Sunday, October 09, 2005

Much Ado about..Something?

So I go on vacation for a few days and Party goes and blows up everything.

Or, you know, not really. Party's decision to finally uncouple the player pool of each of its skins is obviously a pretty huge development in the world of online poker, but I can't really see it being the dramatic sea change that some people seem to be implying.

Until recently, Empire, MultiBet, Coral/Eurobet, and Intertops all licensed software from Party Gaming and shared the same pool of players. If you logged in at Eurobet your screen would likely slightly different from Party as far as colors and what-not, but you were playing in the same virtual cardroom as anyone on any other Party or Party licensee site. Basically it used to be like a bar with multiple entrances on different streets, all designed to superficially look unique on the outside but with each entrance leading to the same generic bar inside where everyone would drink up.

Now, though, if you come in through the Empire entrance, you only hang out with other Empire folk. There's a velvet rope keeping you from comingling with the Party hotties. Which sucks, as your available pool of companions is suddenly limited. It's even worse for the Multibet and Eurobet folks, as suddenly their side of the bar is a complete ghost town, with only a couple of Slovak grandmothers with three teeth betwen them.

The other piece of information you need to know is that in recent months Party had been pretty aggresive about eliminating rakeback deals at Party. Various reasons were floated for this, but the end result was that a lot of lucrative players (especially multitabling grinders at higher limits) simply created a Eurobet or Multibet account so that they could continue to get a rakeback deal. Since the rooms shared players, it didn't matter at all which skin you played from. The only real difference is that instead of their rake money going to Party, it went to Eurobet or Multibet or whoever.

So in many ways this is an obvious power play by Party to get those lucrative players back, working under the assumption that savvy players chasing the fish will have to move back to Party, since that's where all the fish are, now that the player pool is no longer shared. And that's a pretty smart move, as it's true, since Party is the site that's dropped tons of money on attracting new players and building a deserved reputation as where the most fish are.

What will be interesting to see is if Party now backs off it's anti-rakeback stance. And early signs point towards yes, as some prominent rakeback sites are already claiming they've received the go-ahead and should be offered the ability soon to create custom trackers for players they sign up.

(This is a litle more than you probably wanted to know, but that was how Party was previously combating rakeback. In the past, affilites had the ability to create custom trackers attached to unique players, so they could tell how much rake each had produced, what each was to be paid in a rakeback deal, etc. When they started officially banning rakeback, though, they removed the ability to creat trackers, which essentially killed rakeback. What's important to note in all that is that if they want to, they can simply flip a switch and roll it back to its previous state, if they suddenly decide to be pro rakeback.)

In the end, I can't really see this having a huge effect on the average player, especially if Party allows affiliates to again offer rakeback deals. If you're not already playing on the Party network, this doesn't affect you at all. If you're playing at Party, this doesn't affect you at all. If you're playing at a Party skin with no rakeback deal, this doesn't affect you at all. The only people affected are those playing on a Party skin specifically for a rakeback deal, as suddenly they don't have access to the full, fishy database. If that means the games decline in quality at their particular skin, then they have to choose to either play at Party with no rakeback deal, stay where they are with rakeback and reduced profits, or to play somewhere else, with or without rakeback. If Party allows rakeback, though, (and it looks like they might), then all those players simply move to Party and sign up for rakeback again.

It's a potentially severe blow to Party licensees as far as potential poker profits go, so you could argue that by extension players will suffer, since bonuses will be fewer or smaller. Honestly, though, most of the Party skins have been offering pretty crappy bonuses anyway lately, so even that's not a huge loss. You have to keep in mind, too, that Coral/Eurobet, Intertops, and Multibet all do much more business on the sportsbetting side anyway, and poker has never been their main focus.

As far as the effect on other unrelated sites, again, I can't see it really changing much. Probably a good thing for sites like PokerStars, Paradise, FullTilt, and the Cryptos, as turmoil within your main competiton is always good. I wouldn't be surprised at all, though, if Party ultimately acquires Empire (which is owned by Tradal, Ltd.), as SportingBet nearly acquired Empire, so they're definitely inclined to being purchased, and it makes much more sense for Party to do it, given the whole licensor/licensee relationship.

Probably the biggest upheaval will be in the affiliate world, especially with rakeback sites. Anyone with a rakeback site solely relying on Eurobet/Multibet/Intertops as a way to offer rakeback on the Party network is completely screwed, as they'll lose most of their player base they've spent time acquiring, since few people savvy enough to seek out a rakeback deal on those sites is going to continue playing there, now that the player pool isn't shared. If Party does open up rakeback again on its site, then all hell will break loose with rakeback sites scrambling to scoop up returning players. Which might ultimately result in players actually benefiting with slightly better deals than before.

Like anything, time will tell. But it's hard for me to see this as much of a dramatic shift for most players. If anything, it might end up being a positive thing, as far as making more players aware of rakeback and offering the chance to wipe the slate clean and get the best deal for Party rakeback.

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