For the Romanian operator PokerFest, the 2019 live poker festival season is by far the most active and rich in events season in the 8-year history of the circuit. With another three months remaining until the end of the year, the operator has already completed no less than 12 festivals, given that in previous years he used to organize around 10-11 events throughout the season. If we add the following series – at least two – we have an amazing performance.
Why do we say amazing? We already know that the PokerFest brand is very well-known to any Romanian poker player and it is no wonder that the operator has made the most of this unusual frequency.
What is really amazing is the atypical nature of this dynamic. Live poker festivals are a luxury that no one can afford. Big circuits are struggling to resist, even with powerful online operators behind them. Top (inter) national circuits put up the shutters and important names fly away just the way they came. Who remembers EMOP or Partouche or the poker adventures at Wembley when a million euro prize was guaranteed and the organizers have used “riders” with a value of half the amount? The surrounding countries have tried too: Bulgaria, Hungary – but nowhere has passed the “50,000 euro guaranteed” stage. PokerFest is here and has been growing for eight years, giving prizes higher than the guarantees of the competitors in the area.
What exactly has ensured the survival and success of the Romanian circuit on this distressed international fund, where only two or three large circuits still work? After all, Romania is no different than other countries in terms of player community resistance, and the Romanians were not born bluffing better than others. The secret must be the business model developed by PokerFest.
The post-2003 poker boom has enriched many people, but it also has impoverished others. The development of global poker has encouraged a lot of entrepreneurs who have started huge businesses in a fragile field and who have become inefficient in the marketplace overnight and forced to ask for liquidation. When all the forecasts were more than optimistic, when the online freerolls had prizes in the amount of million dollars and the ambassadors of the rooms received tens of thousands of dollars a month for promotion, the misfortune has hit: the US adoption in 2006 of the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) gave a devastating blow to global poker. The American market that fed the industry more than the rest of the cumulative pools collapsed and poker went into decline. The prizes have dropped, the festivals have stalled and the ones who did not understand that the effect of UIGEA reverberates slowly but surely had experienced losses at the level of players and operators.
However, as in poker and nature since the world, the survivor is the one who has adapted better, and PokerFest is among the finalists, and not by ordinary means, but, as I have seen, it is constantly rising.
“Think big, start small”, said Sorin Constantinescu, CEO of PokerFest, the business model that allowed the Romanian operator to thrive in an industry in prolonged recession. “The mistake of all business dreamers is to try to achieve their long-term goals as quickly as possible,” he explains. “Obviously, you can also go wrong with the vice versa situation: if you do not have a big plan and you are satisfied with a small success. But if you want to grow, you have to combine the survival with the buildup, just like in a poker tournament. Any deviation one way or another will kill you slowly or quickly. We planned to become the most important area operator in live poker, but we did it step by step, event by event, without relying on massive market growth or unique opportunities. We adapted to the situations as they got in our way”.
And so, while others headed for less daunting directions than the poker industry, PokerFest remained in position, festival by festival, resolving point by point problems, sometimes bringing home money, and adapting to the market decline in situations where other people would have given up. But the vagaries of this market have shown – too late for some – the good side too. Live poker has not only stopped its downturn, but is already growing. Players are tired to confront the internet poker bots and are increasingly moving to live tables where what you see is what you get and where no one can arm themselves with an arsenal of software and parameters to turn poker into a method of moving money from one account to another as quickly and safe as possible. And PokerFest is one of the recipients of this global trend that rewards those who knew how to resist. The 14 (at least) festivals of the 2019 season are proving that this phenomenon is happening right now, when we write these lines. More and more often, new figures show up at “Fests” and champions that no one has ever seen multiply by winning final tables for tens of thousands of euros in a local circuit…
…and there’s more. The reputation of good organization has spread forth into the world and today the local festivals, even the smallest ones, attract foreign names from unexpected places. Scandinavians, Americans, Chinese, Australians show up at the national PokerFest stages and no fewer than 35 countries have their flags in the tournament software here. Thousands of stays in Romania have been made, a performance that many of the travel agencies cannot boast about.
“Why should I promise the world and a million surprises?” answered Sorin Constantinescu to the classic question: “What plans do you have for the future?”
“I can only anticipate what I know: we will end the year as expected with a massive festival at the Intercontinental hotel in Bucharest. What plans do you have for the next year? We’ll talk in December”, he promised us.