It’s Online Poker, With A Little Casino On The Side

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PokerStars has made a splash in its first couple of months of activity as Pennsylvania’s lone regulated online poker site, generating nearly $2 million in revenue last November and improving to almost $2.5 million in December.

The leading global poker site is also making a splash far from the Keystone State. In parts of Europe, PokerStars has begun experimenting with a “side bets” function that allows poker players to bet against the house on what cards are coming.

The idea of mixing casino-style luck-based gambling with a partial skill game such as Texas hold’em is nothing new for PokerStars. The site has been running Spin & Go tournaments — in which the size of the prize pool depends on a pre-game wheel spin — in the New Jersey market the last few years.

Side bets are a different way to satisfy those desiring additional action beyond what the peer-to-peer poker game can provide.

Are side bets coming to America?

Considering that the side bets option is still in a form of beta testing in Europe, with only select players able to access it, it’s quite premature to expect to see it in the U.S. A PokerStars representative told Penn Bets there is no news to share on that front yet, and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board confirmed that the subject has not been broached with state regulators by ’Stars.

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Still, even if side bets are merely a hypothetical future addition to the menu, they’re worth exploring from a conceptual perspective.

Bets are taken out of a player’s main PokerStars account rather than out of the chips he or she has in play on the poker table. The bets can be placed on what a player’s hole cards will be or what community cards are coming. (You can expect the odds to favor the house, of course.)

Fans of the poker-boom-era TV show High Stakes Poker will recall that, during an early season of the show, some of the players engaged in side bets against each other regarding the community cards, tracking their wins and losses on paper. The bets and related banter were largely inscrutable for viewers, though, and producers soon banned the activity because it diminished the entertainment value.

PokerStars’ side bets are also drawing some complaints for being a distraction, with players asking to be able to hide the feature.

As much as PokerStars relishes the opportunity to draw its iPoker players over to the iCasino vertical — and, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to its FOX Bet sports betting arm — it seems the side bets offering could use more trial and error before it’s ready to cross the Atlantic.

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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