Blockchain is the new alchemy, the fabled method of turning technological lead into gold; if there’s a hole in your business somewhere, be it in security, data sanctity, transaction speed, or even high costs, there’s a good chance blockchain holds the answer. It’s easy to see why just about every industry on earth, from healthcare and banking to housing and automotive, has at least pondered running a business on the blockchain.
While online casino brands have a long history operating on the blockchain and, in fact, might have been some of the first businesses to adopt Satoshi Nakamoto’s landmark database, poker websites remain an outlier, with just two brands offering blockchain-integrated games at present. For an industry obsessed with technological innovation (poker websites were quick to adopt mobile, live streaming and even virtual reality play), the near-complete absence of blockchain is a bit of an anomaly, especially given how easily it slots into the wider niche of the casino industry.
For online poker, blockchain represents an ideal of the decentralized environment, a computer network maintained by players and free of interference. Odds embedded in the blockchain can also be provably fair (a trait that does its own marketing) and there’s no central “vault” where deposits are held, so funds come directly from a player’s own digital wallet. Depending on the transaction speed of a particular cryptocurrency, withdrawals and deposits can be instantaneous.
Blockchain tech could feasibly be used in quality-of-life functions in poker too, to store information about past hands, tournament results, historic bankroll transactions and so forth. The immutability of data in the blockchain is a benefit but the decentralised nature of the blockchain means that information could be fed into heads-up displays or mobile phones at any time and from anywhere, without the risk of downtime. It can also be shared easily.
Poker, ultimately, is a game of numbers; both pro and novice players use data to sort the fish from the sharks at their games. It’s that kind of reliance on information that has given rise to things like 888poker’s personality quiz, which aims to break down players into numbers and charts to make opponents easier to beat and frustrating behavior at the table (who hasn’t dealt with tilt from time to time?) easier to understand.
The obvious question to ask is: how can interested poker chiefs bring the blockchain version of the game to life? The ideal ecosystem for developing the game is Ethereum, an initiative that melds app development with blockchain functionality. Ethereum allows developers to create software that’s impervious to tampering and fraud, traits that engender trust in customers by default. Again, and much like Nakamoto’s original blockchain, Ethereum is also totally transparent, with the cards dealt in each poker game visible in the blockchain, and it’s a safe space for customer details at a time when traditional systems are failing.
Despite slow uptake, integration with the blockchain has to be the next step for online poker brands – it’s both a functional technology and a superb marketing opportunity. The need to persuade traditionalists and upper management of its virtues remains a barrier to wider adoption, as evidenced by the fact that many blockchain-based companies are startups rather than major brands. Blockchain has yet to see its tenth birthday though so it’s almost inevitable that poker’s relationship with decentralised ledgers will become tighter in the future.