Online Poker: Is it time to go all in? With Dmitry Starostenkov, CEO, EvenBet Gaming

A vertical that some may have considered to be pushed to the back benches previously, has seen an impressive rise in popularity of recent, understandably because of the Pandemic. However, many believe that this vertical's growth is set to continue. With more countries, around Europe especially, re-entering lockdown, this trend seems set to continue. But is it just lockdown that is catalysing this growth or are there deeper forces at play?

We spoke with Dmitry Starostenkov, CEO of EvenBet Gaming to find out what other factors are influencing the rise and sustained success of the Poker product vertical. More importantly, how can we as an industry best leverage this situation to ensure future growth and continued player engagement whether at home, on the move or at a physical casino?

At home and online poker have seen a sharp rise in popularity since the initial lockdown and closing of retail casinos. Do you expect this trend to continue or will it level out?

“I think that the online poker vertical will never return to the stagnation it had been experiencing for several years before the pandemic. There are several reasons for that. First, we are in the new normal: the pandemic will eventually stop, but it has dreadfully affected our lifestyles, everyday communications, and preferable entertainment options, including bringing a lot of interactions online, poker being just one of them. The offline/online balance in our lives will never be the same as before.

“Second, due to the initial player influx, poker operators and developers have received a welcome opportunity to introduce innovative features, run more experiments, and create new mechanics. After the boost that pushed the whole vertical forward, online poker is better suited for the new players’ generation.

“And third, it’s not just pandemic, but the legislation moving forward has attracted even more new players to online poker, for example, in the USA, and South America.

“So, probably, we will never see such growth as in spring 2020. But the advancement will not stop either.”

EvenBet have integrated with many operators who also provide sportsbook and casino games. What are the cross-selling opportunities between the audiences? How easy is it to convert a poker player to sportsbook or vice versa?

“Our experience and various researches prove that online sportsbook and poker integration provides mutual benefits for both. There are a lot of similarities in the player behaviour in these two verticals: to succeed, you need an analytical mindset and self-control, as games of skill both betting and poker payout better in the long term perspective, both imply interaction with the community. Finally, sports betting and poker are zero-sum games: users play against each other, and the operator earns a margin or rake. So, adding poker may increase retention and revenue for a sportsbook, and vice versa. We have seen this many times in our projects, starting from the first popular sportsbook integration with 1XBet in 2016.

“The same is valid for many other skill-based verticals as fantasy sports or esports.

“Cross-selling for an online casino with slots, roulettes, etc. is a different story. Slots and casino players rely exclusively on luck, and they are far from the skill development paradigm. For many online casinos, poker doesn’t generate significant revenue and works as one of the hundreds of games available or more as a side project, as the audiences differ immensely. Because of this, the considerable share of online casinos doesn’t even think about integrating any full-featured poker solution.”

Poker is well known for being an attention-demanding, immersive type of game, especially when played in real life. How are you able to re-create this player experience to mobiles with only a limited screen size? Is this even possible?

“It’s not the screen size that keeps us engaged, that was proved successfully by all the social media and the streaming services. The key retention factors are the content, the possibilities to interact with this content, the community, and the acknowledgement by this community.

“For online poker, the factors are the same. It is a social game, and the player community is massive and active. As a developer, we aim to create user interfaces and experiences that would allow users to find and play the most exciting games on all types of devices. In 2021, we have completely changed the mobile UI, enhancing the visibility and accessibility of promotions, bonuses, game filters, player-to-player interactive elements like chats and reactions. The massive switch to portrait-oriented poker tables is also helping us to make mobile poker more immersive.

“We’ve been working on this for months, looking for a balance between providing a full-featured online poker app and easy to navigate interface. The first results are more than encouraging!”

What is the best way to acquire and retain poker players? What sort of marketing tools should operators be looking at going forward?

“The first thing not to forget: poker needs different retention and acquisition tools than slots and other simple games of chance. An operator needs to make a player explore the poker room, and this requires time and effort. There is a huge set of tools that are designed to deeply engage a newbie: first deposit bonus, limited freeroll series, quests, and missions that would encourage them to try different poker games and complete other tasks. Once you make a player spend a significant amount of time in your app and interact with other players, he is more likely to stay.

“Retaining players in poker requires constant refining of the tournament grid, which becomes the most important retention tool for many rooms. For poker players, tournaments are the highlight of their experience, the quintessence of the emotions they get from a game, so one should never underestimate the power of this tool. Additionally, an operator should think about creating bonus models for regular players, setting up the rakeback – a unique poker retention mechanics allowing you to share the per cent of your earnings with the most loyal and active users, and leader boards for those who demand more competition in everyday cash games. To create more buzz and word of mouth outside the room, operators use jackpots and guaranteed prize tournaments and organise cross-promotions with land-based venues running satellites for offline poker events.

“All these tools might be considered essential, and each of them requires precise setup following the needs and the demands of the specific poker room audience: the demographics, the percentage of skilled players, the gaming preferences (for example, whether your users are ready to spend hours playing in a tournament).”

Editor’s note:

From speaking with Dmitry it’s clear that the rise of Poker is not just a ‘flash in the pan’ but actually a new era in online gaming that is here to stay. This has been driven not just by the impact of the pandemic but also due to product innovation, new US-focused legislation and its cross-sell ability with other popular products.

The challenge now will be to learn how to better attract and retain these players. Poker requires a whole different set of engagement tools compared to other verticals such as slots or other simple games of chance. The player’s experience needs to be more exploratory and immersive, which might require a whole new approach for operators but with the help of 3rd party solutions such as EventBet, the future looks promising for the entire sector.



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