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Timex on PokerShares: "We’re Planning on Taking Any Bet"
Mike "Timex" McDonald was the youngest-ever EPT winner when he won EPT Dortmund way back in 2008.
Since, he's been a staple on the live poker scene (save a brief 'retirement' period) and almost became the first-ever two-time EPT winner when he runnered-up the PCA Main Event in 2014.
So something must be up when he misses a couple EPT series in a row.
“I missed Malta and Prague, for example," says Timex from the 2017 PokerStars Championship, where we caught up with him, "and I played Prague about nine times in a row before that."
The reason for his absenteeism? He’s been fairly busy with his new business idea - a poker betting project called PokerShares where you, the average punter, can buy stakes in any poker player you want in any tournament.
It's actually his second attempt to create something along these lines. But we’ll get to that.
PokerListings: Give us a brief summary of the original concept.
Mike McDonald: We wanted to create a betting platform for everything poker and give fans at home the chance to invest in their favorite players.
We want to give players the chance to play higher stakes if they want to, to bet on their friends, to make prop bets, to gamble on anything that’s related to poker.
PL: When you click on a tournament on PokerShares, a list of players pops up. How do these players get picked?
MM: Basically we choose smatterings of players, a decent list of the ones we know are playing the major events. And for the smaller events like the 2k we’ll have a list where you can pick any player you want for that price or lower.
Let’s say someone goes on the site and wants to buy shares of Jason Mercier in the 10k but then sees that he’s not listed. He can then request a price from us and what we’ll say is the price for him will be the 'any player price' or lower.
If the mark-up for any player is 1.3 we’ll guarantee that the price for Jason Mercier is also 1.3 or lower, and then we evaluate what the mark-up should be.
Thanks to the website being very fast we can respond to a request within two minutes, if someone’s available.
PL: Is “any player” meant literally? Can I bet on my buddy who has won a package to make the money?
MM: Yes, you can. Of course the issue we have is the less we know about a player, the less of a competitive rate we can give.
Let’s say, guy-we-never-seen-before comes in, he might be the worst poker player in the world, but he also might be the best in the world, so he should get a very high rate.
The more knowledge we can accumulate the fairer rates we can give. The players that are known by their results are easier to evaluate. We need to be cautious about players we don’t know.
With an unknown player we might charge a 1.1 mark-up, although it should really be a 0.5 mark-up. We do our best to do research on such a player. If we find out that the guy is Romanian, for example, we might ask a couple of Romanian players about him. We try to use our network.
PL: If I bet on someone, where does my money go?
MM: Your money goes to a bank account and as soon as the player you bet on cashes we’ll deposit money back to your account and you can withdraw it.
Right now we’re processing via Skrill and WireTransfer and as time goes on we’re looking to set up Bitcoin. We’re going to give the people different processing options to make it easier for everyone.
I think Neteller is almost approved by now and we’ll have as many banking options as possible.
PL: How do you guarantee that the money will be paid out?
MM: The same way that PokerStars guarantees their payouts. We have provided funds set aside for a rainy day if big losses happen.
PL: But PokerStars are an established company and beyond doubt, and you are new.
MM: True. Basically, I’m putting my reputation on the line and our bankroll goes way beyond just my own.
There’s been so many interests in this that even if we, say, lose a million dollars on each of the first five bets we’re taking, we’re still in a fine position to where us as the owners would take a smaller percentage in future bets and have other investors take larger percents.
The amount of money that people have invested in this project is pretty substantial and goes well beyond the scope of just me and my business partner.
PL: What happens if people buy more than 100 per cent of a player?
MM: That’s perfectly fine by us. A player himself can only sell 100 per cent, but we can theoretically sell any amount even if it’s 10,000 per cent.
There’s a huge amount of trust that goes into that situation. Of course, if there’s someone who just created an account and then wants to buy a huge amount of shares in some small tournament, where they might know some people, we will limit things.
But regarding a well-established person with a seamless reputation, we’d definitely let them buy over 100 per cent of a player.
PL: So, the player in question has actually nothing to do with it? It’s only between you and the bettor?
MM: Correct. Most of the players who’ve been bet on here at the PCA (Ed. note: It’s not the PCA anymore] have no idea they’ve been bet on.
A player can agree to sell you shares. But with us, there’s no middle man between the buyer and the seller. We are the seller.
We create the share you want and then sell them to you without anyone else involved.
PL: How do you calculate the mark-up?
MM: 'Calculate' is maybe a strong word; it’s more of an estimate. For now we’re relying on our experience in poker. We’re looking at various win rates, rakes, structures and then base an estimate on that.
As time goes on it’ll become a more scientific procedure but when it comes to some random person, like we mentioned earlier, there’s no scientific procedure that can give you a precise number. We’re looking at as many factors as we can and do the best we can.
PL: Who is the business partner you mentioned?
MM: My business partner is Veron Lammers, one of the lesser known people in poker. He’s also the perfect example of the guy we would be afraid to bet against.
I reached out and met him about three years ago when I was looking to get poker coaching to improve my deepstack game. Through getting coaching from him we became closer friends and started talking about this business idea.
I told him that it sounded like too much work but he offered to take care of the business end of things, like dealing with lawyers, setting up bank accounts and getting licences.
I’m more involved in the pricing and marketing side of things, so that’s how this partnership started. He’s not very well-known because he focused on online high-stakes cash games and stayed under the radar for the last 10 years.
PL: Will there be prop bets or other bets on offer, too?
MM: Yes. Right now we already do have prop bets, like who will win the Brains vs AI game or when Joe Ingram finishes his book.
Basically, if you want to bet on whether Antonio Esfandiari can piss into a bottle and get away with it, we’ll allow a bet on that. We’re planning on taking any bet; anything gambling in poker we want people to be able to get in on.
PL: You tried the Bank of Timex some time ago but it failed. How is this one different?
MM: It was a legal issue. But the way we’re setting it up now we think it’s close enough to bookmaking that we wanted to be cautious and to get properly licensed.
No one’s ever done this before in poker and I don’t want to put my reputation on the line just to make some bets on stuff. We’re not taking any chances and we’re setting this up in the most legitimate way possible.
The Timex bank only lasted three days but now Version 2 is here and it’s properly done.