Online poker has gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years, due in part to an unpredictable rise in the number of players online. Smartphone gaming is also increasing, and VR poker offers an entirely novel experience of the game.
Here we take a detailed look at the future of online poker.
In 2020, many industries based around online delivery and digital entertainment underwent rapid growth, including online poker. Online poker traffic in Southern Europe doubled in a matter of weeks. As live events around the world ceased, players looked online – some seeking alternatives to the casino, others taking up poker for the very first time for entertainment. In the months that followed, figures place overall industry growth at around 30%.
This mini online poker boom had a ripple effect on the industry. Regular tournament fields became larger, which also meant bigger prizes for winners. Additional online Series packed out the poker calendar and the biggest live events in the world – such as WSOP and EPT – moved online for the first time in history.
Naturally, this boom will taper off to some extent as the world resumes its live activities. Interestingly, however, the recent industry growth involved a huge number of first time players, an increase of up to 255% (according to research company Global Poker). Player retention will be key for operators in the industry to maintain a solid level of growth.
Projections from The Business Research Centre show optimistic forecasts. The online poker industry was worth an estimated $58.96 billion in 2019, and is expected to be worth an estimated $92.8 billion by 2023, representing a growth rate of 12%.
The future of online poker also depends on legislative policies and government restrictions and, on a fundamental level, where the game is legal.
In the US, recent changes to legislation now means that each State can regulate online poker. So far, New Jersey, Delaware, Nevada and most recently Michigan have embraced online poker from licensed operators. More States (Connecticut and Illinois look close) are expected to set rules around legalized online poker in the coming years. PokerStars now hold major festivals in these states, including the upcoming Summer Stacks.
In another significant development, the introduction of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement opens up the potential for shared player and prize pools across those States in which poker is legal. New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware have already entered a multi-state poker alliance. From the players’ perspectives, this means bigger tourneys and more exciting prize pools, a trend that could continue over the coming decade and set the script for the future of online poker in the US.
Poker has also seen significant growth in other areas around the world, such as Latin America, in particular Brazil. Data from Statistica shows a huge rise in the number of Brazilian players, from 0.1 million in 2006 to 4 million in 2018. Brazilians are winning tourneys too – 50 SCOOP titles in 2021, more than any other country.
Takeaway point: As legislation changes, so does the online poker landscape. Recent changes include the opening up of the online poker market in the US, whilst in countries such as those in Latin America the popularity of online poker is still growing.
According to NewZoo research, mobile gaming overtook console and PC gaming in terms of revenue in 2018, and continues to grow at double-digit rates. Smartphone specs have become more sophisticated, companies are investing greater resources into game development, and customers can easily access unlimited data plans – all this has factored into the mobile gaming revolution.
Poker has embraced this wave. Major operators offer poker apps with the same games and features that are available on desktop versions of the software.
Certain types of players will always prefer the option to use bigger screens and even additional monitors to optimize their performance. Playing on laptop or PC also allows for more effective multi-tabling. Smartphone gaming comes into its own when it comes to recreational poker, especially among players who see online poker as an entertaining game they pick up and play for an hour, or even ten minutes, at home or in transit.
Takeaway point: Mobile gaming is still gaining steam, and although it has certain limitation when it comes to poker, it offers an even more convenient option for players. More players will be playing online poker via smartphone in the future.
Since the early days of online poker, Hold’em poker has been the most popular variation played, and Omaha holds the second spot. This trend shows no sign of buckling any time soon. No Limit games, especially MTTs, provide the ultimate testing ground for poker skill and the arena for huge prizes to be won.
However, there’s also a growing demand for faster, more action-packed versions of the game – fuelled, in part, by the aforementioned popularity in casual smartphone gaming. This has given rise to a number of new formats over the years, including faster blind structure events like hyper-turbos and games that generate more action like Short Deck (6+) poker.
Recent additions to the PokerStars offerings include Spin N Gos and Grand Tour. Both of these formats force the action very quickly. Games can be over in minutes. These games also offer more randomness, not in the poker itself (the odds of which remain the same) but in the spinning up of prizes and bounties. This allows players to win a life-changing jackpot prize with a relatively humble buy-in, adding a casino-like element without taking away from the poker. These games arguably involve less skill and definitely involve less focus than an MTT, but make up for it by offering a very convenient and entertaining way to play poker.
Takeaway point: The future of online poker will see more takes on the game in the coming years, likely with gamification, arcade-like twists, and an appeal to those looking to jump in and out of a game in hours or minutes. These will sit side-by-side with serious MTTs. Old school grinders need not worry. Traditional Texas Hold’em and Omaha games aren’t going anywhere.
Of the new and exciting poker games, VR poker falls into a category of its own. In PokerStars VR, players can sit at the virtual table with others for chips or real money, chat, chill, and hurl objects in an entirely novel experience.It’s is clearly designed to be a lot of fun, and is especially appealing as a recreational format – almost like poker as a video game.
VR poker is still in the early stages. In the future, it could include realistic casino environments that effectively bridge the gap between live and online games. This would bring stronger social elements to online poker, a function that is currently fulfilled with chat boxes and Throwables.
It’s highly unlikely that VR poker will ever come close to replacing online poker. There will still be a much bigger demand for the usual tournaments and SNGs, even as the technology develops in the future. Again, additional formats like VR poker are expected to sit side by side with traditional poker games.
Takeaway point: VR poker is already available. In the future, the technology will develop to offer an even more immersive experience, likely with realistic casino environments. VR poker will offer an additional to online poker, rather than replace it.
Online poker has long interacted with other channels. In the early days, televised poker factored into the meteoric boom in popularity and rush of players to the online rooms. Recently, online poker streamers have embraced Twitch as their platform of choice.
Poker streamers can share their stream with cards face-up, running on a five minute delay for game integrity. Not only that, but they can share their thought-process about the hand, which proves enlightening as well as entertaining for viewers. When it comes to Sunday majors and Series events, the action is gripping.
Statistics show that viewers watched over 7 million hours of online poker in March 2021. Spraggy and Fintan Hand are both up there as top streamers in terms of number of hours. PokerStars have also welcomed several Team Pro members who stream on Twitch, as well as running a YouTube channel, Blog, podcast, and more.
Takeaway point: This multi-channel approach to poker entertainment is likely to continue and develop in coming years. New channels could become the norm as years pass, but for the foreseeable future Twitch is likely to be the option of choice for poker streamers and viewers.
The future of online poker is bright. Although the industry growth is set to level out, a large percentage of players are expected to continue to enjoy online options even as live events return.
The US marketplace is broadening, with five states now welcoming online poker and licensed operators within those states reporting substantial growth.
Operators will continue to release new and exciting variations of poker, catering to a more casual player who uses their smartphone to game. Slow-structured SNGs and MTTs will continue to make up a large portion of the site and app offerings.
Players can already take part in VR poker. This technology is still improving and in the future VR poker may transport players to virtual casinos that replicate settings from around the world.
Online poker will continue to provide entertainment across multiple channels such as Twitch, YouTube and Soundcloud. Although new platforms may emerge, for the foreseeable future Twitch looks to be gaining the most momentum.