How Did the Poker Bubble Affect Gaming PPC?

Ian O'Rourke Posted by Ian O'Rourke

The Poker Boom refers to the surge of new poker players inspired by Chris Moneymaker’s victory at the WSOP in 2003, as the event sparked massive worldwide growth in the online and offline poker industries. In the US, it was all but stamped out within eight years, but elsewhere in the world, the game has continued to flourish.

In 2003, an inspirational story hit the headlines across the United States and the world: Chris Moneymaker, an amateur poker player, had beaten all the odds and won the World Series of Poker Main Event, as New York Times reports. In doing so, the aptly-named winner gave the game of poker the best publicity it could have possibly hoped for.

Chris Moneymaker

Chris Moneymaker

Moneymaker, then an accountant living in Nashville, had won a $39 satellite competition on Poker Stars, where the prize was a seat at the $10,000 per entry World Series of Poker. He went on to win the WSOP, raking in $2.5 million in prize money.

Largely due to ESPN’s extended coverage of the tournament, the public maintained real interest in the story until the American baseball season began a few months later. This was enough to instill hope in plenty of potential card sharks, with players of all backgrounds and levels of experience starting to believe that they too could become millionaires by playing poker.

Moneymaker stoked the aspirations of the everyman, showing how a “nobody” could beat the top professional players. Little did many of the poker newbies know, they would simply fall prey to the stronger players over the course of these “Poker Boom” years.

Long-Term Coverage

This brings us to the graph of interest over time shown below, which is based on the number of news headlines including the words “online” and “poker” that popped up from 2005 to 2013.

The graph shows a clear decline in coverage starting around 2007, while the featured headlines grow increasingly dire from 2007 onwards, with such titles as, “Prosecutions Turn Online Poker into Shaky Bet” cropping up in newspapers and web articles.

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Google Trends data

Although online poker has been in existence since 1998, companies like Party Poker and Poker Stars started investing more in marketing their services following Moneymaker’s win in 2003.

Another site that played a major role in the online poker boom was Pacific Poker, which, as recounted by Nate Silver in The Signal and the Noise, offered players unbeatable sign-up bonuses at the time.

Silver explains how the early stages of the poker boom offered veterans easy money in return for very little effort, as they were able to regularly take advantage of the large numbers of inexperienced newcomers.

Following Moneymaker’s win, interest in online poker rooms increased significantly, reaching its peak between 2005 and 2007. In the run-up to this period, the number of online players doubled annually, as the World Series of Online Poker saw entries to its main event increase from just 238 in 2002 to over 2,500 by 2006.

As time went on, however, the proportion of highly talented and experienced players rose, and newcomers found it increasingly difficult to make a profit, and thus began losing interest.

Legal Uncertainties

Murky legal waters constituted a major obstacle to the early growth of the online poker industry. Online gambling faced serious legal uncertainties in the US, which may have later contributed to the overall drop in interest.

Although laws have since been clarified in many countries, the fight in the United States between brick-and-mortar casinos and online upstarts has only intensified.

In the States, regulations fail to adequately address the issues presented by online poker. Although not explicitly outlawed anywhere but in Washington state, only three states have passed laws making online poker entirely legal – New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware – according to Poker News.

The UK, however, has sorted out its online gambling laws with relative efficiency, with online gambling and poker legal since 2005. Although there are a number of restrictions that must be observed by those wishing to run ads around gambling, it is not as confused as gambling promotions in the United States.

Google has a number of restrictions on what you can and cannot display within your promotions. For example, any advertising relating to gambling must clearly promote responsible gambling, must not target minors and should adhere to the country of origin’s legislation.

Pre-authorisation from Google is also a requirement before posting any content promoting gambling, with certification needed from the search engine to publish ads that promote real money online gambling, brick and mortar casinos and other content related to gambling.

Additionally, any advertisers using Google AdWords to promote their business in the UK must be registered with the Gambling Commission and must provide a valid operating license number to Google before they can become certified.

However, these specifications aren’t necessarily putting gaming companies off PPC spend, with many of them still advertising their services using both organic and paid search.

Online Gambling: Organic Trends through 2014 in the UK

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Poker websites organic SOV, Adthena data

Using Adthena’s Competitive Intelligence data, we dug a little deeper into whether there was a visible ‘poker bubble’ in search trends.

When looking at the top 212 poker-related keywords being used by advertisers for both their paid and organic share of voice (SOV). For the latter, Poker Stars ruled the roost, with share of voice (SOV) ranging between 20% in January 2015, down from its peak at 32% in January 2014.

Full Tilt came in at second place, with a huge jump from November up until now, appearing to be a key competitor to Poker Stars. WSOP, SkyPoker and Poker Listings staying pretty stagnant through the year.

This demonstrates that although Poker Stars would seem to have seen a poker bubble, it wasn’t something that affected the others. Similarly, the fast growth of Full Tilt’s growth could show the beginning of a bubble, but the effects of this will only be seen in the next few months when it’s a possibility there will be a steep downwards trend.

Poker: Paid Trends through 2014

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Poker websites paid SOV, Adthena data

Paid search showed a much more volatile trend, with leading the field throughout 2014 with a paid SOV ranging between 17% and 25%. William Hill was second in the running, holding between 12% and 20% SOV, with Poker Stars coming up third.

However, in comparison to the organic SOV, there are clearer trends showing the poker bubble with investment and SOV sharply increasing and then falling among all bidders at various times of year.

This erratic graph could demonstrate changing tactics of competitors trying to scrape back some gamblers hoping to win some much-needed funds for Christmas.

Only SkyPoker didn’t take on this challenge, with its SOV falling in the run up to Christmas, but its trend shows maybe it did experience a poker bubble between June, with growth up to 10% and then a drop back down.

See Through Your Competitors’ Poker Faces

Online poker is alive and well in the UK, but in the US, it remains uncertain whether the industry will ever match the heights it reached several years ago. If regulations do change to better accommodate legalised poker, it could potentially reignite interest in the online version of the game stateside and incite heavy PPC competition in a potentially lucrative market.

If you’re interested in discovering your competitors’ tells, Adthena is the perfect tool for the job – across all industries and marketplaces, as only solution allowing you to benchmark with your whole relevant market.

Offering estimations of your competitors’ bids, keyword analyses, and a multitude of other market-leading features, this service is an essential tool for optimising your PPC campaign most effectively. Isn’t it time you threw all of your chips into the middle of the table?

(Main image credit: Todd Klassy/flickr)

About the author

Ian O'Rourke
Ian O'Rourke
Ian is the CEO and Founder of Adthena. He has been involved in technology businesses and start-ups for over 22 years and has built businesses across the globe including in Silicon Valley, London, Australia and Taiwan. Ian has grown Adthena since 2012 to its current position as the premier global provider of competitive intelligence. Ian likes to foster a culture of great products, getting things done, responsibility, freedom and continuous improvement.