While our recent Yahoo Online Poker Post was brief, it opens up discussion for several elements. Having worked with an online-poker related company, I am indeed biased, but I have tried to outline several key perspectives from an impartial standpoint...
The main focus I'm hearing is that in 04' Google and Yahoo pulled gambling ads, and that Yahoo is now flip-flopping on their stance. I think the reason for that pulling gets complicated and perhaps meshed in with some clever PR moves. If I recall correctly they both positioned the pulling along the lines of 'being society focused' and 'doing what's right for the online community' etc. There was without doubt pressure from the FCC and other bodies to pull the ads and at some point they really did not have a choice if they wanted to keep moving forward. With that said, was it really their intrinsic desire to pull the ads, or a convenient and compliant reaction to outside pressures. I'm not saying at all that they wouldn't have pulled on their own, perhaps they would have, but back to the argument that this move is contradictory primarily due to their position in 04': I'm not 100% convinced.
In the online poker sphere, Yahoo is not the first US-based company to have an initial position against gaming and then introduce it overseas. Paypal back in early 2000's offered payment services between players and online gaming sites. At some point though they pulled all services as they didn't feel it represented their brand. (This could have been due to outside pressures, or their internal business motives.) Last summer, however, Paypal introduced payment services for online gambling exclusively for players not living in the US. Is this move contradictory as well or is it a smart financial action while completely abiding by domestic laws? Back to the discussion that this Yahoo move is controversial, I ask why should it be controversial? Online poker is something that will not go away. Perhaps with Yahoo in the game, albeit overseas, they will hold their gaming integrity to a higher standard than some other sites and perhaps offer a safer solution for players. The argument shouldn't be based on if this is right or wrong, that debate will go on for decades, but should be based on how we can develop the most ethical, accountable, and safest system for this poker phenomenon.
3. Media Attention
There was a brief line that noted how the media will be salivating over the first story where someone loses their college tuition. This upsets me for two reasons:
First, it is extremely unfortunate when a poker player plays beyond their means or skill lever and has unfortunate results; results that may have an impact on their family or financial situation. Gambling addiction CAN be a very serious problem. We need to be concentrating on how to provide education for responsible gaming. We need systems that help detect potential problematic behavior and intervention efforts to prevent it from developing.
Second, I feel the media has played a huge role in the negative perception of online poker. You notice the articles focus on how Steve maxed out his credit cards, or Jill stole from her grandma to pay off the car she lost. Yes, these extreme cases happen, just like with anything that develops into a problem. But it represents a micro portion of the online poker community. We don't hear too many stories of how poker developed Jason's math skills or taught Kevin financial management, but examples like these are very prevalent.
4. Will it Work
Putting all of these socio-political discussions aside, will Yahoo be successful with their efforts; Looking strictly from a business and online poker standpoint? I have mixed thoughts that lean toward the negative. One thing to understand is that this initial platform will ONLY be available to non-US players. The United States makes up over 80% of the online poker market, so my first major concern is with critical mass.
With online poker, you have to critical mass; a site like Poker Stars has over 60,000 player on at any given moment (and at peak times over 90,000). This allows players to have access to available games at their pleasure. Yahoo may face some major issues here as currently they will only have grabs at 20% of the online poker community, many of which are already are happy with a handful of established sites. Differentiation in the online poker sphere is very difficult. Assuming you have software that is of equal quality, and you magically get some players wagering so it's not a ghost town, attracting new players from others sites is a major challenge.
With that said, Yahoo doe's have a globally established brand, and can possibly cross sell to it's current UK user base. This may very well be successful, especially if they can target users that are interested in poker but have not yet tried online poker. These users may be more likely to lose their 'online poker virginity' to a trusted name like Yahoo.
The online poker market will continue to grow, IMO, not as rapid as it did between 2003 and 2006, but it still is one of the hottest things around. Who knows, maybe Yahoo will pave the way for a legalized online platform in the United States. The day that comes we will see another explosion in online poker; monumentally bigger than the last five years.