Do you know your ‘Flop’ from your ‘Fold’? Your ‘River’ from your ‘Rainbow’? During this lockdown, thousands more people are picking up the poker lingo as they try to make the most of the hand they’ve been dealt. Online poker is experiencing a resurgence in a way not seen since the original ‘online poker boom’ back in 2003-2006.

To evidence the scale of the popularisation of poker, PokerStars, one of MTM Sport’s clients, recently reported record participation in their online poker tournaments and has seen the number of online poker players doubled in some markets. Searches for ‘online poker’ in the UK saw a huge spike around the time the UK went into lockdown.

In this week’s mailer, we examine the growth that has taken place in the first half of 2020, consider why it’s occurred and what the future might look like for online poker.

Who are the audiences behind this resurgence?

  1. Poker Pros: are sure to have recognised the potential opportunities for money-making in online poker at the moment. Fuller tables leading to larger pots, as well as plenty of inexperienced players to play against presents a great opportunity for those with advanced knowledge of  ‘when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em’.
  2. Poker Socialisers: those who usually play at a friend’s house or after work are recreating the social side of the game by moving their real-world games online and organising private tables with people they would normally play poker face-to-face with.
  3. Poker Newbies: those looking for a new activity to fill their time in lieu of usual hobbies. Analysis of Google trends reveals that ‘how to play poker’ searches saw a 200% increase in the month after the UK entered lockdown. This suggests the boom is particularly being driven by the Newbies. It is this audience which online poker companies will be most keen to retain after lockdown, when the other groups have likely returned to previous poker habits.

What’s next for online poker?

The question now is whether this ‘second boom’ of online poker will continue once social spaces begin to open again. It’s likely that there will be a drop off in the number of online poker players, but the extent to which some players will be retained is hard to predict. For the larger online poker companies, keeping these new online poker customers interested and cross-selling online sportsbook and online casino products will likely be the priority.

One strategy for maintaining engagement post-lockdown may be to focus on developing the social side. Although the poker product is of course at the heart of the offer, being able to talk and to compete with friends is, for many, what makes the game great. Brands that are able to provide enhanced social features and personalisation are more likely to succeed in retaining Poker Socialisers who value the interaction as much as the game itself.

In terms of retaining Poker Newbies, their experience of playing online poker will need to have been positive enough for it to become a part of their entertainment repertoire post-lockdown. Of course, the ‘thrill of the win’ is important, but the experience must go beyond this. Providing intuitive user-interfaces, optional tournaments and events, as well as an accessible and easy to understand product all play a role. Poker brands will need to continue to up their game to deliver a product and experience that is as comparable and enjoyable as other online entertainment sources. As ever, compelling offers to secure as great a proportion of this new audience as possible will also be required.

It’s estimated that the global online gambling market will grow by 13.2% from $58.9 billion in 2019 to $66.7 billion in 2020, so whether or not this boom continues, it has certainly provided a huge shot in the arm for the online poker industry. The next 6-12 months should reveal which online poker companies have been able to curate an offer which appeals to these new online poker audiences most effectively.

Please remember to always gamble responsibly