Killing a PKR Room4 years ago
How do you kill a poker room? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since I heard the news that PKR.com has shut its doors less than a year and a half since migrating over to the Microgaming Poker Network – and the answers don’t make for good reading; a touch of bad luck in the past, terrible mismanagement in the present and a blatant disregard for the future from those at the top for the player base and staff who made the site a unique place to play the game we all love.
There are players and networks involved who ought to hang their heads in shame: Chris Welch, Alex Scott, MPN and iPoker among them, but before I get into the meat of this sad tale, however, a short digression is necessary…
Back in the late noughties, while I was grinding my way to anonymity on PokerStars, my dreams of turning pro never quite being matched by my ability, my younger brother and his friends had also discovered the poker bug in a much different way.
“PKR.com”, he told me, “is amazing! You can design and create your own avatar, play at 3D tables, and the players are all like me – terrible but loving it!”
The site was unique, and it remained that way for several years –pros and ‘bumhunters’ finding the amazing but slow graphics a barrier to them actually making enough money to make it worthwhile – easier pickings elsewhere.
So, by the turn of the decade, we had a unique site with amazing graphics, with a very decent player base numbers-wise, and just in time for the virtual reality world kicking in! A sure-fire winner, no?
The poker players’ bane and simply a part of life. Launching just when the US market was about to be hit by the UIGEA sledgehammer was unfortunate. Later, segregated markets in Europe affected PKR’s pool, but let’s be clear – bad luck doesn’t kill off a poker site! So, what does?
Terrible Mismanagement: Part 1
When you have a great product and refuse to give it the attention it needs, you are digging your own grave in business. When those who care about their poker site plead with you to fix its problems and stop investing in trivial things which are already great then you should listen to them.
Player withdrawals? Speed them up. Buggy software? Work on the code. Bad customer service? Sort it out! PKR.com failed to do these things - and more - many years ago.
And whose fault is this historical, pre-MPN, set of problems? Well, it has to be laid at the door of PKR.com’s CEO Chris Welch…
Kiss of Death number 1: Chris Welch
I’m not a huge ‘industry’ person when it comes to poker, I prefer to play and write feature articles, but those I do speak to regularly refer to Welch and his ability to turn perfectly good - sometimes excellent - companies into dust as a ‘kiss of death’.
One person doesn’t often kill off a dream, but Welch has made a pretty good job of screwing up most things he touches – and for a man high up in the poker industry, the former Party Poker man’s knowledge of the game and how the business works is apparently shockingly poor.
So, who better to run one of the most innovative poker sites ever designed into an early grave? A “super arrogant individual” as one of my sources describes him is exactly the wrong kind of person required when you have customers (poker players, who now stand to lose most of their bankrolls in light of PKR.com’s demise) explaining what’s not working, and staff letting it be known they are not happy.
Of course, Welch talks the talk. When PKR decided on its final fateful move over to MPN he was full of wonderful ideas and epithets…
"PKR has survived (and sometimes thrived) for 10 years as a stand-alone poker room, but neither our staff, investors nor players are content with 'survival', and we have ambitious plans.
We are still totally committed to our 3D world, and to our community, as these are the two things that have got us this far. Being able to tap into a bigger player pool just makes sense.
Because of this and so many other new or improved features we'll share with you next week, it's a ground-breaking moment for PKR. I hope you go all-in with us and see where it leads!"
And you can be sure Mr Welch made a shit-ton of money from the migration – money unlikely to be affected by the ‘administrators magic touch’ which will see staff laid off (quickly) and player’s paid pennies on the pound (not so quickly).
Ask yourself what PKR could hope to achieve by migrating, and what it might lose, and you’ll quickly discover an imbalance of epic proportions.
Pros: a new website boasting two online casinos and a new VIP loyalty scheme where "the overwhelming majority of you will be better rewarded than before," according to Welch, a reward which no-one will be seeing at all now.
Bigger player pools? Yes, but now the PKR faithful don’t have a player pool! Welch could have created a bigger player pool by fixing the site’s problems instead, but ‘what problems?’ is the mark of the arrogant.
Cons: How do you retain players when you’re on a network but not fixing inherent problems? Answer is, you don’t – they eventually play on the networks other sites, the ones which MPN favor, but we’ll get to that contentious point soon enough).
What made PKR unique also disappears when you move to a network – the software is the same for all sites, even if the option is still there to have 3D tables. It might solve some of the tech issues, but you’ve become one homogenos mass instead of being the most innovative site in online poker. It’s called a USP in marketing terms – your Unique Selling Point – and you’ve just chucked it away.
And that old monstrosity rears its ugly head – fees! MPN aren’t hosting sites for free, and you can’t just sign up without chucking someone at MPN a bunch of money to begin with! Signup fee and a monthly direct debit doesn’t begin to describe the costs involved.
And what did PKR think they were joining when Chris Welch took them into the MPN morass which would finally kill them off? Let’s have a look…
Terrible Mismanagement: Part 2
It seems like an easy answer when you don’t know or don’t care about how your poker site can improve in an admittedly difficult market. Ship everything off to a network and all will be rosy. The problem is, the majority of insiders I’ve spoken with this week are of the opinion that almost nobody on MPN is making any money – the sites that is, of course the big boys behind the scenes will be raking it in!
Kiss of Death number 2: Alex Scott
One of the biggest boys there is when it comes to MPN, Scott has a track record of making very dubious and highly self-interested decisions, a case in point being the Stan James fiasco, which highlighted some serious conflicts of interest inside MPN – although nothing actually illegal or against UKGC rules as far I can decipher it.
Basically Stan James became a rather surprising success on MPN, a fact which other skins such as Ladbrokes and Unibet were naturally unhappy about – the age-old network problem of players migrating to other skins, which PKR.com were hit hard by under Welch’s captaincy.
When MPN decided to limit Stan James’ rooms on the network, surprise, surprise, the players left again – and this kind of nepotism in favor of some skins over others is the first sign of a corrupt establishment. Scott wielded his power and influence, the question as to why is for you to decide.
Add to this the fact that some rooms on the network can run lucrative rake races while others can’t, and similarly some affiliates can run some promotions, other affiliates can't, and you have all the makings of a scenario which will see poker sites fail, as has happened with PKR this week – as with Welch, Alex Scott seems incapable of making good business decisions for the entirety of the network’s sites and players.
Kiss of Death number 3: Network corruption
And it’s not only MPN, just to be even-handed about this. iPoker seem hell-bent on taking the same approach, and it’s all because of the ‘big players’.
It’s a corruption inside the ‘poker network’ system of operating: MPN has the Betsson Group skins which it has to keep happy, and damn the rest to PKR’s fate. iPoker has Bet365 filling their pockets and vice-versa, and the others are simply so much waste material – good for a quick buck and little else.
And of course, a network can’t grow in this way – in fact it can only recede into a smaller, less-effective machine, chewing up the masses along the way. It’s unsustainable and sources I have spoken to recently don’t think MPN will even be here in a couple of years. It’s a self-serving and highly abusive approach, so to finish this parable for the poker ages, let’s look at who loses in all of this…
The death toll
"Is my money safe? My bankroll?"
The short answer? No, your money is pretty much gone forever. Not for the first time, and unless we get a grip on this problem, not for the last either sadly.
‘But PKR is a UK regulated firm, licensed by the Gambling Commission’ said some of the British players affected by this sad tale of inefficiency and abuse of power. Yes, and you’re money is STILL fucking gone.
"But we had segregated funds? And MPN will surely stump up since they owned PKR?"
Yes you did, and no they won’t, and no they didn’t.
It’s harsh, but the reality is that MPN ‘only offered services’ and won’t be reimbursing anyone. And your segregated funds will be used to pay off ALL the outstanding monies the site owes, the loyal poker players themselves maybe lucky in receiving a percentage of their winnings and bankrolls back, but how much and when are a small, and then a big, number.
It sucks. It’s a sad tale, and also a sordid one once you peer inside the workings of the beast. What was once a shining light in the poker world, a site which could have been so very successful if managed correctly, being gradually run into the ground by sheer bloody-mindedness – and then finished off within a year by the self-serving greed of the few. Fuck them all.
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