One vertical within the online casino industry that seems to be struggling with the hard fought battle against consumers’ reducing attention spans is the online poker scene. 

Despite experiencing a “renaissance” a few years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping everyone indoors and on screens, a return to normality has dealt online poker a poor hand – with player acquisition in decline. 

Consumers have become increasingly reliant on instant gratification and quick-fire game rounds. As such, the online poker scene faces a plethora of issues from reduced player retention to alienating the older generation with new ideas and innovations. 

Engaging audiences with strategies to ensure that poker stays high-profile and engaging for all players, the ‘Back to basics – does poker really need re-inventing’ panel gathered poker experts on the second day of the CasinoBeats Summit

Moderated by SBC Media Project Director, Martyn Elliot, the panel explored why online poker is struggling to compete with other online casino verticals, as well as several other entertainment alternatives. 

“The market has become saturated with so many things to compete over players,” said Amit Berkovich, VP Head of Poker at 888, detailing that online poker is facing competition against “recreational games” on top of thriving entertainment and social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Netflix.

Referring to the title of the panel, Berkovich suggested that online poker doesn’t need re-inventing, “it needs innovation”. He stated: “The game itself, the structure is good. It’s been around for ages and people enjoy it but I do think the industry needs some shakeup.”

Bringing the experience of a professional poker player was Peter Jesko, Strategic Consultant at Casino Guru, who referred to an existing discussion of whether online poker is dead by stating that it’s still alive, but is offering less opportunities for players to make consistent cash. 

Jesko also referred to the uniqueness of poker as an encouraging factor for the game’s survival, suggesting there are little to no other games that combine gambling and skill-based gameplay as well as poker does.  

The panel then moved onto the presence of live poker tournaments that stem from the online scene. Telly Bartolo, Marketing and Event Manager at Casino Malta, explained that these tournaments offer much more than just a gameplay experience. 

He commented: “Poker players moving from online to live tournaments are looking to travel, they’re looking to meet people form different nationalities and mingle around. It’s not all about the actual game, but it becomes about all the other things in the full experience.”

As 888 runs its own live tournaments, Berkovich noted that these events often end up in a loss for the company, but become extremely worthwhile in other areas than revenue. 

“It used to be an acquisition tool,” he said. “I think it’s less so, it’s now more of a branding tool and a tool to create content. We don’t make money off of live events, we invest money into them. 

“It’s very powerful to come to a location like London, Madrid or Barcelona and have a live presence. It gives us the opportunity to meet the poker community and get feedback, while creating really high quality content that’s very important.” 

Evenbet’s Business Development Executive, Ivan Shumilov, also joined the panel, referring to live tournaments as the “pinnacle for players” due to offering “something bigger, more visible” with participation in “huge events”. 

As the conversation turned to online poker’s flaws when retaining players, Shumilov pointed out that slots and other online casino products are far more simple, with less buttons, instructions, outcomes and education needed. 

While agreeing that poker player retention is “definitely an issue,” Berkovich outlined a desire to make player education more gamified, providing players with engaging “crutches” rather than lengthy educational processes that can often be viewed as “patronising”. 

Bartolo agreed that over-the-top education and “too many rules” could even have the potential to “kill the game,” adding to the format’s difficulty to provide quicker, simpler experiences that the younger generation of players demand.