Gambling Marketing Musings: the hidden message behind party’s PKO rake reduction

TAGs: partypoker, PKO

Lee Davy shares his thoughts on partypoker’s decision to remove rake from the bounty element of the Progressive Knockout Multi-Table Tournaments on a six-month trial ahead of the $40m POWERFEST. 

I have a marketing problem.

I provide a service that helps people stop drinking alcohol. I have catered my brand message for the working class. But my pricing suits the middle to upper class.

The two don’t gel.

I need to change something.Gambling Marketing Musings: the hidden message behind party’s PKO rake reduction

But what?

I need to understand that my marketing changes my pricing, and my pricing changes my marketing.

And I’ve been thinking about this all morning, after hearing that partypoker has decided to remove the rake from the bounty element of the Progressive Knockout (PKO) Multi-table tournaments (MTTs).

What is a Progressive Knockout Tournament, And How Does The Rake Work? 

It’s easy to see why poker players love PKO MTTs.

All players competing in a PKO MTT carries a bounty. Unlike, traditional Bounty tournaments, where you win the entire amount if you eliminate someone carrying a bounty, in a PKO MTT, you earn a percentage of the bounty, and a portion is added to your bounty. As the tournament progresses, players can win additional cash, increasing in worth as the bounties on people’s heads grow in value.

As PKO MTTs were slowly introduced into the online poker ecosystem, poker rooms would charge a rake for competing in the tournament, but would also take a rake from each bounty won.

Check out the partypoker press release, and a blog post from Patrick Leonard for more detailed examples.

Partypoker press release.

Patrick Leonard blog post.

Tom Waters, MD, partypoker, has revealed, that after discussions with partypoker ambassador Patrick Leonard, there will be no rake on these bounties beginning Sunday 6, May. The timing of the decisions means that the entirety of the PKO MTT schedule during the $40m GTD POWERFEST promises players more profit, less rake and for the same buy-in level.

But who cares?

Pricing Changes Your Marketing; Marketing Changes Your Pricing 

I have consistently bleated that ‘most’ people who play poker care more about the dirt under their fingernails than the rake.

There are significantly more recreational players using online poker as a form of entertainment than there are serious regs or semi/professional poker players.

If I wasn’t a poker writer, it’s very likely that I wouldn’t be aware of partypoker’s rake policy, and therefore this change. I would have likely switched off email correspondence with them because ALL online poker rooms fail to communicate in the right way via this medium. I am unlikely to have read Leonard’s blog post because for me 2+2=4, nothing more and nothing less, and I wouldn’t be reading the fine print when I compete in a PKO MTT, because I don’t read the fine print in anything I consume.

But this change does speak to me.

“A site that is fighting for you.” 

Patrick Leonard believes that partypoker is a site that fights for you, and as a consumer of entertainment, this is important to me and should be relevant to everyone else.

But again, how do I know that partypoker is fighting for me?

1. My interaction with partypoker at the rock face has to be first class.

2. The playing experience has to be first class.

3. Word of mouth marketing.

Word of Mouth Marketing 

The regs and the semi/professional poker players play a vital role in the ecosystem because they are the walking, talking billboards for any online poker room.

When it comes to pricing, these are the people who will care about a change in rake policy.

The next time they are at a 1970s funk disco, and someone asks them what they do for entertainment, and they say, “I play poker at partypoker,” they won’t follow that up with, “and you should play there because they don’t have a rake on PKO MTTs.” They will say, “And you should play there because they are a site that treats you well.”

Price is an anchor.

Gambling Marketing Musings: the hidden message behind party’s PKO rake reductionIf I gave you the choice of three restaurants based only on the average price of wine per bottle at $5, $10 or $100, and you are middle to upper class, you are more likely to choose the $100 restaurant, and that’s before you do any due diligence on TripAdvisor.

If you are middle to upper class, your thought process is, “People like us go to places like this.”

And that’s the vital point here.

partypoker is marketing a message that says, “people like us play at places like this.”

Now the critical point here is in the ‘us’.

The ‘us’ is this sizeable ambassadorial team, spearheaded by Patrick Leonard. These are the people pushing the word of mouth marketing. And coupled with a vastly successful live and online satellite tributary, it becomes a compelling brand story.

The Bounty rake story isn’t the real story.

It’s the hidden message beneath the story that says everything, but most people need a little help hearing it.

Hidden Messages 

People rarely tell the truth.

There is always a hidden agenda or a meta-message, and we load these messages with slight inflections, tonal changes, insinuating something entirely different.

What partypoker is saying with the Bounty announcement is this.

“PokerStars don’t care about you. We do. Come and play with us, and not them. We will take care of you.”

The rake free bounties are only on offer for a six-month trial.


Well, as Waters explains, in the partypoker blog post on the topic (see above link), the changes will hit their bottom line hard. partypoker host over 350 PKO MTTs a week with guarantees of over $4m.

Here is another hidden message, this time from Waters, when referencing the cost to partypoker and the six-month trial.

“So clearly, we will need players continued support to remain competitive revenue wise with other online poker sites.”


“PokerStars and the rest are not doing what we’re doing. They don’t care about you as we do. But if you don’t reciprocate with your loyalty. We will be locked in a race to the bottom on price, and we will lose against a giant like Stars. So have faith in us as we show faith in you, or we will go back to the way we were.” 

It’s a big gamble.

But then again, we are in the gambling business.

Is Patrick Leonard The Most Important Ambassador in Poker? 

Phil Galfond will open up RunItOnce Poker in the summer. Now there is an outstanding ambassador.

Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth Jr., are also crucial ambassadors for our game because they are the first faces the recreational player sees or reads about when they first learn about poker.

But when it comes to improving the overall ecosystem for those who dream of becoming a pro player, or take the game very seriously, or play professionally, then Leonard is your man.

He wears his diamond on his sleeve like no other ambassador.

Leonard isn’t the guy who takes the salary, turns up at events (paid for) wearing a patch, who occasionally does interviews with the likes of me, and posts “Barcelona is epic. Made Day 2 with a gazillion chips. #Partypokerrules” on his Twitter feed.

Here is a guy who is sharing his vulnerability with the world. Leonard isn’t interested in being an ambassador for partypoker. Leonard is interested in being an ambassador for poker. And I believe once he feels that partypoker stops supporting him on his mission to ‘do the right thing’ he will grab his megaphone and find another platform high enough so we can hear him.

Nobody needs to play poker.

But if you do want to play, then partypoker’s brand story has to be ‘x’ times more emotionally convincing than PokerStars, and that ‘x’ is the equivalent to the price cut it just made on its Bounty tournaments.

Fortunately, in six months time, when party does make this a permanent fixture (and they will), everyone else will follow them, and the poker players will be the biggest winners, and you can thanks Leonard for that if you care about the rake in poker.


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