Grey Snow Poker’s FairPlay: A Closer Look
Recently, my colleague, the esteemed Women in Poker Hall of Fame nominee Haley Hintze, wrote about the launch of Grey Snow Poker, the first Native American-owned real money online poker site in North America. Aside from its ownership, one thing that makes Grey Snow unique is how it makes money from the poker tables. Rather than charging a traditional rake, Grey Snow Poker uses something called the FairPlay model, a fee-based system. Haley hit on some possible ramifications for players of this system, but I wanted to take this internet space to dive in a bit more. Disclaimer: this is all just “top of my head” stuff, so if you think one of my points is idiotic or you think I’m generally talking out of my ass, just let me know in the comments.
FairPlay Fee Summary
As we all know, poker rooms generate revenue by taking a rake from every cash game pot (and tournament fees, but we’re talking cash games here). With FairPlay, Grey Snow doesn’t do this, instead charging players a 3 percent fee on all buy-ins at the table. This fee isn’t taken when someone sits down, but rather when a player leaves – the 3 percent is charged on the amount of money a player has in their stack when they leave. Thus, if a player sits down with $100, has a great session, and leaves with $200, the player is charged $6. There is also a loyalty program bonus that is returned to the player, but we won’t worry about that in this discussion.
If a player goes bust and stands up with no money remaining at the table, the player is charged nothing.
The idea behind the system is to encourage longer sessions and to hopefully prevent pros and grinders from “bumhunting.” Bumhunters sit down and get up with high frequency to both avoid playing against known skilled players and to sit down with known weak players. FairPlay is designed to prevent this, as every time a player gets up, he is charged a fee. Recreational players are theoretically helped.
Players Can Be Punished for No Fault of Their Own
Thinking about how this will work in practice, I can think of several situations where FairPlay might have unintended negative consequences for players. As Haley mentioned, while Grey Snow is trying to help casual players, it could hurt them if they find themselves in a game full of much stronger players. A recreational player is going to want to stay for a long time so that the fee provides the most value, but in doing so, they will often get their clock cleaned. With FairPlay, this player is punished for staying and punished for making the smart choice and leaving.
There are other scenarios in which a player may end up being punished for a short session when that player never intended for the session to be short. A player could get disconnected and charged a fee. A player might want to play in a full-ring game, only to end up seeing the table break up shortly after they are seated. Now they are stuck either playing short-handed or leaving to find another table (Grey Snow uses an automated seating lobby – players can’t choose their own table) and getting charged the 3 percent fee in the process.
Or what if something happens that requires a player to suddenly leave a game? Last week, my kid woke up in the middle of the night sick, ended up in the bathroom with ghastly hell coming out of both ends. I clearly would have logged off of Grey Snow Poker to be with him and Grey Snow would have taken money that I could have used on cleaning products. One might say “too bad,” but I wouldn’t have this problem at other online poker rooms. The intention of the FairPlay policy is not to punish players in situations such as these, but it does.
Let’s Do Math: Reload Situation
There is one other big potential problem with the FairPlay fee-based system, one for which I did not find an answer on Grey Snow’s website: does it take into account players who are felted and then reload? Stay with me on this one.
As mentioned, if a player busts out of a cash game and leaves, he is not charged a fee. But if he reloads and wins some money back, he is charged a fee even though he still had a net loss.
The thing is, the math works out, but it feels wrong. Maybe I’m just being silly about it. The point of FairPlay is that even though players are not charged a fee until they leave, they are actually charged on the money that is brought to the table. So if six players all buy-in for $100, the charge is $18. If Player A busts, all of the money going to Player B (the rest of the players all still have $100), Player A pays nothing if he leaves, while Player B is potentially on the hook for $6 and the four other players potentially owe $3 (I say potentially because they haven’t left yet). That still adds up to $18.
If Player A reloads for another $100, that’s another $3 in fees, bringing the table total to $21. If Player A then wins back $50, say from Player C, and then decides to leave, he will – I am assuming – have to pay $4.50, as that is 3 percent of the $150 he now has in his stack. Player B still potentially owes $6, Player C potentially owes $1.50 (3 percent of $50), and the other three players still potentially owe $3. Adds up to $21.
But it just feels off to me that Player A is actually $50 in the negative, yet still owes $4.50. If he got up with zero dollars, he would have owed nothing. So in this case, Player A would have paid less money in fees ($3) had he bought in for $100 and then immediately left, than he did by losing $50 ($4.50).
Am I way off here? I feel like I’m missing something. Put another way, if Player A bought in for $100, lost $50 on the first hand and then left, he would have net poker loss of $50 and then paid a fee of $1.50. If he bought in for $100, lost it all on the first hand, reloaded for $100, won $50 on the next hand, then left, he would have net a poker loss of $50, but would then pay a fee of $4.50.
I think the math checks out. I think. Does it? Does any of this make sense or is my mind eating its own tail?