Who is to Blame for Uninspiring Online Poker Software?

Online poker players have been chirping about the quality of the software that is being used by online poker providers in regulated U.S. markets from Day 1.

The software online poker players had grown accustomed to pre-Black Friday (now over three years ago) was light years ahead of the current software being used. This regression has rankled many players, and created an audible longing for the return of PokerStars.

It’s not hard to understand where this disappointment and outrage is coming from; imagine if Apple’s latest iPhone release stripped out all of its features, and was little more than a 1995 Motorola Flip-Phone?

The idea that in 2014 this is the best these online poker companies can provide us with simply doesn’t seem possible. So why is this the product we are left to use?

Who, if anyone, is to blame for the lackluster online poker software in the U.S.?

The state of New Jersey

The first finger of blame should be pointed at New Jersey.

Before we start berating the sites and the regulators, let’s not forget the ultra-aggressive launch schedule (nine months) that would make Isildur1 blush and say, “wow, that’s pretty aggressive.”

The reality of the situation is that because of the accelerated launch schedule the sites were essentially forced by the state to get their product to market as fast as possible, and that meant stripping down their software to make sure the DGE was able to approve it.

One prominent casino CEO stated that ideally he would have liked a couple years to get ready for the launch, but the accelerated timeline forced them to work harder. What he left unsaid was whether or not this was a good thing or not, and how much better the product would have been if they were given more time.

To be fair, rushing hasn’t been an issue in Nevada, where regulators have chosen the slow and steady approach when it comes to online poker sites.

Ultimate Poker launched in April of 2013 with close to two years to get their product ready. They did so with a completely bare-bones platform (it’s since been upgraded but still well behind what players have available on the global market) that was underwhelming.

The January launch of South Point’s Real Gaming poker site was one of the worst products online poker has seen in recent memory. South Point has also upgraded their software to a certain level of respectability since.

So, while accelerated timelines may have played a role in New Jersey, Nevada has shown us they certainly aren’t the only factor.

Regulation Procedure

What many players who criticize the sites don’t understand is the sites do have better software available – I’ve seen it with my own eyes and so have you. They do have more features and more games, and waiting lists!

The problem is, in these new regulated markets the regulators must sign off on all software features, and this has caused the online operators to launch with a stripped-down software client in order to get their software approved and into the market in a timely fashion.

The DGE’s Technical Services Chief Eric Weiss recently told OnlinePokerReport.com:

“The Technical Services Bureau employs mathematicians, electrical engineers, programmers, and IT Security Specialists to evaluate the products that are submitted for approval… we assigned staff who are familiar with poker rules to evaluate the game play and fraud detection.”

Weiss went on to say, “We utilized volunteers from various Bureaus of the Division for game play evaluation and used specialists to conduct the technical evaluation.”

Of course, there is only so much money in the budget, and it’s likely that the regulators in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware are learning a lot of these things on the fly. As one industry source with knowledge of the process who wished to remain anonymous told me, the process is slow and there is a lot of red tape.

This certainly makes sense when we compare certain sites’  global and New Jersey product.

This slow process can be verified, since we have seen that updates approved in one state may not be approved in another, which seems to indicate there is a learning curve for regulators.

If some sites’ global products run better and have more features than their U.S. products, shouldn’t we start pointing the finger at the regulators as the reason the New Jersey online poker software is three, four, or possibly five releases behind their global product?

Fortunately, this seems like an area that has improved and will continue to improve exponentially as regulators get a better handle on online poker software, and as operators fall into rhythm with the regulators.

Online Poker Sites

Finally, the sites themselves have to take some culpability as well. Nobody forced them to launch with an inferior product, they decided they needed to do so in order to get the perceived first-mover advantage, or to avoid being left behind and playing catch-up with their peers.

However, they may have done so at the expense of their long-term prospects in the market.

As 888 CEO Brian Mattingley told me in an interview, “if a potential customer has their credit card rejected they probably won’t play again,” and this same logic can be applied to players who have bad experiences with a site’s software.

Some of the early software has been so bad that it has no doubt soured people to online poker.

I’m sure there were plenty of people who took to the online poker tables for the very first time when Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware launched their industries and experienced disconnect issues, or lag and choppy graphics, or features that would have been annoying the last time they played in 2004.

These players will probably shun online poker for another 10 years. In their mind, nothing has changed.

About the Author

Steve Ruddock

Steve is a seasoned veteran of the online gambling industry, having written about it from every possible angle in his many years as a freelance gaming writer. Based in Massachusetts, Steve especially focuses on regulatory and legislative news coverage pertaining to the U.S. market.