Poker in Belgium
For over 10 years the team behind Pokahnights, Flatcallers, Days of Poker and Circus Poker Club has been active in the Belgian poker sector. In this Open Letter to the poker community in Belgium I would like to explain in which direction we want to see the sector grow. I invite all other parties to take initiatives so that at least we know if we’re on the same page.
Belgium is evolving into the country of missed opportunities. The big division is also showing in the poker industry. Finding an agreement is not happening, not on a political view point and not for poker. We prefer chaos. In the past a number of initiatives have been taken to unify the sector, to try and work on a unified policy. However, up till now nobody has been able to realise this new policy. A couple of years ago we’ve buried the We Play Poker initiative. From my point of view, this was an initiative that was well on its way, but was unable to overcome the difficulties on its paths.
The biggest loser of these “missed opportunities” are we. Not only players and organisers, but also authorities and controlling organs won’t get any better from a gray zone.
Every time an initiative fails I try to find out what the causes of the failure are. Unfortunately, a lot of times I see the same causes: jealousy, hatred, self-interest, laziness, power and money. Without a doubt, these causes are human. On every level, in every sector these terms don’t come alone.
What are we actually doing?
Are we jealous, or do we even hate others sometimes, because he has 3 tables more than the other? Because the other one plays 3 times more than him? Are we really jealous of some extra wooden boards covered in felt and are we jealous because we sell 10 beers more to those couple players that visit them more often?
We forget about the more than 500.000 online poker accounts in Belgium. We much rather like to spoil and use up the existing players than to build on a stable offer for all players. When we work out a consistent plan, all of us will profit. All of us will have too little days in a week and too little tables in his poker room.
Do we want to keep spinning around in the same circle for the next 10 years? Don’t we want to change our own behaviours to find our common denominator? The human species are creatures of habit that don’t like to make it too hard on themselves, but we need to find the right habits. We haven’t found them yet. Don’t you think it’s more important to define the habits we should be adopting first?
Poker is a sport. A sport only starts making money when a mass of people is reached. Because let’s be honest: when you engage in new activities, you want to make it your livelihood. A baker doesn’t bake bread out of humanistic ideas, he just wants to make sure he and his company can survive. Just like a poker organiser.
We can all busy ourselves trying to decide who has the most power over nothing. Because that’s what we have today: nothing. I can only hope everyone is able to see the irony in this paragraph.
The time is now to leave everything behind us and start all over again. In the upcoming period we want to contribute pro-actively. It’s important to build a carried project.
I realise that this statement is close to statements done by politicians. Let me formulate it more directly: we have to stop hindering each other and start working together. When you aren’t agreeing with a certain policy within a federation, your first reflex shouldn’t be to establish your own federation. Instead, you have to have a dialogue with the people involved to reach a consensus. When we are capable to establish this culture, we will make a big step towards an ideal world.
Poker in Belgium
The big question remains: what do we want to achieve? The answer to this question has to come from conversations with the entire poker sector. It will therefore take some time to define an answer. I want to give my point of view. I would hereby like to appeal to all stakeholders involved to also share their opinion.
I think the Belgian Federation should be an umbrella organisation of all poker activities in our country, no matter the language, stake or location. I’m a big fan of a national organ to go against fragmentation. I don’t understand why the division between French & Dutch is still at hand.
The best example in this category is the sector prizes, the MIA’s of the poker sector. On one hand there are the Belgian Poker Awards, on the other hand there’s L’ As D’Or. I think it’s bizarre that these initiatives are not working together. Last year the BPA was limited. This year it seems there are only French-speaking poker initiatives. We’ll see how it goes. Through this letter I would like to push the Flemish side of the sector to not let this initiative go cold. It may not be perfect, there may still be a bit of work ahead of us, but together we can make it work.
I will be driving to Spa on March 14, and I have two spots left in the car!
NO MORE GRAY ZONES
I think we should focus on regularising the Club Circuit. For casinos and online operators there’s a clear framework. For clubs that offer poker in Belgium there’s no such framework. I think that’s an absolute disgrace. I’m not a fan of edgy statements, but in this case a strong statement should be made. The tip of the iceberg is covered in Belgium, the big mass of people are sent in the black circuit. This can’t be the intention of a society where we take a look at reality.
To solve the problems of the gray zones we have to work together on a structural level with regularised operators and organisers. Next to regular licenses and plus licenses another license can exist: a club licenses.
If casinos, online operators and clubs are willing to work together we can start talking. We can already see this evolution in real life. Different operators and license holders are working together on different levels with the club sector, which is a positive evolution. A part of the club sector is definitely keen to plug into the bigger picture. The operators on the other hand are keen on supporting local initiatives. I can only speak for myself, but by working together in a constructive and structural way you get nice results.
The gist of the story is clear. Can we evolve to a situation where adults are given a monthly budget to spend on live poker? If we can answer with a yes, the numbers can be filled in. We can start looking at how to monitor all of this.
The current situation is unfavourable for everyone. There are few clubs left that know what agreements have been made five years ago. There is uncertainty about following questions among others:
Is club poker a gambling game or a folk game?
Five years ago club poker was called a folk game because the maximum buy-in is 20 euros. This name has some consequences. For example: club poker is no longer under the authority of the gambling commission, which is not a favourable situation. The commission is a useful institution that makes sure we operate within a framework, within certain rules. We cannot forget that the previous initiative, We Play Poker, existed only because of a push from the commission. We should be thankful.
Is it 20 euros per event or per day?
This question has never been answered fully. We have agreed on a monthly limit of 500 euros. Furthermore, there was no clarity. Today we could try to constitute clarity. There are a bunch of statistics that make clear that it’s more or less impossible to reach the limit of 500 euros in club poker. This month limit is the only useful limit that can be imposed, in my point of view. Of course, a lot more questions should be answered.
- No low-stakes organiser is able to survive with a strict day limit of 20 euros.
In a lot of cases, players are able to play once or twice a month. Over half of the players doesn’t want to play more days. What do we gain from only allowing players to participate in one event? When you have a bad beat in the first level, it’s game over. Where will the player go to next? The grey circuits.
- What about multi-day events? Is a Day 1A a different tournament than a Day 1B? This was never discussed. What about qualifier structures? It’s allowed to organise qualifiers towards a final. But what is the difference with a multi-day event? We are talking about packaging, not about the core of the business.
- We have to take a look at the evaluation of the monthly limit of 500 euros. 500 euros today is not the same as 500 euros of 5 years ago. Are we going to indexate this? When you play with profit, are your earnings added to your limit? I don’t think there’s any harm in a hobby that doesn’t cost you a thing. There are about 25% of profitable players. Agreed, for the loss-making players there should be a clear framework. However, I feel like the term “loss-making” is too overloaded. In over 90% of the cases we are talking about a monthly less of 20 euros or less. Which hobbies cost you over 20 euros a month?
- Should there be a strict line for 20 euro events for poker in Belgium? We would like to take a look at the possibility of limited higher buy-ins. If clubs are allowed to organise a 50 euro event once a month, and once a year a 100 euro event, there is not much difference with a player that plays a Main event of 20 euro and a Side event of 20 euro on the same day. As long as everything stays within the agreed guidelines, we think this should be a possibility. When specific club licenses are available it must be possible to discuss limits.
What about age?
18 or 21 years of age? When poker is called a folk game, younger is also possible. However, this is the last thing the sector wants. I believe 18 years is the right choice. As a society we think there’s nothing wrong with a 21-year-old player to play without limits in casinos and online platforms, but we don’t think it’s ok that an 18-year-old can play in a controlled environment? We can talk about a specific limit for players between 18 and 21. Isn’t it better to support younger players?
How are we going to handle fees?
Once again, if we’re talking about a folk game, fees are not negotiable. But here the question of the sector is not to not pay any fees, the question is to create a meaningful policy. I want to create a white framework where fees are negotiable instead of being pushed away in a black zone. There is no issue whatsoever to talk about a fee of 10% on rake.
DIGITALISATION & PLATFORM
There has to be a digital platform for poker in Belgium. At least the club sector should be represented on this platform, but we would like to see the entire live sector supported: calendars, communication, law, budget control, … In 2020 this should be a digitalized process.
The poker sector could become an exemplary sector where cash money no longer exists. There are no advantages whatsoever to cash money, so everything can happen digitally. On a practical level and out of security measurements this could be an absolute win.
Creating our own platform is a big project, but it’s a goal that is definitely credible to achieve. When everybody unites this will be useful for all stake holders. When we’re working with a digital platform all stake holders (organisations, players, government and controlling organs) can receive an overview at the end of the year containing all activity in the sector.
In the past I’ve personally worked on a platform not unlike this one. For several reasons I would like to forget about this project. Not because it was not on the right track: the idea was perfect, it’s only the execution that went wrong. The project failed because of cashflow. In an ideal world there should be a platform that is 100% free for organisers and players. When we are able to realise this, we’re on the right track. This means that other business models have to be rolled out.
It’s important that an organisation is created where all stake holders can meet each other and start a discussion. In this organisation there is a place for everyone: representatives of the players, organisers, the gambling commissions and politics. Only by allowing a dialogue to happen solutions can be achieved.
To everyone reading this letter, this concerns poker.
Poker is a sport played by tens of thousands of people in Belgium. Poker in Belgium should not be tarred with the same brush as some other gaming products. We believe that for every product a personalised approach is needed, based on the DNA of the product. The poker club sector exists almost 15 years. In those 15 years it has become clear that poker is a social activity that is financially safe. I think the time is right to take the next step in a more liberal policy towards poker.
Kristof De Deken
Chairman Pokahnights VZW
I look forward to the Belgian Club Championship on Saturday, February 29th of 2020. It is organised by Serge Halpern and Brussels Poker Club at Viage. To me, this is the ideal moment to mend the bonds between clubs and stake holders within the poker sector. Circus Poker Club, Pokahnights and Days of Poker are more than happy to attend the Championship.
I’d like to thank Serge for this initiative. Read all details about this event.