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  • Dmitry Belianin: Why I think online poker players need to be dealt a new hand
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Picture this: a 17-year-old kid borrowing his grandma’s passport to create online poker accounts on FullTilt and PokerStars.

That was me, diving headfirst into online poker. I quickly found myself grinding tables, competing in cash tournaments, and even offering coaching to other aspiring players. It was a journey that not only provided financial rewards but also forged lasting friendships and valuable life lessons.

However, as I delved deeper into the industry, both as a player and later as an affiliate marketer, I began to notice cracks in the foundation of the online poker world. The excitement that had once gripped me seemed to be fading, replaced by a growing sense of stagnation and disillusionment among players.

This realisation became even more apparent when the media business I’m invested in, Already Media, had the opportunity to purchase the renowned poker affiliate website PokerListings. As I dived deeper into this space, it became abundantly clear that the online poker industry desperately needs a facelift.

But why should this matter to you, the poker enthusiast, the casual player, or the industry stakeholder? The answer is simple: because the health and vibrancy of the online poker ecosystem directly impacts the enjoyment, profitability, and sustainability of the game we all love.

In this article, I will take you on a journey through the current state of online poker, identifying the key factors contributing to its decline and the urgent need for change. Drawing upon my extensive experience as a player, coach, and now stakeholder in a legendary poker brand, I will offer unique insights into the industry’s challenges and the untapped potential waiting to be unleashed.

The current state of online poker

Let’s face it. Poker just isn’t “sexy” to new players any more. The rise of alternative online entertainment options, such as esports and video game streaming, has also diverted attention away from online poker, particularly among younger demographics. While the recent involvement of high-profile influencers like MrBeast and Ryan Garcia in poker events has generated some buzz, the industry still struggles to consistently attract and retain new players.

And those newbies that do make it through? It’s not an enticing environment to find yourself in. The skill gap between newbies and more experienced players is vast. It’s an expensive lesson if you want to get good enough to compete. As training resources and advanced software have become more accessible, the overall player pool has grown more competitive, making it harder for casual players to enjoy the game and find success. This trend is made worse by the proliferation of poker tracking tools and heads-up displays (HUDs), which give seasoned players an even greater edge over newcomers.

But any attempt at a PR facelift isn’t going to be easy. Trust and security concerns continue to plague the online poker world. Incidents like the recent “Botfarm” scandal on the WPN Network, where alleged bots won millions from unsuspecting players, undermine the integrity of the game and erode player confidence. As an affiliate, it’s crucial to prioritise promoting platforms with robust security measures and a proven track record of fairness and transparency.

I’m in no doubt that the online poker industry needs a fundamental shift. I think by borrowing things that have revolutionised other forms of entertainment, online poker can shine bright again.

The catalyst for change

Back in March, my journey in poker went full circle as I worked on the acquisition of PokerListings for the media company I’m a shareholder in, Already Media. For me, this was not just a business transaction; it was a catalyst for change. I saw it as a chance to take an active role in shaping the future of online poker, to use my expertise and passion for the game to drive innovation and create a better experience for players worldwide.

I’m not claiming, by the way, that alone, PokerListings can change the game. But the hope is by introducing new ideas and content formats, we can bring a fresh perspective that inspires many of the other influential figures within the industry. 

One of the things that drew me to PokerListings was the prestige the site once had. It reminds me of Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of LVMH, who has built an empire by acquiring and revitalising iconic luxury brands. Just as Arnault saw the potential in brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior, I see immense untapped potential in PokerListings and the online poker industry as a whole.

The world of darts provides another compelling analogy. Once considered a boring sport, darts underwent a remarkable transformation when Matchroom took over and injected new life into the game. By focusing on building narratives around players and making the sport more appealing to younger audiences, Matchroom succeeded in making darts sexy again. Players like Luke Littler have captured the public’s imagination, reigniting passion for the sport among a new generation of fans.

Can online Poker get a similar facelift?

The vision for revitalising online poker

At Already Media, we have a clear and ambitious vision for the future of online poker, with PokerListings at the forefront of this transformation. Our goal is to create a platform that caters to today’s players’ needs and attracts a new generation of poker enthusiasts. In line with the philosophy I’m taking to build in public, I thought it might be valuable to give you a look behind the scenes on what we’re planning.

Central to our vision is a strong focus on community building. We understand that poker is more than just a game; it’s a social experience that thrives on interaction and camaraderie. By rebuilding and nurturing the PokerListings community, we aim to create a welcoming home for both veteran players and newcomers alike. This includes creating an environment that encourages discussion, knowledge sharing, and a sense of belonging among players of all skill levels.

To achieve this, we plan to introduce a range of innovative features and content that will elevate the user experience. At the forefront of these enhancements is a complete overhaul of the platform’s aesthetics and user interface. We recognise that today’s players expect a sleek, modern, and intuitive design that seamlessly translates across desktop and mobile devices. By investing in a mobile-friendly interface and optimising the site for speed and performance, we will ensure that players can enjoy a smooth and immersive poker experience anytime, anywhere.

In addition to these technical improvements, we will also be focusing on developing advanced tools and educational resources to help players improve their skills and make more informed decisions at the table. This includes state-of-the-art hand analysers, comprehensive guides on poker strategy, and interactive training modules designed to cater to players of all skill levels. By empowering our users, both new and old, with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed, we aim to cultivate a community of confident, well-rounded players who can thrive.

But most of all, I believe today’s players crave interactive and immersive experiences that go beyond the traditional online poker format. Poker needs more interactive experiences, like livestreams, Q&A sessions, and exclusive interviews with poker pros and influencers who can connect poker to a new audience. Just as narratives built darts again, the same can happen with poker.

Why this matters

The revitalisation of online poker is not just a matter of improving the fortunes of a single affiliate website or even a handful of operators. Rather, it is a collective endeavour that has the potential to benefit every stakeholder in the industry, from the recreational player grinding micro-stakes to the high-roller seeking the thrill of elite competition.

At the most fundamental level, a thriving online poker ecosystem means more opportunities for players to enjoy the game they love in a safe, fair, and engaging environment. By working to restore trust and confidence in the industry, we can attract new players and reactivate those who may have been driven away by past negative experiences. This, in turn, leads to increased liquidity, more diverse game selections, and a more vibrant, competitive landscape for players of all skill levels.

Moreover, a player-centric approach to online poker has the potential to unlock significant value for operators and affiliates alike. By prioritising the needs and preferences of players, we can create more loyal, engaged, and ultimately profitable customer bases. This means not only better retention and higher lifetime values but also more opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling as players explore new games, formats, and features that resonate with their interests.

However, the benefits of a thriving online poker ecosystem extend far beyond the boundaries of the industry itself. Poker, at its core, is a game of skill, strategy, and social interaction – a proving ground for critical thinking, decision-making, and emotional intelligence. By making the game more accessible, engaging, and rewarding for players, we have the opportunity to cultivate these skills and values on a broader scale, with potential spillover effects in areas like education, business, and personal development.

A vibrant online poker community can serve as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship, both within the industry and beyond. As new technologies, platforms, and business models emerge to meet the evolving needs of players, there will be countless opportunities for creative minds to build and scale new ventures.

But it’s my hope that in the shuffle of innovation, we don’t forget one thing…

That poker is a game that’s supposed to be fun. A game that helps build friendships, teaches you critical skills, and in my experience, opened the doors to an industry I love and I’m proud to call home.

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