It all scales with our core philosophy of delivering dependable turnkey poker solutions that hand flexible control to all operators.”