Can online poker ever recover from Black Friday?

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Hollywood was never particularly kind to poker. In westerns, the card game inevitably led to a gunfight in the dusty street outside the saloon. Other genres updated the theme but it was generally the precursor to a fight between good and evil; the righteous and the sinner.

Black Friday – April 12, 2011 – reinforced those notions, all but destroying what was, at the time, a vibrant sector in the U.S. online gaming industry. The legal action against online poker companies was the culmination of a process which began five years earlier with the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Act of 2006.

The U.S. government, never one to over-react, was hell-bent on recovering funds from illegal activities and decided that confiscating the moneys of innocent parties for what in some cases is six years and counting, was a small price to pay.
Six years on from Black Friday, the tales of woe grew with sites such as Lock Poker going offline without warning, and players losing their bankrolls in the process. The market found itself transformed by the draconian legal action, with companies paying the U.S. Treasury eye-watering sums to smooth their way back to the market at a future date.

THERE’S A BIG WIDE WORLD OUT THERE
But what was the market they re-entered like and how had it changed? Trust in online sites is vital to their commercial success and is hard won; Black Friday ripped it up and tossed it in the trash. The biggest challenge for iPoker companies is winning back that trust.

With every loser, there are winners. Six years on and players bankrolls have been repaid by some companies but with others, there is a still a significant sum outstanding. As tempting and as quick a win commercially, the path of repaying the debt is fraught with problems. Not least because buying goodwill rarely ends well.
The habits of online players changed as well. Brand loyalty counts but many use multiple sites, protecting themselves against bankruptcies and devilish legislation. The one thing every U.S. player hopes for is regulations being passed but the process is tortuous with prophecies about the speed of the process being wildly and hopelessly inaccurate.

Outside of the U.S., Black Friday’s impact was a period of insularity, where physical borders encroached on the electronic world. Europe in particular grappled for some time with the thorny issue of the open market philosophies of the European Union contradicting the national laws and regulations.

The process of change is slow but happening with the major European markets permitting an international feel, permitting players to play outside their borders. Brexit may yet affect these further but for the moment, players can enjoy the changes as they happen.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Bookmakers and their software providers are readying themselves for the intercontinental markets, with many augmenting their current offerings of the traditional sports betting, with casinos and poker tables. Newcomers such as Betway and Net Ent are a prime example, bringing the excitement of Las Vegas to the comfort of your living room.

And with iGaming enjoying a sustained growth period, the prospect of a pan-European virtual table can only invigorate players and bring more to the market. The poker match at the heart of the spy movie genre, where the key protagonists frequently meet for the first time in the film, is becoming a virtual reality.

There’s a sense that the next decade is going to be a crucial time for iPoker. Enhanced mobile technologies and indeed VR technologies such as Oculous make the poker table more easily within reach in a world where time is becoming more frequently regarded, as precious.

Yet there is a balance to be found. One which creates an environment that the players enjoy without boredom setting in. A place where the enjoyment doesn’t become tiresome. The key for every company in the market is to keep their offerings fresh. Those who don’t move with the times and adapt, are falling by the wayside while the energetic and inventive are leading the field.

Black Friday will always be a reference point in time. Out of pain, profit shall come. The aspiration for the future must be that it is a watershed, a painful moment along the path to maturity.