My Crystal Ball: What 2009 Holds for Poker

8 January 2009, Created By: Nolan Dalla
My Crystal Ball: What 2009 Holds for Poker
By Nolan Dalla -- I'm usually an optimist. I believe in looking at the bright side of things. However, 2009 looks to be a year of uncertainty in the poker world.

Due mostly to gloomy economic forecasts, poker and all of its ancillary businesses could be in for some tough times ahead. Indeed, no one anywhere is immune from the global economic slump.

Here's a list of some things that might happen in poker over the next 12 months:

There'll be changes on the Las Vegas Strip. At least half a dozen poker rooms could close down. Some of these rooms are likely to be MGM Mirage properties. The gaming giant is heavily invested in the new 66-acre City Center property, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2009.

A new 24-table poker room is planned - which seems small given the vast size and scope of the massive City Center development. Seeking just the right balance, MGM-Mirage does not want its nearby sister properties draining players from the new room.

Furthermore, the gaming company does not want City Center to be large enough to threaten its flagship poker property, at Bellagio. Look for closing announcements or cutbacks at New York-New York, Excalibur and possibly the Luxor. Smaller rooms elsewhere could also be in jeopardy.

Electronic poker tables will fail. After the Excalibur poker room in Vegas introduced 12 electronic poker tables in August 2008 as part of a three-month trial period, some insiders predicted that live-dealt poker games would gradually decline, while the quicker-paced, less labor-intensive electronic poker tables manufactured by PokerTek would become the new rage.

It didn't happen. The experiment seems to be failing. After the novelty of electronic poker games fizzled out, many players appear to steadfastly prefer either the online version (at home) or the live version (in a casino).

The future of hybrid electronic poker games is in doubt. However, the smaller heads-up version of electronic poker - tabletop games which can be placed inside bars and restaurants - will probably continue to grow.

Kate The Dealer
Luckily she's an amazing dealer.

Poker rooms will reduce staff. All over the country, we have already begun to see poker executives released or transferred to other departments. In some cases, pit-game managers have been brought in to run poker operations.

This is bad for poker because most of these gambling managers know very little about the special needs of poker players.

However, one of the upsides of a recession is that dealer quality will improve just about everywhere. As jobs become increasingly scarce, weaker dealers will be cut.

Also, some talented people who have done other kinds of work and are currently unemployed will gravitate to poker and bring a strong work ethic to their new profession.

Comps for poker players will decline; special hotel rates for poker players will become more widely available. Due to budget cutbacks, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get a meal comp inside many poker rooms. Also, casino comp programs are not so generous as in the past, which means points-based systems for poker players will result in fewer freebies.

The upside of a recession is that more hotel rooms are becoming vacant. Desperate to fill them, operators will make more special rates and discounts available to poker players.

Oddly enough, poker players were largely shafted during good economic times, when the rooms were full of suckers. But poker players will be a dependable source of revenue for many casinos as other types of gamblers cut back visits and reduce their spending.

Poker in Asia will stagnate. Macau, now the most lucrative gambling destination in the world, recently announced a 5% rate of growth in 2008 over the previous year, which is good news for gamblers in Asia.

But poker - despite some bold initiatives and a vast amount of new spending in the region - remains flat.

Worse, recent Asian-based poker events have not drawn well from target countries. Most of the players at Asia-Pacific Poker Tour (Alex Kravchenko, Kirill Gerasimov and others on the global circuit will motivate more young Russians to take up poker, instead of traditional games like chess.

Non-Hold'em poker games will grow in popularity. As most of the generation that came into poker between 2003 and the present looks for alternatives, expect to see Pot-Limit Omaha, Limit-structured games and even Badugi to become more popular.

Online sites are now regularly spreading new games such as Pot-Limit and No-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo (unheard of just a few years ago). The online companies will continue to be trendsetters, with brick-and-mortar casinos following their lead in response to new markets and a greater interest in a wider variety of poker games.

Online poker will not be legalized; the UIGEA will not be overturned in 2009. The new Obama administration's political capital will not be used to overturn a controversial bill, as it's perceived that there's little mainstream public support for doing so (despite the Poker Players Allliance's noble efforts).

Statue of Liberty
Liberty for all, except poker players.

Sadly, there are far too many other major political concerns now - such as the economy and two major wars. There's also serious objection to online gambling from many Democrats, which control both houses of Congress.

The only way to pass a pro-online poker bill in the next session is probably doing a "reverse Bill Frist," which means to tack on a repeal to another bill as an amendment (in the same manner the UIGEA was passed, without debate or the knowledge of many who were voting on the bill).

It's difficult if not impossible to overturn a federal law that has already been implemented, but yet hasn't had time to produce any discernable consequences.

Attendance at some U.S. poker tournaments will decline. We have already seen attendance fall at many events during the latter half of 2008. A weak economy will continue to drain entrants from tournaments, especially the higher buy-in events.

Furthermore, there are fewer sponsored players now than in the past, which means fewer staked players being able to afford entry fees at big-buy-in events.

Tournaments more affordable to the middle class - in the $100 to $1,000 buy-in range - should continue to attract steady attendance in most markets. But there is no longer enough money, especially "dead money," coming into the bigger events to sustain growth.

Poker coverage will be reduced; few poker books will be published. Good, reliable poker coverage is going to be harder to find. The poker market probably can't support the current number of Web sites and magazines. Some are already struggling to pay the bills. Marketing budgets are being cut everywhere.

There are also few start-up businesses in this industry to pump in the advertising dollars necessary to finance multiple poker Web sites and magazines.

Furthermore, with so much online content and over a hundred poker books already on the shelf at most major bookstores, publishers are no longer inclined to accept poker-related manuscripts.

The number of poker players worldwide will increase. Perhaps as many as 10 to 15 million new poker players will be created in 2009.

First and foremost, this is a demographic change due to the age of population. Millions of young people, who already know the rules of poker and play regularly with their friends or online, will come of adult age in various jurisdictions and be allowed to play poker for the first time.

Sure, many older citizens who are poker players will pass away over the next 12 months. But there are far more young people coming into the game than are dying out - which makes for a positive long-term forecast for poker.

-- Nolan Dalla

Nolan Dalla can be reached at:

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