Welcome to 2017! Poker Predictions for the New Year

When I went to turn the calendar this morning, it didn’t have a new page to turn to. Thus, that must mean that there’s a New Year upon us and here’s hoping that your New Year’s celebration was a good one. It also means that there is a whole new year of possibilities ahead of the poker world, some of which we’ll try to predict here!

PokerStars Championship? Just Not the Same…

When the European Poker Tour’s stop in Prague, Czech Republic, concluded in mid-December, it also marked the end of a truly memorable run. In the span of 13 seasons, the EPT had built itself into the predominant tournament circuit in Europe (and some might argue the world) through a mixture of hard work by its staff and the creative minds of people such as its founder, John Duthie, and others like former tour director Thomas Kremser. That all came to a halt, however, with the end of 2016.

Amaya Gaming, perhaps looking to put their own mark on the game, have tossed the history and prestige of the EPT aside, rebranding their live tournament efforts as the PokerStars Championships (or PokerStars Festivals, for the regional tours). Amaya has gone as far as to change everything about what will be the first major tournament of 2017, including its name. Say goodbye to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, say hello to the PokerStars Championship Bahamas.

From January 6-14, 92 tournaments will be conducted in the inaugural schedule, which has been the brunt of much of the criticism from poker players. While they might love to play the game, an average of 10 tournaments conducted for each day of the schedule might be a bit much (it also looks blatantly like a money grab by Amaya). While people already had their bookmark in for the Bahamas in January, where we might see a downfall for the new “PokerStars Championship” during their first stop in Panama in March…if the players won’t go to Panama to play, then Amaya might have to admit they made a mistake (although I don’t see the EPT returning, which makes it even more concerning).

Make or Break for the GPL

When it was announced in 2015, many thought that the Global Poker Online was a fanciful notion from someone who consistently has challenged conventional norms in poker (and that’s a good thing), Alexandre Dreyfus. Throughout 2016, however, Dreyfus and his team with the GPL continually strived for putting on the best show possible with their concept of team poker (and did well, to be honest) with occasional success overshadowed by other actions (remember Dreyfus’ “loan” situation? How about scheduling your playoffs for a big show at a top convention and your World Championship matches for a major arena, then pulling out of both and putting it on in Las Vegas because you don’t have the money?). In 2017, they must either demonstrate they are in for the long haul or break under the pressure.

The concept of the GPL becoming a huge “e-Sport” is fanciful at best. If you watch a massive battle between as many as six different combatants in a video game such as Warcraft, Call of Duty or Rocket League and then say you get the same crowd excitement out of watching two people standing and staring at each other in the GPL’s “Cube,” you would be flat out lying. Dreyfus and Co. should be looking at how to provide the best product for those who are the core of what they are offering – the poker world – and try to adopt some of the “e-Sports” phenomenon in bringing outsiders to the game.

Many casual fans watching on Twitch have already demonstrated they dislike the online play concept that the GPL uses (and I watched the GPL World Championship Final – when you have 1000 viewers on Twitch and later the same night I see comedian Lewis Black doing an unannounced Facebook Live show to 4000 viewers, you’re doing something wrong), but it doesn’t mean that it should be abandoned altogether. The online element mixed in with some actual live play – and we mean live chips and cards, not simply plopping the two players into a box and have them play standing up – would improve the GPL greatly.

Having a better marketing plan in place (Dreyfus himself has admitted dropping the ball here) not only for merchandising but also for garnering interest from the mainstream is critical. Finally, a league does have to have stars to promote – and have those stars accessible to the public – if it is to be successful. While the poker world heard of Fedor Holz and his stunning run in 2016, you didn’t see Holz (or anyone else, for that matter) out promoting the GPL on sports talk shows, which helps the league survive. Promotion is key and we didn’t see much promotion of the GPL in 2016.

It’s a make or break year for the GPL. If they think they can recycle 2016, then that option is likely going to be “break.”

Online Poker in the U. S.? Not Looking Good…

The 2016 General Election has cast a pallor over the prospects for the regulation of online poker in the States of America federally and, by extension, to the individual states. Once the GOP nominee was voted in as President in November – and the Congress remained in the hands of the Republican Party – the writing was etched onto the wall for poker regulation in Washington D. C. If it doesn’t happen in 2017, then definitely before the end of the incoming Congress in 2018 there will be some sort of federal ban against online gaming and/or poker passed.

Why so pessimistic? When you have total control as the Republican Party does entering Washington in 2017, there’s nothing that prevents your agenda from being enacted.  Although it wasn’t a plank in their 2016 platform, the GOP has a big money donor in the form of Las Vegas casino owner/billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who donated a ton of money to Republicans in the last election. You don’t think Adelson, who has consistently been anti-online gaming, isn’t looking for some sort of payoff for those campaign endorsements (and don’t even try to bring up how the GOP nominee “funded” his own campaign)?

The states have also shown themselves unable to perform in the online gaming/poker realm. California is a consistent tease and will continue down that track in 2016, probably with the same endgame; Pennsylvania will do every damn thing they can NOT to pass online gaming regulations, and that may mean they would do the unlikely of raising taxes by a penny on some other industry. New York? Michigan? Others? Please…they have shown that they can draw attention by offering the dance but they have shown little to no seriousness as to actively passing online gaming and poker regulations.

The only thing that may spur some of these states to action IS the threat of a federal ban AND the hope that they’ll be grandfathered in if they move forward before Congress passes federal action. That’s a thin line to put a bet on.

These are just predictions and, with hope, some of what I see won’t happen. Expect a rocky road in 2017 and, if it proves to be smoother than envisioned, then take it and run.

Big Cash Games!

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