Had it not been for that Full Tilt lark earlier in the week we would have brought you this on Tuesday, the inconsiderate bastards.
Anyway, in Monday’s article we brought you news of the sacking of Ladbrokes Product Director, Richard Ames, over a botched digital strategy, and how that relates to the decline of Ladbrokes Poker. Well, actually it doesn’t – the damage to Ladbrokes Poker was done way before Ames’s watch – but it does give me an opportunity to bemoan the sinking of the good ship Ladbrokes Poker.
In this article we’ll look at why an early trailblazer of online poker can now class itself amongst the also-rans such as Betfred Poker.
I played at Ladbrokes Poker for many a year. At the time they had their own ring-fenced Microgaming software but liquidity was good. The cash games were soft if you knew how to handle the aggressive Nordic players, the SNG’s were a license to print money and tourneys and satellites had plenty of value in them.
When the so called biggest game around was the $10/$20 NL Party Poker game, Ladbrokes had a couple of $300/$600 FL tables going, $25/$50 NL and some $30/$60 PLO action. In the early days around 202/2003, if you were playing $1/$2 or $2/$4 you probably would have been playing the likes of Patrik Antonius, Erik Sagstrom, Bengt Sonnert, Ram Vaswani , Jonny Lodden and a raft of other talented young online pros. A couple of years later and you would have seen these guys tearing it up in nosebleed games and sitting with $1 million stacks on the $300/$600 limit tables.
Overall it was a great site to play at, so what went wrong? Quite simply, from my observations as a player in their online room and at some of their offline events, and having met the staff as a guest at some of their VIP events, the wrong people were spending the marketing money and they’ve probably lost a shit load of the money over the years, to the point where they’ve simply stopped investing any significant money in the site.
The people in charge at Laddies Poker were always very nice people, and probably good sound marketers before they got into gaming, but to market poker and come up with engaging promotions that pay back, you have to know and love poker, and they didn’t seem to have a clue. Laddies promos were always tourney based even though they must have made 80% of their revenue from cash games. They used to maintain monstrous overlays on their flagship guaranteed tournaments for too long. Their Sunday $100K GTD, for instance, used regularly have a $30K overlay. I remember this continuing for quite some time before until it was eventually pulled.
For 3 or 4 years they also used to sponsor the Poker Million on Sky Sports, which in itself must have cost an arm and a leg, but the real problem must have been their online satellites. A package to the $22,500 buy-in Poker Million was worth around $26,000 in total and, as sponsor of the event, there was always satellites to the weekly finals kicking off – always with an overlay on the guaranteed seats because of the huge size of the package. The losses over several years of sponsorship of this tourney must have been astronomical. Then there was the disastrous poker cruises which by all accounts cost them a small fortune and a few people their jobs. These sorts of ‘hidden’ costs must have made the people above balk at the cost of online of poker and forced them to shy away signing the blank cheques of yesteryear.
Another factor in their decline was their migration to the Microgaming network, where they were effed in the A a bit by Microgaming allowing their casino sites to launch rakeback friendly poker skins which flooded the network with grinders and short-stackers.
Rant over, but mark my words – Ladbrokes is a sleeping giant of online poker that with proper management and sound investment, and a migration to iPoker, could rise out of the ashes to challenge the likes of William Hill, Titan or Bet365 for network supremacy.