The State Of Poker: Takeaways From The Third Annual American Poker Conference

February 28, 2017
The State Of Poker: Takeaways From The Third Annual American Poker Conference

The recently staged American Poker Conference preceded the American Poker Awards for the third straight year, and gave the poker community a chance to discuss the game.

The event is a multi-panel discussion designed to touch upon the hot poker topics of the day and offer a forum to debate the challenges poker is facing.

The conference featured four panel discussions, in addition to some opening remarks on the state of poker by Alex Dreyfus, who puts on the event.

Like any conference, there were things to like and dislike.

Overview of the four panels

Panel 1: ‘Growing Poker On Twitch’ – Sponsored By Twitch


  • Farhan Ahmed (Poker Partnerships Manager,


  • Scott Ball (Global Head of Poker Partnerships,
  • Kevin Martin (Twitch livestreamer)

Panel 2: Player’s Panel and Q&A


  • Eric Danis


  • Adam Levy
  • Max Pescatori
  • Alec Torelli

Panel 3:  ‘The American Poker Landscape In 2017 And Beyond’


  • Lance Bradley (President & Editor-in-Chief, PocketFives)


  • Ben Erwin (Director of Poker Operations, Thunder Valley Casino Resort)
  • Maria Ho (Poker player)
  • Sampson Simmons (Vice President of Content, Poker Central)

Panel 4: ‘Rules, Procedures, And Hot Button Issues: The Line Between Customer Service And The Bottom Line’


  • Matt Savage (WPT Executive Tour Director, TDA founder)


  • Tony Burns (Seminole Hard Rock Tournament Director)
  • Mohsin Charania (Poker player)
  • Jack Effel (WSOP VP International Poker Operations, WSOP Director)
  • Sean McCormack (ARIA Director of Poker Operations)

Positive takeaways from the conference

As a regular casino and gaming conference attendee, it’s nice to see poker get some quality time for these types of discussions. The game has fallen off the radar of gaming conferences in recent years, as its popularity with the public has waned.

Like most panel discussions at such conferences, the American Poker Conference was long on ideas but short on solutions. But there are always terrific nuggets of wisdom mixed in, capable of providing food for thought.

One of the themes that transcended the entire conference was how to grow the game and the role each part of the industry — online operators, card room operators, poker pros and beyond — plays.

That said, there seemed to be a real disagreement as to whether it was lack of access (the lack of legal US online poker) or the lack of exposure that is holding the game back.

Don’t overlook the silent majority

During the third panel, Sam Simmons from Poker Central made the astute point that the people in the room represented one or two percent of the poker universe. He argued the game tends to get bogged down by catering to this one or two percent because they have the loudest voices in the industry.

Considering the crowd, this was probably a polarizing remark. The industry and players are split on the value and role of the professional poker player in the larger world of the game.

Simmons went on to say that the desires of the other 98 percent need to be considered. These are the people who face barriers to entry. These could be monetary in nature, or anxiety over what can be an intimidating experience.

The importance of high stakes poker and mainstream viewership

But as Ben Erwin from Thunder Valley Poker Room noted in the same discussion, there is a paradox at work.

Watching pros play for big money can be one of things that gets recreational players excited to play poker. That excitement might only translate to entering a small daily tournament.

As Erwin put it, just like watching the US Open can get spectators amped up to get hit some golf balls, watching the Super High Roller Bowl can get people amped up to play poker.

Will pros do their part?

For Erwin’s ideal to become a reality (people seeing poker on TV and getting excited about playing), it has to look like a game they want to play.

Throughout the conference, speakers brought up the behavior of poker pros and whether they are helping grow the game. From tanking to a lack of engagement with other players, if the product delivered is boring or doesn’t seem fun, it doesn’t matter how much exposure the game gets on TV.

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A few points of criticism

Here is some of the bad from the conference:

The conference needs to be planned further in advance

I was asked if I’d like to participate on one of the panels. But the schedule for the conference portion of the day is thrown together at the eleventh hour, so I couldn’t make it.

I wish I had been there, as several questions came up regarding legislation and the current environment of online poker in the US. That included a discussion of unregulated sites and whether they are a good thing or bad thing.

There wasn’t anyone at the conference to answer these question in a satisfactory manner (at least to my mind). That is unfortunate since this is an overarching question poker has to deal with. Plus, online poker is one of the key ways to grow the game.

If the organizers hashed out the conference well in advance, I think attendance and participation would increase.

Don’t sugarcoat or avoid complicated topics

Pro tip: When a conference audience is well-versed in the subject matter, going above and beyond poker stories (save those for podcasts) and describing what’s so cool about poker on Twitch is a must.

I think this stems from poker people (players and industry folks) needing to explain the game in very mundane ways to their non-poker playing friends and family.

At the same time, they need to know their audience and have people on the panels who don’t see poker through rose-colored glasses. They need informed voices willing to tell the crowd some hard truths.

The first half of the conference seemed like it wanted to avoid the big issues.

During the poker players Q&A (Panel 2), the discussion revolved around charity, wins and losses (including bets outside of poker), and the life of poker pros pre- and post-Black Friday.

At one point, Adam Levy noted that because of the lack of poker on TV, it was hard to break out as a poker star, even in the years leading up to Black Friday.

Levy went on to say that Twitch (which just had its own hourlong infomercial in the previous panel) allowed poker players to gain an audience from anywhere. Max Pescatori concurred, forecasting a “bright future” for Twitch.

This type of discussion buries the lede. There’s nothing wrong with Twitch. But the real question is why isn’t poker on TV any more. And what can the poker industry do to change that?

This skirting of the issues wasn’t the case with the third or the final panel, which were more in-depth discussions. The fourth panel focused on tournament issues ranging from tanking and reentry to structure and payouts.

Basically, the conference needs to expound upon and challenge ideas. We need to push beyond general statements and consensus agreement about what poker is lacking or the idea that the industry needs to do something to improve the game.


I applaud Dreyfus and his team for hosting the American Poker Conference. As I noted, there is a real lack of poker discussion in the gaming world.

At the same time, if they’re going to host the conference, it could use a little more focus and fine-tuning.

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