Companies hoping to offer real-money online poker to players in the United States post-regulation will face numerous challenges. One few may have anticipated: A trust gap among prospective customers.
Using Google Consumer Surveys, I asked 1500 US internet users:
“Assuming online poker becomes regulated in the US, who would you trust to operate the most fair and secure online poker room?”
A few notes: Google’s survey process is validated and generally well-regarded. It limits you to five responses, and one must be “none of the above.” This forced me to omit some valid choices and to compress others under a single option.
While short of perfect, this survey offers insight into where online poker stands with the average American.
To start, a whopping two-thirds indicated they wouldn’t trust any of the choices to operate a “fair and secure” poker site. Some likely soured on Internet poker after Black Friday, a point echoed by Paul Behrman, co-founder of SkillBet.com: “68% saying they would not trust any of these companies speaks volumes. How often does an industry evaporate in a single day like it did on April 15, 2011, leaving almost all customers holding the bag?”
Several respondents certainly chose “none of the above” as a substitute for “I don’t support online gambling regulation,” and others preferred an option not listed. But even accounting for both, the margin of victory remains substantial – and eye-opening.
Let’s take another look at how the options other than “none of the above” fared.
Land-based casinos and cardrooms sit (somewhat surprisingly) at the bottom, which may speak to the power of a brand. After all, Zynga outscored land-based casinos despite having effectively no demonstrated capability when it comes to operating real-money gambling.
The strong showing for state lotteries furthers the point. No competing option rivals the mainstream name recognition of the collective state lottery in the US – a fact that may have artificially depressed votes for the generic “land-based casino industry” option. It’s certainly possible that “MGM” or “Caesars” might have score higher in its place.
“Personally, having significant exposure to the land-based gaming regulators, I feel that they are by far the best suited to ensure fair practices with online gaming,” Friedberg told me via email. “They already have a familiarity with identifying cheating, under-age gambling, fraud and money laundering scandals, all of which will be important to ensure safe and fair online gaming operations.”
To me, the survey offers one indisputable lesson: It is critical for all parties involved in online poker – lawmakers, regulators and operators – to get it right, right from the start.
“I think this poll simply reflects the fact that the general public has not been made aware of the security measures that future licensed sites will have in place to target collusion, bots, and other types of cheating,” said Muny. “These future licensed providers will certainly work to educate the public on the steps taken to safeguard the integrity of the game.”
While the game of poker itself may be a firmly established tradition appreciated by most in the United States, it seems now more clear than ever that its online cousin enjoys no such guarantee among average Americans.