There was a time when online poker sites across the world were in a race to onboard high stakes players and high volume grinders through special promotions and attractive rakeback offers. The nosebleed games between players like Viktor “Isildur1” Blom, Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius and promotions like “Play against Pro” were used to be the prime offerings on the websites. However, the industry saw a major shift in focus last year when PokerStars announced to change its VIP Program and planned to pass on more benefits to the casual players. In spite of a series of protests by high stakes players including several pros around the world, PokerStars implemented the changes with effect from 1st January.
Two more websites are following the footsteps of PokerStars this year by reducing benefits to the high stakes players and implementing long term programs to acquire more recreational players. 888 Poker recently announced a revamp of its reward program wherein the rakebacks will be abolished and a new program, 888 Poker Club will be launched. On the same lines, TonyBet Poker announced its new rakeback system wherein a losing player will receive a higher rakeback percentage than winning players. Both the companies have got rid of old rakeback system advancing to a casual player friendly program from March 2016.
The online poker industry is aware of the fact that recreational players are the ones injecting money constantly and progressively in the poker ecosystem. There are millions of users on free poker apps like Zynga who play this game for fun and not to earn money. A large section of this user base will not mind depositing small amounts of real-cash to amplify their fun and thrill by wagering in micro stakes cash poker. Moreover, special promotions to incentivize such players on the basis of volume they play instead of the rake-based model will also bring them to the poker sites.
One more way to bring the recreational players is by organizing special freeroll tournaments which attract newbies to start playing poker. PokerStars has announced a mammoth $1 million freeroll this month in order to acquire casual players. At times, the special freerolls can also be linked to small amount of deposits like Adda52.com organized Rs 5 Lac Depositors freeroll for players who deposited just Rs 500.
Milestone-based promotions for new players have also been a successful model for acquiring casual players and also converting them into revenue generating users. In such promotions, newly acquired players are given targets upon achieving which the website releases bonuses or tournament tickets to make them play more. However, games like Spin n Go by PokerStars has steered away the direction of converting new players into skilled players by hiking the element of chance tremendously in hyper-turbo randomized prize pool games.
2016 seems to be the year when more poker sites in India and globally will take steps to increase their userbase of recreational players. Making the game of poker fun to play on user friendly software and promotions focused on beginners will be on the cards of every poker site. Meanwhile, the companies should also use their resources to build a skillful userbase in the long run rather than acquiring uninterested users. Let’s hope for a bigger online poker community by the end of 2016.