Since its very beginning over fifteen years ago, a dark shadow has been cast upon the online poker industry. The government, the media, affluent opponents of the activity, even some poker players have drug online poker through the mud, giving an outward appearance of its illegitimacy. Even the live version is generally looked upon as more of a pastime than a game of skill, despite tournaments being worth as much as $10 million or more to the indubitably skilled winner. Thus industry authority Alexandre Dreyfus is aiming to get poker viewed as a genuine sport.
Dreyfus is the founder and CEO of Zokay Entertainment who acquired the Global Poker Index in 2012 after its previous owner, Federated Sports + Gaming, filed for bankruptcy. Under Dreyfus’ capable wing, the GPI evolved into a unified ranking platform that grades more than 300,000 live tournament poker players all over the world. Dreyfus has made it his mission to elevate the game of poker to new heights, revolving into his most recent goal to ‘sportify poker’.
Last month, Dreyfus began his campaign to sportify poker with a press release on GPI entitled, ‘Let’s Sportify Poker – Discover the Brand-ability of the Game’, authored by Zokay’s Product and Marketing Manager, Jean Paul Stivala. The missive pointed out that live poker has grown 20% year-over-year in the last decade and is poised for record breaking 6% growth in 2014. “While this is great,” said Stivala, “much still needs to be done to develop Poker to reach its true potential, as a sport and as a living ‘ecosystem’.”
To sportify poker, Stivala wrote that education, content and content distribution, and propagation of GPI player rankings are all necessary steps. That sentiment was reiterated in a follow-up blog post last week about the Global Poker League, calling it “the next piece in the puzzle to sportify poker”.
The new post envisioned a blazing trail of success in which the GPI has already begun incorporating ways to get live poker the sports recognition it deserves. These measures include the original ranking of poker players, a social media-based fantasy sports division (Fantasy Poker Manager), regional award ceremonies (European Poker Awards and American Poker Awards), and more sports-oriented formatting of events. Examples include the Global Poker Masters, aka ‘Poker World Cup’, and the Global Poker League for professionals.
Steve Ruddock, an industry expert and journalist for several major iGaming websites, commended Dreyfus for his efforts. But in the same token, he added that sportifying poker would take an additional step to legitimize online poker. Ruddock said that many live poker players also play online, but that just as many don’t trust internet gambling websites. He said that the biggest problem has been the sources of propagating that resounding lack of trust.
“From 60 Minutes specials on Super-User scandals, to US Attorney Office’s calling one of the most well known online poker sites a Ponzi scheme, to Sheldon Adelson’s very negative anti-online gambling campaign, is it any wonder the average person on the street is quite skeptical about online poker?” said Ruddock.
He asserted that major online poker operators like PokerStars, as well as the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, have taken great strides in legitimizing the online poker industry, but that more needs to be done. As he pointed out, “the same regulatory bodies you trust when you visit a land-based casino are overseeing online gambling.” All in all, it’s a simple deprivation of public awareness that is holding live and online poker back from being viewed as a legitimate sport.