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The PokerHost Players Nobody Wants

What happens when you get too good at online poker?  Sites don’t really want you any more.  The latest illustration of this business truism is the tale of players of the online poker site PokerHost, who just can’t seem to find a site willing to accept their play.

pokerhost-logoAs recently reported by several PokerHost players and touched upon in a couple of online reports, a few of the best high-volume ‘Hosters have been told their patronage is no longer required.  A 2+2 poster named Bazuko was the first to report that something was up, back on April 26th:

At this time your Poker Host has been closed, since our network has come to this decision after checking your table activity and have notice your aggressive play within the network, they have done a serious of background checks in order to come to this conclusion, at this time since we are in a small but growing poker network we cannot afford your aggressive behavior , we are now in a network the focuses on having recreational poker players and you do not meet this criteria, we thank you for your business at Poker Host, but at this time we will restricted your account, and the we will proceed with the normal process to cash out your funds in a prompt matter. We will be happy to hear from you in about 6 months to a year, time the we expect to be big enough to afford your activity and continue the good relationship the we have had.

Reports from others soon followed, confirming that PokerHost had indeed booted a bunch of the most profitable players from the site, with virtually all of them receiving the cut-and-paste, English-as-a-second-language paragraph above.

“Aggressive play” seems to be the chosen euphemism for “won too much,” and that’s the real story here.  PokerHost isn’t the first network to take steps to make it tougher on online sharks.  Such changes as Bodog/Bovada’s institution of its “recreational model,” making all players anonymous, are part of the same paradigm shift, as are attempts by other sites to limit tables, or segregate players by win rate, or set up special new-player sections.

PokerHost is caught right in the middle of this industry crossfire.

The lockout for these few profitable players, which may number between a handful and several dozen, comes just after PokerHost’s own move from the Merge Network to the new Equity Poker Network (EPN).  Equity itself was founded with the promotion of a “shark tax” which is designed to charge back against network skins who provide a disproportionate percentage of players who are significantly better than average.  Such excessive “reconciliation” payments are asserted to have a negative impact on network liquidity as a whole, in addition to placing an increased burden on all sites to provide new players to replace those who lose rapidly and become part of the churn.

But the PokerHost saga didn’t start there.  Last year, before the site’s move, PokerHost and its players found itself segregated from much of the rest of the action on the Merge Network and its flagship site, Carbon Poker.

Given that the Merge Network dropped its segregation policy immediately after PokerHost and its players departed for EPN, its not too much of a stretch to deduce that the earlier Merge move was designed to force PokerHost off the network and onto whatever other network they could find.  Letting PokerHost’s players play only against each other would have had the same effect as what might be facing Equity — massively one-sided reconciliation payments that could cause problems with overall network cash flow.

One has to remember that PokerHost isn’t the first site to draw fire from having players who were, overall, too good.  The vile Lock Poker first surged to prominence by poaching players from other sites, doing its own migration from the Cake Network (Revolution) to Merge and back to a rebranded Revolution, basically by promising excessive rakeback deals to the same top-of-the-pecking-order players who turn hefty profits.  A few such players must exist, but any network or site can only afford so many.

Your author is also not suggesting that PokerHost is anything like Lock Poker in other regards.  PokerHost has always been responsible to its players, processing cashouts and answering player concerns on a timescale equal to or faster than other sites on the same networks at like times.  Lock, on the other hand, appears more and more to a be a complex Ponzi scheme in the later stages of having ripped off the poker world for several million dollars.

Yet the playing ground has changed.  PokerHost and other sites with a (presumed) disporportionate percentage of profitable players are being squeezed from several directions.

I reached out for comments from sources at some of the entities involved.  Clive Archer, the front exec for both the Equity Poker Network and its flagship skin, FullFlush Poker, declined to even respond to a request for comment.  So I turned to a PokerHost person whom I know, who didn’t want to speak on the record or talk about the specifics regarding the relationships with either Merge or EPN.

However, what that source did say reaffirms the slow squeeze being placed on high-profit players: “The industry is moving against winning players … all these years of shrinking deposit bases, bound to happen.”

The source continued by suggesting the same will also, eventually, take place in the US market: “I suspect it will be worse in the regulated US market after a time … once Wall St. gets its grubby little hands involved.”  I’m less sure of that, though it’s not an impossibility.  After all, blackjack card-counters are often banned for winning, as happened to actor Ben Affleck just last week.

Yet the flip side of that is recognizing that in many cases, the high-volume, high-profit grinders who are being targeted have built their high-profit ways by using certain third-party software aids that are themselves likely to be banned from the regulated US sites.  HUDs (heads-up displays) and similar aids have been banned already in Nevada, whereas in New Jersey, they’re currently in a “won’t endorse, won’t ban” status, as described by a official last month.

It’s all part of a day of reckoning for addressing the imbalances which have grown in the online poker.  And as the PokerHost example shows, it’s unlikely to get rosier for top grinders any time soon.



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