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After operating internationally for less than three years, Run It Once Poker has shut down. Phil Galfond shocked the online poker community with the announcement on Dec. 30, providing players with just four days’ notice.
The good news: The announcement included plans to relaunch in the legal, regulated US online poker market. When it does, it will include multi-table tournaments, an often-criticized omission from the original site.
In a blog post titled Running it Again, Galfond gave his take on why the site had failed to sustain traffic overseas. In particular, he cited player loyalty to other sites and not having the right tech team in place at first. At the same time, he expressed optimism at the chance to try again in the US with lessons learned.
Galfond told Online Poker Report that the response to the announcement “has been great overall,” adding:
“People in the poker community have been supportive, just as they had been throughout the journey, and US players seem excited!”
But some of Galfond’s peers and fellow pros aren’t as optimistic. On the day of the announcement, Todd “DanDruff” Witteles warned against starting a new site in the US in 2022. In a forums post on his website, Poker Fraud Alert, Witteles wrote:
“Today, it’s clear that it’s a small market, has a small potential player pool, and it’s already saturated.”
Whether you are excited or skeptical, the news certainly begs a slew of questions. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
After launching off of an existing training site in 2019, Run It Once Poker set out to position itself as a player-friendly and innovation-driven poker site with an ethos of honesty and transparency. To many, the site, with Galfond as its spokesman, lived up to those promises. Still, RIO struggled to find traction and enough new players. In 2021, sign-ups and traffic slipped further, signaling the beginning of the end for its international operations.
During its run, RIO built a reputation for innovation in the industry and garnered heaps of praise from players and site reviews for its many unique features and programs. The Splash the Pot rewards program — which dropped a percentage of rakeback directly onto cash game tables based on current action — was perhaps the most popular and celebrated.
Meanwhile, RIO’s Dynamic Avatars had facial expressions that changed based on an opponent’s recent play. Combined with the HeroIQ built-in HUD, the avatars helped level the metagame playing field for recreational players.
Finally, RIO’s SNG Select tournaments gave players the choice between fixed and randomized prizes, another first in the online poker space.
With the announcement still being fresh, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding RIO’s relaunch. Galfond has said to expect updates in the coming months, but can’t comment on a timeline now. However, he did share a few more details about plans for the site’s US debut with us.
Many players, including Witteles and Doug Polk, have criticized the site’s decision not to include multi-table tournaments. They argued that MTTs are a way to attract more recreational players and create a more sustainable poker ecosystem and business.
We don’t know what types of tournaments RIO is working on, but Galfond confirmed to OPR that MTTs were “absolutely” part of the plan. He said:
“MTTs have always been on the roadmap, and we plan to have them complete before the relaunch.”
Although the poker site has shut down, RIO’s training platform is still up and running. Considering RIO was founded as a training site, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the brand will remain devoted to coaching.
“While they share a name and leadership, RIO Training and RIO Poker operate as separate entities,” Galfond said. “Nothing will be changing at RIO Training — still teaching the world how to play great poker!”
Known for its fresh ideas, RIO will likely continue to live on the cutting edge in the US market.
It remains to be seen whether all of its unique and experimental features will make the transition to the US. We would assume that Splash the Pot will, at minimum.
Even more exciting is what might be introduced next. Galfond teased that his creative team has conceived a bevy of ideas that nobody else has seen yet.
“We only managed to launch about half of our ideas so far. The percentage would be lower, too, but we decided to stop brainstorming years ago. I’m hoping that with the relaunch, we’ll have an opportunity to innovate more and more.”
Run it Once hasn’t announced a US launch date yet. That’s likely because the company first needs to acquire a license to operate in one of the six states that have legalized online poker. That can be a time-consuming and unpredictable process.
As previously reported, only four of those states (NJ, NV, PA and WV) seem to be viable options at the moment. Online poker is legal in Connecticut and Michigan, but both states have as many iGaming skins operating as their regulations permit.
To add to the regulatory challenges, we can imagine that RIO will need to attract a significant portion of the poker-playing market share in those states to be profitable. Considering some of those markets are already small, this could be difficult for a new, unknown brand to the US. Of course, to raise brand awareness will require a larger marketing effort than RIO employed for its international launch.
To earn sign-ups in the US, RIO will likely lean on the proprietary features it introduced to the international market. But perhaps simply having a new game in town will be a sufficient draw for US players hungry for alternatives.