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US online poker players may soon get a viable fourth option.
The legendary poker pro turned online poker entrepreneur Phil Galfond announced today that his plan for 2022 is to bring his product Run It Once Poker to the US.
Run It Once Poker – or RIO for short – launched in 2019, as a response to what some considered short-sighted and greedy strategies by the broader online poker industry. Galfond’s idea was to create a new product from the ground up, “by players for players.”
It hasn’t been the success Galfond hoped in Europe. However, American players have indicated their frustration with their relative lack of options. Since 2015, the only real legal options anywhere in the US have been WSOP, PokerStars and the Partypoker network (now primarily operating under the BetMGM Poker brand). Alternatives like Ultimate Poker and Pala Poker failed to get traction.
In its short life, RIO has been heavy on innovation but light on traffic. Many of the new ideas introduced by Galfond and his team have proven quite popular and even been emulated by larger sites.
For instance, RIO’s Splash the Pot rakeback system was the first of its kind. Rather than providing individual rewards on a weekly or monthly basis, this system randomly dropped additional chips into cash game pots based on the amount of action at the table. Shortly after it appeared on RIO, GGPoker tried a similar experiment at its fast fold tables.
And yet, despite receiving praise from both industry and players, RIO has struggled to keep its games running. Galfond blames the “stickiness” of players and RIO’s inability to compete in terms of marketing spending against the likes of PokerStars and GGPoker.
Describing the product’s performance in 2021, Galfond wrote:
“With few new signups, our SNG traffic was underwhelming, and our cash game traffic levels began to fall. With a break in the Galfond Challenges and our SNG Select campaigns falling short, among other things, our player acquisition efforts weren’t enough to outpace churn. Along with the world opening back up and the compounding effect of liquidity on itself, the decline in traffic accelerated. We were right back to where we started in late 2019.”
For those few global players currently active on RIO, the news will come as a shock. Galfond isn’t expanding to the US. Rather, he is shutting down international operations in order to focus exclusively on the US regulated online poker market.
According to Galfond’s blog post, all play on the international RIO site will stop on Jan. 3, 2022. That gives current players just four days of advance warning, though they will have until Apr. 3 to withdraw their funds.
The announcement is light on detail about where and when US players can expect RIO to launch. There are four states where Galfond could theoretically obtain a license to launch his product directly or in partnership with only a land-based operator:
Of these, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the obvious choices, and NJ is generally the quicker of the two to issue licenses. On the other hand, that market is already very mature and saturated, so Galfond might encounter the same problems there as in Europe. By contrast, Nevada and West Virginia are much smaller markets, yet in NV, RIO would be competing only with WSOP, and in WV it would be the only game in town.
Michigan and Connecticut have also legalized online poker. However, both have a limit of one iGaming skin per land-based partner and have already hit that cap. To launch in either of those states would require a more complicated arrangement with an existing online operator.