Full Tilt Drops to 4th in Traffic Rankings

Full Tilt Drops to 4th in Traffic Rankings

full-tilt-logoFor the first time since it was re-launched in November 2012, Full Tilt Poker has fallen out of the No. 2 spot in the weekly online poker traffic listings provided by PokerScout.com. The resurrected site, now owned by Rational Group, the parent company of PokerStars, tumbled to 4th behind PartyPoker and iPoker, continuing a downward trend that began several weeks ago.

PokerScout’s 7-day moving average shows PokerStars retaining its dominant lead with about 41% of the market. PartyPoker is 2nd with 5.7%. iPoker (5.5%), FTP (5.2%) and 888 (4.2%) round out the top five.

Given the opportunity to purchase Full Tilt’s assets from the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2012, Rational Group jumped at the chance. “The idea when they bought it was to own Coke and Pepsi,” said a PokerStars official who requested anonymity.

Instead Rational Group now owns Dr. Pepper – a Dr. Pepper that is sliding backwards week by week.

The scope of the problem, from the outside, is unclear. Full Tilt was long acknowledged to have software that was superior to the rest of the industry. Some of its other competitive advantages – Rush Poker, the fast-fold variant that was originally launched by FTP, and the Full Tilt Poker Academy, a software-integrated poker training site – have eroded in the 18 months that the site was dormant. Almost every poker site now has a fast-fold variant;  some are experimenting with other innovations like anonymous tables and skill-matched tables that once would have been FTP’s provenance. And FTP has yet to bring back the FTP Academy.

Full Tilt also faced a brain drain in the 13 months that it was dormant, with talented executives fleeing to other organizations in the face of the uncertainty around the company’s future. From the public perspective there may also be a lingering goodwill problem. Even though Full Tilt is now backed by Rational Group, the same organization that owns PokerStars, it’s hard to forget how poorly mismanaged the site was revealed to be by the Alderngey Gambling Control Commission and the DOJ.

Full Tilt’s current Head of Marketing is Sarne Lightman, an Australian who started out in the PokerStars organization as a country manager in the Oceanic region in 2005. He quickly rose through the corporate structure at PokerStars, jumping to regional director of marketing for Asia Pacific within a year and then heading marketing for PokerStars in the Latin American region, a key region that has helped PokerStars retain its Number One ranking in traffic.

Lightman, tapped to lead FTP’s marketing efforts shortly after PokerStars concluded the purchase of FTP’s assets from the DOJ, is likely to be under increasing scrutiny from Mark Scheinberg, CEO and Chairman of Rational Group. “[Scheinberg] doesn’t do things like buying Full Tilt to be Number Four,” said the anonymous PokerStars official.

Since 2006, when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act changed the face of online poker in the United States almost overnight, Full Tilt has been a dominant industry operator. Before Black Friday, the site had a long-standing rivalry with PokerStars, fueled in part by profits the two organizations were earning in the United States.

The two poker sites had divergent fates after Black Friday, however. PokerStars came through the storm largely unscathed because it had planned for such an action by successfully diversifying its playerbase away from U.S. players and by segregating customer funds. The site was able to re-pay U.S. players within weeks.

Full Tilt, on the other hand, relied on the U.S. for almost 60% of its revenue and faced a $250 million shortfall in player deposits. Once it was forced to stop operating in the United States and refused to pay out U.S. players, the rest of the world quickly lost confidence in the site. The payout problems caused the AGCC to suspend FTP’s license and eventually led to the company’s sale to Rational Group.


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