Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Provocative Pair

Two cereus plantsInteresting juxtaposition of poker stories here at the start of the week.

First Absolute Poker and UltimateBet announced in a press release issued Monday they’ve finally joined their player pools and launched that Cereus poker “network.” You remember. Bigger, badder, better.

Hard to read the presser without smiling here and there at the many unintended ironies. For example, the first line states “It’s being hailed as a totally new online poker platform, but for players at UltimateBet and Absolute Poker, there will be a lot of old familiar faces at the tables.” Of course, there are at least a few “old familiar faces” players most certainly do not want to see at the tables. Potripper, NioNio, Russ Hamilton, et al. (Rim shot.)

There’s more in the release about how the whole project took over 12 months to develop and how the combined player pools means Cereus “has instantly become the industry’s third largest online poker network.” Will certainly be interesting to see what sort of numbers Cereus attracts. I’m seeing a report over on PokerScout about the launch. They are saying that players began filling tables within an hour of the new software going online last night, and now traffic “appears to be headed toward a peak of some 4000 real money ring game players, close to the expected sum of traffic from the two sites when they operated independently.”

PokerScout also notes how some are already complaining about the new software on the forums, in particular the UltimateBet crowd, since it looks like the big change was to make UB look more like Absolute. I personally never liked the UB software much, but some were devoted, it seems, and thus the complaints.

Now my buddy Mark over at Plan3tGong makes a good point about the Cereus launch giving the hyperbolic “haters” a chance to relaunch their own network of negativity directed toward AP, UB, and those who choose to promote ’em. He’s right to say there isn’t much constructive in further demonizing those responsible for the cheating and attempted cover-ups, not to mention those not responsible (i.e., affiliates) who have suffered a kind of collateral damage here.

Still, I’m not seeing how anyone faced with a choice between playing at, say, PokerStars, or the new AP/UB hybrid could possibly be all that encouraged to play at the terrible twins’ site given the huge differences in the sites’ relative safety and service.

The Cereus launch story reads a bit differently, perhaps, thanks to that other story from yesterday, namely, the news that 60 Minutes plans to air (finally) that segment on the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet insider cheating scandals this Sunday, November 30th. Had a reader email me this screen shot of the 60 Minutes’ “Up Next” page yesterday (thanks, Adam):

That summary is intriguing, suggesting as it does that a focus of the piece will be the “mostly-unregulated” nature of online poker, thus implying regulation is warranted. One gets the sense from the summary -- and a clip from the segment currently being shown over on the CBS site -- that an idea will be to present the online poker world as a veritable (if virtual) “Wild West” sorely in need of some sort of oversight.

The clip begins with segment host Steve Kroft’s voice intoning “We should tell you that this $18 billion industry is illegal in the U.S., but the ban is almost impossible to enforce, since the internet sites and the computers that randomly deal the cards and keep track of the bets are located offshore, beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.”

But that doesn’t stop “thousands of mostly young men” from playing (Kroft continues). I said way back in March (has it been that long?!) when we first heard rumors about a 60 Minutes exposé that those of us who play online poker should welcome such scrutiny, not fear it. And I still feel the same way, although I suppose I share the trepidation of some regarding how the mainstream might misinterpret statements like “this $18 billion industry is illegal in the U.S.” Yes, it is illegal to operate a site, but, as we all know, it ain’t illegal for us to play. (Most of us, anyway.) But how will most viewers hear that line on Sunday?

More specifically, will the 60 Minutes story negatively affect traffic over on the new Cereus network? Probably depends partly on exactly how the story is told, although my hunch is the report won’t have that much of an impact on AP & UB’s numbers, mainly because we Americans are still (realistically speaking) somewhat limited when it comes to our choices for online poker.

I’m guessing the story won’t be affecting most of you reading this blog. You’ve made your decision already about AP/UB, one way or the other.

As have I.

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