Poker Flops IV
It's time for another edition of Poker Flops! Here are a few more poker-related business ventures that crashed and burned, or soon will:
In a previous Weekly Shuffle, we mentioned Skill Poker as a poker flop. Apparently, the folks at Duplicate Poker did not read our article, as they revitalized this horrible idea last year.
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Duplicate Poker/Skill Poker try to 'take the luck out poker.' In a duplicate poker game, there are multiple tables, let's say eight in this example. At each table, there are the same number of players (let's say four), the same hands are dealt to the respective seats (so if seat 2 gets KK, all the seat 2's get KK), along with the same flop, etc. A pre-determined amount of hands are played. After the predetermined hands are played, the chip counts of the four players at the eight tables are compared to each other. Only the players in the same seat at each table are compared. For example, if you are in seat 2 at Table 1, your chip count is compared to all the other seat 2's at tables 2-8. Whoever has the highest chips in that seat wins. So even if you got a real bad run of cards, if you lost less than the other players who got the same cards as you, you win.
Seasoned players can quickly pickup the problems with this. Not only are the potential collusion problems, there are numerous luck factors that are still in play. For example, it may make sense EV-wise to fold a flush draw to a bet, but if you happen to hit that flush draw, someone that gambled and made a bad call would come out on top. There are also wide variations on how your opponents may play, which affects your score.
The main draw of Duplicate Poker was its claims of legality for North American players. They were able to accept legally accept credit card deposits since they were considered a 'skill' game by most states. If depositing at the US-facing poker rooms was very difficult, this may have proven a winner of a business model. Unfortunately for Duplicate Poker, PokerStars and the other US-facing poker rooms have been able to dodge the UIGEA and plenty of Americans still play at those sites.
According to DuplicatePoker.com, play shut down officially on October 5th, 2008. The company cites the credit crisis. What we can construe from this is that Duplicate Poker was losing money, and its investors did not wish to continue throwing good money after bad. I would say that hopefully this poker flop can die its natural death, but inevitably, someone, somewhere will attempt DuplicatePoker2 sometime soon.
Automated Poker Tables
The folks at PokerTek (which is actually a publicly traded company) have been working hard to push automated poker tables into casinos for about three years now. Their tables require no dealer, cards, or chips. Instead, all gameplay is conducted through computer screens. I had the chance to give these "PokerPro" automated tables a try at Excaliber in Las Vegas, which is the only casino in that city with a fully automated poker room. While the table itself seemed to function adaquately (the software was fast and easy enough to understand), the concept of a fully automated poker room will never get off the ground.
One of the alleged upsides of an automated table is that the action is faster than a traditional table ran by a human dealer. However, this did not pan out to be true in my experience. While it is conceivable that the automated table could lend itself to more hands per hour, it doesn't work as well in practice. The game I played was slowed down significantly by a revolving door of new players (it seems that people have a hard time staying at an automated table for more than 30 minutes) who had to be taught how to use the software. To be sure, the software is very user friendly. It probably didn't take more than 30 seconds to figure it out. But before playing, you have to spend five minutes while a card is made that is necessary in order to log onto the automated table. After playing about 20 hands or so, I couldn't stand it any longer and had to leave. Every hand took two or three full minutes while players struggled to use the touch screen software or sat there clueless to the fact that it was their turn.
Automated poker tables simply have no future in poker. However, to PokerTek's credit, they do have one product that seems pretty cool: "heads-up challenge" tables. Casinos will never spread heads-up games. It takes up too many resources (floor space, a dealer for just two people, etc), but PokerTek's miniature, automated heads-up tables could be the only angle that makes live heads-up games possible. Then again, your average casino patron doesn't want to play heads-up poker anyway. Nice try though, PokerTek.
All-In Energy Drink
Anyone who has been to the World Series of Poker at all in the past few years has probably had a can of "All-In Energy Drink" thrust upon them. It seems that some poker players have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the energy drink bubble. Gee, poker players making bad investment decisions? You don't say! So much money has been spent to promote these energy drinks (I actually went to some "VIP Launch" party for it thanks to a friend's connections where they had go-go dancers and free alcohol) and yet no one actually buys them. As their name suggests, they are obviously marketed towards poker players. There are a few problems with this approach. First, poker players make up a pretty small part of the population. The drink is simply geared towards too small of an audience. The poker world doesn't need it's own drink. Red Bull will suffice. Secondly, poker players aren't used to paying for drinks. Drinks are free (plus tip) in almost all American casinos, so All-In can't sell their product to people the one time they actually have their mind on the activity that All-In is branded after!
I played with the marketing director of All-In Energy Drink in last year's WSOP Main Event. As soon as he told me what product he promoted, I kind of chuckled and told him have fun going bankrupt. He got defensive and countered with, "well... Phil Hellmuth just invested in it!" And that's all that needs to be said about that.