The Infiniti Poker Disappearing Act
The site, the brainchild of Canadian entrepreneur Michael Hajduk, is currently inaccessible via Infiniti’s dedicated poker client. Infiniti Poker’s home page, as noted in a recent report at pokerfuse, has been inaccessible for nearly two weeks.
Hajduk’s years-long launch of Infiniti has been a lengthy tale of banking and infrastructure delays, failed soft launches and beta tests and other problems. Hajduk conceived the site way back in the spring of 2010, then spent the next two years selling his concepts to investors and building a high-profile infrastructure. By the fall of 2012, when Infiniti’s first announced launch date came and went, the promises included Bitcoin transactions for US players, social responsibility and charitable initiatives run through the site, and even webcam-based online tables — called “Infinivision” — conceptualized to allow players to interactive with each other and make the online poker experience more human.
Add in such expensive up-front moves as hiring prominent Canadian pro Gavin Smith as a site spokesman, and retaining high-end accounting/auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers to help create the site’s financial structures, and it’s clear there was a huge up-front investment, a sunken cost already long spent when the site finally began beta-testing last November.
What’s not as clear is that a similar heavy budget was reserved for the sort of advertising that could make the whole thing pay off.
In its first couple of months of operation, Infiniti Poker appears to have attracted no more than a few dozen players; the site itself remains so small that it’s not even being tracked or listed by PokerScout, which despite its own errors, is usually a reasonable spot to at least see what sites are operational.
Even since beta-testing began in November, Infiniti Poker has been dogged by problems. First came early reports of chip-dumping and collusion among the site’s very few players, which Infiniti, to its credit, quickly addressed, in some cases confiscating player funds. But then came vague announcements of unexpected “banking issues” and repeated periods of down time for the site; the latest two weeks is the longest such to date.
Demands for information by both players and media have gone unanswered since the first half of media. Infiniti’s Director of Social Media, Edwardo Jackson, had often posted on Facebook and Twitter and in an Infiniti-related thread at the 2+2 discussion forums (under the handle of “JCMSwag”), but has gone silent as well, including a cryptic note on Feb. 17th in which he said, regarding the site’s claimed banking issues, “I have no problem delivering bad news. However, I have a problem delivering no news.”
Since then, Jackson has disappeared from all social-media outlets.
One possibility, which Infiniti would do well to debunk, is that the site has been trapped into an unfavorable arbitrage situation regarding its Bitcoin exchanging which — if the failing Bitcoin bank Mt. Gox was involved — could have rendered some of Infiniti’s operational assets either devalued or entirely inaccessible.
Infiniti Poker is unique in the online poker world for offering deposits both in real-world, government-back currencies such as dollars and euros as well as in Bitcoins, accepted specifically to allow Infiniti to serve the US market without violating any US banking laws.
However, Infiniti was the only site to attempt to handle both real currencies and the virtual Bitcoin currency at the same time, serving as a live financial exchange medium even as it offered online poker services. No other online site has attempted to offer poker funded by both real currencies and Bitcoins; such BTC sites as SealsWithClubs and Satoshi Poker are Bitcoin-only.
The underlying problem — which may well have been one of the infrastructure issues which for so long delayed Infiniti’s initial launch — is that by accepting both types of deposits in real time, Infiniti thus exposed itself to transfer and price fluctuations, unless it managed to enter into a private deal with a large Bitcoin exchange to handle those currency trades independently, and thus attempt to mitigate that risk.
Except, as many thousands of Bitcoin users have discovered, some risks aren’t mitigated as much as they are redistributed. For those of our readers not watching the Bitcoin news sphere, the largest online BTC exchange, Mt. Gox, appears deep into a death spiral amid allegations of massive hacking and theft of Bitcoins from the site’s supposedly secure BTC-storage system.
Mt. Gox (actually an acronym for “Magic: The Gathering – Online Exchange”, showing off the site’s gaming roots) has been plagued by failures to allow customers to withdraw their Bitcoins, with the virtual currency’s value plummeting on its exchange as a result. Mt. Gox, like Infiniti, has been offline for several days, and according to news reports is now the subject of both Japanese and American criminal financial investigations.
Many, many individual users have Bitcoin deposits at Mt. Gox which could be rendered worthless if the site collapses instead of reorganizing and finding a way to pay off its user debt, details of which have also been leaked to media outlets in recent days. It’s no stretch to assume that some entrepreneurial businesses could be on the hook as well.
Is Infiniti among them? Are Infiniti’s unspecified “banking problems” an essential freezing of its operational Bitcoin assets at Mt Gox, thus rendering them unavailable? This is admittedly wild conjucture, but Infiniti’s utter disappearance from the internet for nearly two weeks, with no explanation to its customers, makes such the company fair game for such conjecture. It is on Infiniti to treat its customers with respect and openness, and they are utterly failing in that regard.
Whether Infiniti’s unexplained downtime and customer-service failures are part of a larger, pending failure of the site as a whole remains to be seen.
Infiniti Poker may well go down in online-poker history as a grand experiment that was too innovative to succeed. Stepping too far beyond established market boundaries often requires additional investment and promotion, and it’s not clear that Infiniti was ever quite up to the task. One thing’s for sure: With consumer confidence waning, Infiniti Poker’s clock is quickly running out.