In Canada, grass roots poker exists mainly as legal, non-raked home games and free-to-play bar poker leagues. This has become in many ways a “feeder system” to casino card rooms and Internet poker sites. Without a comfortable environment to get started playing, to practice or to learn in, there just isn’t near as many “new customers”, resulting in the growth in the poker industry slowing down.
Many companies or individuals have recognized a financial opportunity in the building of grass roots poker; as a result, free-to-play bar leagues and bar league service businesses have sprung up all over Canada over the past five years.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that you cannot play for small stakes in a bar in Canada (like they can in the UK), the economics of free-to-play poker leagues leaves very little money “in the pot” for those providing and hosting the services; the bars or venues simply cannot afford it.
“I hear it all the time”, elaborated Steve Brydson of The Nuts Poker League Canada, “Countless times we have heard that a bar owner has used a poker service, only to have no choice but to quit since they were paying out more to host the league than they were taking in. The numbers just didn’t work out; the poker service cost too much and the sales couldn’t justify the overhead.”
As a result, the free-to-play bar poker league “industry” has become wounded. Not only are the service costs too high, many providers have been found to exaggerate prizes or withhold key information about those prizes. For example, many prizes traditionally offered by some have been entries (buy-ins) into big tournaments. The opportunity to win a seat to play in one of these events sounds great, but many players are surprised and disappointed, some even having to pass on what they won when they find out that you have to pay your own flight and accommodations! A $500 seat could end up costing you $2000 in expenses, information that should have been clear before working and playing hard to win it.
“I was running a small bar league and the issues became very clear very fast”, Brydson recalled. “Instead of helping, the free-to-play bar league service providers we’re actually killing grass roots poker! They were alienating the very venue owners they relied on. Things were going so brutally, that leagues ended up shrinking or folding. There was and unfortunately still is, a trail of ticked off bar owners all over the country. I almost gave up several times, but I love the game too much.”
Not wanting to give up and believing there has to be a balance, Brydson did some research and found what he truly believes is the solution, deciding to bring “The Nuts Poker League” to Canada. They are the largest poker league in the United Kingdom, with over 500 established locations and counting.
“We brought the Nuts here because they have a fair business model for the venues. If we don’t have locations, we don’t have a poker league, that’s the bottom line. The business and administration system that they are using is cutting edge, so costs are kept in check. They are poker players first so they are not ‘corporate’; it’s a happy medium and a perfect fit for Canadian grass roots poker.”
“Our goals for the league are realistic in the short term, but larger in scope in for the long haul” says Steve Bellis, founder of the Nuts Poker League in the UK. “We initially plan to build pockets of venues where regional tournaments can be held; locations where players can win some money and take shots at bigger events as they see fit. Or if they prefer, players can use their prize money to buy something they want.”
“We will grow.” said a confident Brydson. “The economic model is right and there is no doubt that the word will spread. We have some hard work to put in to repair the relationship with the bar owners that has been eroded, but that will certainly come in due time. They just need a break. Venues deserve a fair and affordable way to draw in customers to make their sales.
While the poker table maybe the place to give away as little information as possible and exploit an opponent’s game to take their chips, in business you have to work together. The service needs to be both fair and equitable.”
That makes sense. In poker there are winners and losers. In business everyone needs to win, (get value and return on investment), or it eventually all falls apart. The Nuts Poker League Canada looks like it’s “the nuts” for grass roots poker in Canada.