The relationship between US poker rooms and poker players has turned adversarial in recent years.
With rewards being cut, professional poker players no longer see themselves as competing against other players. Rather, they now believe they’re competing against the cardroom.
This relationship between players and cardrooms has become a hot topic of debate on Twitter. For instance, industry veteran Steve Badger likened the players to customers and a cardroom to a business in this tweet:
Poker players are weird, part 53,725. In what other businesses do some customers enter with a positive $$$ expected value, leave with more money than they entered, and then expect the establishment owner to give them further rewards or incentives to return?
— Steve Badger (@stevebadger100) March 11, 2019
Michael Josem, another industry insider, also chimed in on that discussion. Josem took it a step further, saying that cardrooms should see their customers as partners rather opponents. He reiterated that in another tweet a couple of weeks later.
This extract from the forthcoming book by @tylercowen perfectly describes the change in attitude by online poker players. They former saw online poker operators as their friends, now see them as just corporations.
— Michael Josem (@MichaelJosem) March 25, 2019
Both lines of thinking are somewhat flawed.
An outside-the-box relationship
The poker ecosystem is quite unique.
It’s a peer-to-peer contest that typically requires a neutral, trusted venue where players can assemble. For a fee, the host venue takes care of gaming equipment, dealers, integrity, security, and other issues. That service allows players to concentrate on playing cards.
For most poker players, their relationship with a cardroom is similar to the relationship between a residential landlord and a tenant. Rather than a completely transactional relationship, there’s a baked-in level of trust, loyalty, and emotion.
Both parties have baseline expectations
The tenant-landlord analogy is particularly appropriate. Consider the following:
- The landlord expects the tenant to treat the property as if it were his or her own home.
- In exchange, the tenant expects the landlord to treat the property as if the landlord lived there himself or herself.
- Being a nuisance to other tenants or damaging the apartment makes you a bad tenant.
- One can be a lousy tenant even if he or she always pays the rent on time.
- The landlord is expected to make sure the apartment is up to code and well maintained.
These same expectations apply to the relationship between poker player and cardroom. Players are expected to treat the staff and other players with a certain amount of respect and decency. Conversely, the cardroom is expected to live up to its end of the bargain, providing a clean, fair and safe environment at a competitive price.
Trust leads to loyalty
When both parties live up to their end of the agreement, a good working relationship, one built on mutual respect, develops.
Even if a bigger apartment (or cardroom) is available at the same price, the tenant might stay put because he or she is familiar with and have developed a level of trust with the current landlord.
In turn, an appreciative landlord might notice the tenant’s loyalty and act accordingly, e.g., not raise the rent when the current lease expires, even if the landlord is raising it in other units.
That mutually beneficial behavior further solidifies the relationship.
When the relationship becomes complicated
However, problems arise when both tenant and landlord, or player and cardroom, believe each other to be friends.
In any relationship, there’s a point where it becomes easy to take things for granted. The level of appreciation for certain things might decline.
At that point, one person or party in the relationship is no longer thankful for the acts of kindness from the other party. They simply expect them.
Then, the small things that were once easy to dismiss suddenly start to grate. For example, the tenant:
- Might start to push the envelope of acceptable behavior because of the longstanding relationship.
- May begin complaining about minor things
- Could suddenly become a nuisance to other tenants.
- Might expect the landlord to be OK with rent arriving late each month.
Conversely, the landlord might:
- Believe the tenant will always be happy.
- Not think it’s a big deal that a loyal tenant’s shower head is leaky.
- Ignore the fact the tenant’s refrigerator is on its last leg and could use an upgrade.
- Not realize that a rent hike will have a negative impact on the tenant’s loyalty.
Poker players and cardrooms can similarly take each other for granted. A player may, at his “home” room, leave messes for the staff to clean or expect preferential treatment and seating.
A cardroom might offer a generous perk to new players but stiff their loyal crew in the process. These kinds of behaviors are on the path to a soured relationship.
Players and cardrooms shouldn’t be at odds
Poker players and cardrooms need to reevaluate the way they perceive their relationship and come to terms with what can be reasonably expected from one another.
It’s not a traditional business-customer relationship. The two groups are not partners.
However, they need to have a professional, working relationship with one another. Poker players and cardrooms don’t have to be friends, but that doesn’t mean they need to be adversaries.
To put it plainly, they need to respect one another.