End of the Poker World Scenarios
Being that it is 2012, risks to civilization, humans, and planet Earth are a hot topic as conspiracy theroists and "normal" people alike wonder if the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st will mark the end of time as we know it. In the spirit of that, we would like to pontificate upon some possible scenarios which could lead to the end of the poker world as we know it.
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One Guy Gets All the Money
The poker economy operates something like a pyramid. The best players, those at the top of the pyramid, tend to get a lion's share of the money in the poker economy over time. Decent players take money from bad players in small stakes games then take shots in larger games where they lose to better players. The process repeats itself until you have a small handful of people reaping big rewards for beating the high stakes games.
There's a couple reasons, however, why this scenario will never come to fruition. First, new money enters the poker economy every day. A guy gets his paycheck, deposits $100 to 888 Poker, loses it, and repeats the process a week later. Money comes into the poker world faster than the best players can get their hands on it.
Another reason that the guy-at-the-top-of-the-pyramid-gets-all-the-money scenario will never happen is that not everyone seeks to be at the top of the pyramid. There are plenty of people winning money playing $1/$2 no-limit who have no ambition of trying to climb up to $2/$4 and beyond. These complacent grinders ensure that the money in the poker world lands in the pockets of many, not just a few.
Likelihood: Very slim, unless someone builds a highly successful and covert network of bots (see below).
People Abandon Poker for a Better Game
There exists in theory the possibility that one day people will stop playing poker because of an alternative game which becomes more appealing. Anyone who follows Magic: the Gathering has seen this happen first-hand. There are a countless number of highly successful poker pros who originated as expert Magic players. David Williams, Justin Bonomo, Brock Parker and Dario Minieri followed this path just to name a few. As a result of this mass migration to poker, Magic lost some of its appeal as the game's top players all realized they could make more money and lead better lives if they switched to playing poker instead. Could a similar outcome happen to poker? In theory, it could.
Likelihood: Not too high at all.
Extreme Global Poverty Eliminates Poker
Subscribers to theories like peak oil and other end-of-society-as-we-know-it hypothesises will tell you that a human civilization radically different from the one we know today is a better possibility than we might care to admit. If humans run out of the energy source we've been drunk on for decades, it could necessitate a major shift in our habits and behaviors. We may no longer have the time or resources for luxuries such as a game of cards. Our lives could become more about working hard to survive rather than sitting in air-conditioned condos check-raising n00bs while waiting for our delivery food to arrive.
Likelihood: Not terribly great as humanity will likely figure out a way to sustain our present standards of living through innovative energy technologies.
Scumbags Ruin It for Everyone
It would seem theoretically possible that if enough shady characters do enough reprehensible things to the poker community that people could be turned away from the game in masses. But the Full Tilt scandal is proof of why this really isn't a concern. I mean, the second-largest online poker room hijacked hundreds of millions from the poker economy and no one really seems to be that outraged! It's not like you've got poker players marching in Washington demanding the arrest of Howard Lederer. By and large, the community has been extremely docile throughout Full Tilt's incompetence. This is a much different shift from how poker players might have handled malfeasance on the scale of Full Tilt's "back in the day".
Likelihood: Won't happen. It's almost as if people in the poker world expect to be swindled and conned and just don't really care.
Heightened Global Consciousness Brings End to Forms of Gambling
This is the hippie outcome. If the entire world turned into hippies who believed that "we're all one, man," people might actually stop trying to take money from one another. Humanity could one day evolve to a society that works collectively towards the common good ("COMMUNIST!") in which people are no longer competing against one another for resources. That possibility might seem crazy to some now, but it could happen. Already the world is experiencing a move towards open-source collaboration and transparency. If the trend continues, the use of money (and thus poker as we know it) could come to an end in a few hundred years. The play money games might still be wildly popular, however.
Likelihood: Actually rather decent given a long enough time frame.
Poker is no stranger to legal battles for legitimate status. What if poker got dealt a series of really bad beats and the game gradually became illegal in too many jurisdictions to be able to retain significant popularity? All it would take is a few key nations following the path of the United States from the past six years and poker could shrivel back to its pre-Moneymaker days.
Likelihood: Not good, the trend seems to now be in poker's favor. As nations continue to struggle for fiscal stability, legalizing and regulating poker looks only more and more appealing. Still, short-sighted bureaucracy will continue to be a major threat to the game.
There is a very real risk that eventually, perhaps still several decades from now, bots will destroy online poker. Live poker could, theoretically, continue to thrive under this scenario. But the end of online poker due to bots running over the games is a rather legitimate risk. This is already something of a problem today. Many players have learned to play the game so optimally that they are more or less themselves a type of "bot" slowly bleeding the games dry and turning people away from online poker. Now just imagine that same caliber of play taking over the games without human shortcomings like fatigue, limited multi-tabling ability, or errors in judgement. The real challenge for poker rooms of the future will be figuring out how to protect their games from software programs designed to outplay the human competitors.
Likelihood: Unfortunately quite large.