It is a sad day.  It has been for quite a while, but I see it more and more.  Most of you know that I play a great deal of poker.  Mostly in Houston, some in Lake Charles, some in Vegas, Baltimore, and Shreveport.  My sporadic monthly home game is still good, and there are still some good games around town, but as a whole, the poker scene in Houston is sliding.  I don’t like it.  Not at all.

I wondered when it would happen, if ever.  It’s been 14 years since Chris Moneymaker caused a poker explosion.  I started playing live poker around 2006, when the US Government decided to ban (or make it very difficult to play) online poker.  Click here for my post regarding that!  And now, it is happening–a poker dip.  The live games around town aren’t nearly as good as they used to be…but why?  I have some theories.

Number one on the list is that an explosion of letting players play without money has caused a collapse of the poker economy.  I mean, seriously, most of the games I play in are 1/3 NLH or PLO…why do people need to be staked to play that?  Poker houses has let players borrow money to play way too often.  As a result, players go broke.  It’s the exact same system that causes ‘regular’ people to go broke–credit cards.  Buy now, pay later.  Before you know it you owe so much money that you can’t get out–for things that you never would’ve bought had you had to pay cash.  Sure, letting a player borrow a couple hundred may extend the length of THAT game, but what about the next one, or the next one.  And now, it is almost normal for someone to walk in with ZERO money and be loaned hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars.  Did you not know you were coming to a poker game???  When everyone owes money, no one plays.  And if they do play, they have to get staked.  Bad business if you ask me…but no one asked me.

Number two on the list is the saturation of games.  I remember when I started playing, 11 years ago, there were two main places to play.  Each of those places were ran by 1 person or partnership.  It worked great.  Competition is good for business and the consumer.  Each place was usually very busy, and the games at both places were very good–this went on for several years.  But recently, in the past few years, this system has dissipated.  Now it seems the norm for the houses to rent their space.  What does this mean?  Let’s pretend Harry owns a poker house, and Sally owns a poker house.  In the old days, Harry would be open 5-7 days a week, and Sally would be open 5-7 days a week.  In recent days, Harry just rents out his space to Tom twice a week, Dick twice a week, Bob, once a week, and Gene once a week.  Sally rents her space to Joe twice a week, Jim once a week, and Jerry twice a week.  Tom, Dick, Bob, Gene, Joe, Jim, and Jerry used to play all the time.  They played at both Harry’s and Sally’s.  But they decided they wanted to be on the money-making end.  Nothing wrong with that really.  Harry and Sally saw a way to make a little rent money without having to be at their business.  What Harry and Sally didn’t see is that 7 players are now gone.  Players that paid all cash, and played quite a bit.  Instead of renting to those players, Harry and Sally maybe should’ve said no.  If Tom or Dick wants to have a poker game, then let them build their own place.  It’s a lot harder to come up with money to start a brick and mortar business than to just rent a spot that’s turn-key ready.  Now Tom, Dick, Bob, Gene, Joe, Jim, Jerry, Harry, and Sally are all competing for the same customers.  Let’s say that Harry and Sally had 200 customers, 100 each.  Now you have to divide 200 by 9–that’s an awful thin pie slice–for everyone.  I equate this anomaly to fast food hamburger places.  In this town the big ones are McDonalds and Whataburger.  They are everywhere.  If I wanted to open a hamburger place, I would have to find a location, build it out, advertise, market, get materials, and sell hamburgers.  I could not simply walk into McDonalds and say, “Hey, you guys mind if I cook burgers on Monday and Thursdays and run my business out of here.  I’ll give you $400 for the day.”  They would laugh me out of the building!  But, that’s what has happened.  That and a few more places popping up has diluted the player pool.

Number three, I believe, is the absence of online poker.  When online poker was basically banned in the US, some people thought that was good for the live poker venues.  I did not, and I still hold my stance.  Online poker kept people interested.  It kept people playing $5 and $10 tournaments.  It kept them in touch with the game.  They would save up and play live.  Now, that constant in-your-face action is gone.  As a result, many recreational players from the past have moved on to other things, and basically have forgotten about poker altogether.

I have put off writing this for a long time, because I am quite sure some people aren’t going to like what I have to say.  I left a lot out.  Oh well.  It is not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, just some simple observations.  Maybe everyone can work together to make poker great again!