Want to make millions of dollars at e-commerce? I think I've finally found the answer! All you need to do is establish an offshore company, buy the right kind of software, and then cash in as the popularity of online poker soars.
Poker has never been more popular, thanks largely to a big gamble made last spring by the Travel Channel, whose televised "World Poker Tour" games have become, in the words of one channel exec, "a megahit, already our No. 1 show."
Who would ever have thought people would plan their Wednesday evenings around the fare on the Travel Channel?
However, this is no armchair safari; the sponsors are none other than one of the biggest online poker operations around, PartyPoker.com.
I got tuned into this trend when a friend, somewhat sheepishly at first, confessed to spending more than a little time playing Texas Hold'em at an Internet poker site inspired by watching the top players on TV.
Intrigued, I decided to tune in, and quickly discovered that there are people playing real poker for real money online 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, there's a website called PokerPulse.com, which gives would-be players a quick scan on the number of Internet games being played at the different sites, the number of players, and even the low-down on online tournaments.
These days, notwithstanding the efforts of law enforcement officials, numerous attorneys general and Congress (various bills are pending), you never have to go to Las Vegas to find a hot poker game.
By some estimates roughly 50 million Americans play poker for money from time to time, whether in a beer-and-chips friendly penny ante games at a buddy's house on a Friday night, or at huge casinos such as Foxwoods in Connecticut, and now comfortably at home, online.
Interestingly enough, the recent World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Vegas (televised on ESPN) was won for the first time ever by a player who qualified by first winning several online tournaments. His name is Chris Moneymaker and he's an accountant. (You can't make this stuff up.) He cashed out for a cool $2.5 million.
My friend didn't seem to be having quite the same kind of luck as Moneymaker, and asked me if I could find out whether these online games are on the up and up. My personal opinion is that you'd have to be nuts to gamble online, but I found out there's a difference between an ordinary online casino, where you play against the house, and a poker game, where you play against other people.
In the former, the house makes its money by setting the return rates in its favor, just like in a real casino. In the latter, the house makes its money by taking a small fee called "the rake" from each pot.
Indeed. PokerPulse estimated that in one 24-hour-period recently, $44.3 million was wagered in online poker games. The rake varies from site to site, but can range up to five percent. You do the math.
Schneider said that one of the things that sets poker apart from the general world of online casino gambling is that there "definitely is a poker community" that is spreading the word with a "lot of viral marketing."
I asked her how to tell if a poker site is handling things fairly, and she suggested that a would-be player check to see if a particular site is licensed in a jurisdiction that has good regulator functions and has its software checked to be sure its random number generators are truly random.
"Costa Rica has lots of sites but no specific licensing," Schneider said. "Australia, the United Kingdom or even the Mohawk thing (PartyPoker.com says it is licensed and regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Canada) have stricter regulations, more like what you would see in a land-based casino."
"Looking at the licensing is part of the due diligence any player should do when considering playing online," Schneider said, adding that one should also check various online forums where people talk about various poker sites.
"It doesn't suit anyone to run a rigged game it's not like casino roulette," said Lenny Barshack, one of the founders of Tribeca Tables, a Gibralter-based company that markets poker software and bills itself as "the World's First Poker Room Aggregator."
"You want as fair a game as possible so that players stay in, because you make money from the rake," he said. "Poker is player against player and the house just provides a meeting place. So there's no incentive for the house to cheat."
I asked Barshack about the possibility of collusion in online poker (three people all playing as a team with open phone lines or something) and he said that the software contains a "sophisticated and powerful anti-collusion monitoring system."
"It would be impossible to guarantee that there's never any collusion between players," he said. "However, we have the benefit of archiving every hand ever played, and all the details. So we have a database of every time any player played with any other player. Our ability to police the poker room is far greater than in the physical world."
That was enough to reassure my friend, who now is winning on a semi-consistent basis after studying enough poker books to qualify for a master's degree in game theory.
But I don't think gambling online is for me, and it's doubtful that I can come up with enough venture capital to start my own offshore company.
Apparently I'm not alone in shying away from Internet poker. I asked Schneider if she plays online.
"I gamble on business ventures, but that's about it," she said.
Adapted from Ecommerce-Guide.com.