Monday, October 20, 2008

Fantasy question

During boring stretches at the poker table, my mind often wanders. One of the "what if" questions that occasionally pop into mind is what online poker site I would choose to have sponsor me.

Suppose I won the WSOP Main Event, or maybe a couple of consecutive World Poker Tour events, so that I'm a sizzling hot commodity in the poker world. Or, since that's not especially realistic, maybe just suppose that I found a lamp in an antique store, rubbed it, and a genie popped out (preferably an attractive one as pictured above, rather than a gruff old man type). But this time there's a twist on the old "three wishes" thing: I get only one wish, and it is limited to selecting which poker site to be a pro for. (This genie got bored after a few centuries cooped up in the bottle, and became an online poker addict. Hence the limited selection of wishes.)

However it happens, the baseline assumption is that all of the sites are offering the same financial package, whatever that might be, so that compensation is not a factor on which I can make my selection. Which one would I pick?

I wonder about this particularly when I see an announcement of a new pro signed up with a site. I would like to know what kind of behind-the-scenes negiotiations took place. For example, when Eric Lynch contracted with UltimateBet, everybody wondered out loud, "What was he thinking?" There was a similar reaction to Tiffany Michelle's decision to join the same outfit, though the recent announcement that Michael Binger will be on the team, too, seems to have been mostly ignored, for reasons that are not obvious to me.

Well, it seems that the first line of demarcation would be those that welcome United States players and those that don't. It would feel pretty silly to be representing a site which neither I nor the majority of people that I play with in casinos could use. (For a reasonably complete and frequently updated list of online sites and e-wallet services that do accept U.S. customers, see this very useful page.) That rules out what otherwise might be enticing opportunities, such as Party Poker and T6.

For similar reasons, I would automatically exclude sites that use the "11-state ban," which includes Nevada. That would rule out a few places, such as Eurolinx.

Next, I would want it to be a place that is reasonably well established, not some brand-new upstart that might go belly-up in a few months (as, for example, Duplicate Poker recently did).

Those two factors together limit the field to essentially these: Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, Absolute Poker, UltimateBet, Bodog, Doyle's Room, Bugsy's Club, Poker Host. A few others, such as the Cake network or Players Only, are pretty iffy on the longevity count.

Of that short list, I would exclude Absolute Poker and UltimateBet. If the reasons for this exclusion aren't obvious, well, then, you just haven't been paying attention. Would I endorse one of these sites if they were the only ones to offer me a lucrative deal? Wow--I really don't know. I would hate to be put in a position to figure out how much I value not being thought of as part of Team Cheater. I wouldn't feel that it was an actual question of selling my integrity, because I genuinely believe that those sites no longer have superusers stealing from other players. But the residual taint would still be pretty awful, and I really don't know how much money it would take to get me to overlook that fact. Fortunately for my little fantasy here, I am imagining equal competing offers from every site, so I don't have to worry about that conundrum.

Next I would cross off Bodog. The immediate reason is that their involvement in sports betting pretty obviously has them in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice these days, and who needs that kind of trouble? Another reason is that I think their overall marketing plan is pretty sleazy (sex sells, right?), and I'd prefer not to have to be embarrassed by all of that excess.

So that basically leaves me with Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Doyle's Room as the bigger players, and Poker Host, Players Only, and Cake as the lesser entities. Normally I'm an iconoclastic, against-the-grain kind of guy, rooting for the underdog (like, did you notice who I voted for???), but one of the nice perks of representing a site would, I think, be rubbing elbows with the other pros on the team. The smaller sites have virtually nobody in their stables. I wouldn't want to be the only face they splash on their ads and the only one wearing their colors at big tournaments.

That means I have it narrowed down to Full Tilt, Stars, and Doyle. I think I would next have to say "sorry" to The Godfather, because, though I like his site, it doesn't offer razz or HORSE, which is most of what I play online.

Then between Full Tilt and PokerStars, it's not an easy decision. FTP has a generally more impressive roster of players, although they have, in my opinion, been diluting it lately by signing up every Tom, Dick, and Harry as red-name pros. What the sites offer to their players is pretty comparable. I generally prefer playing on Stars, though the reasons are highly subjective and not terribly important preferences, rather than stark, black-and-white differences. I could endorse either one in good faith. Stars has an edge in having moved their licensing away from the troubled and tainted Kahnawake Gaming Commission and their servers off of the Kahnawake computer farm--a lead that I wish FTP would follow.

All things considered, I think I'd end up signing on the dotted line of PokerStars. It's the place that I actually play most, so I wouldn't have to either lie or change my practices. As far as I can tell, they are top of the line in customer service and game integrity. They have an impressive and growing roster of fellow pros to be teaming up with. I don't know of them ever having done anything sleazy or shady in business terms or promotions. So Team PokerStars it is.

Of course, the probability of me actually encountering a genie who presents me with this offer is fairly small, and it is even less likely that I will become an overnight sensation/hotshot poker superstar anytime soon. So I don't really have to make a final decision just yet.

But it's good to be prepared, just in case, right?


Michael said...

I knew after the first paragraph of this post (i.e. as soon as I knew what the post was about) that your choice would be PokerStars. If you didn't really know that when you started writing, well, I guess you haven't been paying attention.

Rakewell said...

I virtually always know the conclusion of a post when I start writing it. Yes, I did here, too. But it changes over time. For example, before the Absolute and UB scandals, those were in contention. Before I started playing a lot of razz and HORSE, it didn't matter to me whether sites offered them. So today's answer is different that the answer a year ago might have been, and a year from now it might change again.

Furthermore, if the imaginary selection process and criteria aren't interesting, well, can't please every reader every time.

Michael said...

The post was interesting enough because I concur with your assessment. I find PokerStars customer service excellent and their client has always been my favourite, even when I spent more time playing in various others.

Anonymous said...

"Full Tilt Poker is licensed by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission" - main page of their website.

Lucypher said...

I wholeheartedly agree. In my opinion, there is no other legitimate choice (than Poker Stars). They are clearly superior to FTP and all others.

Rakewell said...

FTP's primary licensing is still through Kahnawake. Their Great Britain license is through Alderney: "Full Tilt Poker™ is a virtual poker cardroom service that is not engaged in the business of betting and wagering. It is duly regulated and licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, and in the United Kingdom by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission."

voiceofjoe said...


It would be quite amusing if you where signed by UB and some probing journo then dug up this blog.

"Well, Mr Rakewell .... I see you and General Phil haven't always been bosom buddies .... "

Could you force yourself to salute him whenever you were doing the same promo :)