888poker is one of the world’s biggest power players in online gambling and poker. Headquartered in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, 888 Holdings is the only software provider that currently operates in all three US states (Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware) with legalized Internet poker.
It’s a position of envy that 888 hopes to capitalize off of moving forward in 2016, but there’s certainly a plethora of challenges ahead.
CardsChat recently sat down with 888poker Director of US Marketing Chris Capra to get an inside scoop on everything happening with online poker in America, and how he’s strategizing his marketing efforts to best benefit the online network.
Capra entered the business back in 2004, just months after Chris Moneymaker turned an $86 online satellite (although legend has always had it at $39, apparently it was originally misreported, and was actually $86) into a $2.5 million World Series of Poker Main Event payday.
Looking for Feedback
Capra and his team recently held a first-of-its-kind town hall event in Marlboro, New Jersey, to discuss what is and isn’t working in the minds of the players. While there, we were able to get his take on the whys and wherefores of the event.
“For me, it’s about getting feedback from the poker community. We really want to know what we’re doing well, what we’re doing wrong, and what we can improve,” Capra told us of the meeting.
“This is really about listening to our players and seeing how we can improve what we’re doing and make the experience better for them.”
Capra and 888’s willingness to listen to their customers would seem to make the most basic of business sense, but in today’s Internet environment, that isn’t always the case.
888poker is the closest competitor to PokerStars, the worldwide leader and latest New Jersey contender, and it seems the network is trying to take advantage of PokerStars’ recent shortcomings when it comes to player relations.
High-volume players boycotted the PokerStars dot com site in December, due to changes in the network’s rewards structure. The walkout was largely seen as a communication failure at the Amaya-owned platform.
Capra is taking measures to make sure transparency is seen in the Garden State, and wants players to know 888 is the people’s platform. Perhaps that attitude makes more sense than ever now, since PokerStars has been dominating the online New Jersey market since it came to town in March.
Competition is Good
While you might think PokerStars’ arrival would have been dreaded by 888 execs, Capra says it’s actually been mostly a positive thing.
“We have a few other things we’re doing down the road that are being geared on growing our network. I think [PokerStars’ arrival has] been very positive . . . I’ve felt that we were always the stronger network in New Jersey, and we have a pretty strong, loyal core customer base that we’re trying to enhance.
“Any attention to the New Jersey market is good, it helps all of us,” Capra added magnanimously.
Capra, along with basically every online poker advocate in the country, would dearly like to see a Pennsylvania or California enter the Internet gaming space. The isolated online environment in New Jersey, albeit self-imposed, would benefit greatly from an interstate compact, but to date, Delaware and Nevada simply haven’t brought enough to the table for Governor Chris Christie (R) to extend a handshake. Another state with a population bigger than the Garden State’s 9 million could do the trick, though.
Capra says he’s received word from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) that they’re ready to go should a bigger state like Pennsylvania pass the necessary legislative hurdles.
The Keystone State seems the most likely candidate for 2016, according to Capra, as lawmakers in Harrisburg are mulling Internet casino games as a viable source of revenue to fund spending increases by first-term Governor Tom Wolf (D).
“Pennsylvania right now has the clearest path, because there’s less opposition,” Capra said, referencing the complex political battles in California, where tribal groups, commercial gaming, and horse racing all intersect, and frequently collide.
Pushing Back Against the Naysayers
Perhaps no issue facing online poker in America seemed to get more under Capra’s skin than the hypocrisy of both state and federal lawmakers. “This is individual freedoms here, you’re dictating what I can do in my [own] house,” Capra said of iGaming’s opponents.
Regulated online gambling expansion has long been opposed by certain sectors for the possibility of putting those susceptible to addiction at risk. Capra argues that legal Internet gaming does just the opposite.
He pointed out that it isn’t PokerStars or 888 that dominates online poker in the US, but offshore illegal sites, such as Bovada and Bodog.
“You can’t turn a blind eye and say we don’t allow it. Yeah, you do allow it by not doing anything about it,” Capra noted. “Britain has had sports betting for 20-odd years. Civilization has not come to an end,” he added, wryly.
Capra hopes more states will follow Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware’s lead in finally regulating the industry and protecting consumers.
In the meantime, he’ll continue focusing his efforts on creating the best poker platform possible, based on feedback from those who know it best: the players themselves.