Rob Yong Digs Deep Into His Pocket, Pledging Seven Figures for the Creation of a Poker Union

  • Rob Yong pledged $1.2m for five years of "basic running costs" plus his time 
  • Yong said that the body would lobby regulators and poker sites
  • Previous attempts to galvanize the poker community have failed
  • Yong hopes that his funding guarantee will get a union created by the end of the year 
  • Yong was met with mixed but largely positive responses on Twitter 
Drawing of raised fists
Rob Yong has pledged $1.2m for the creation and upkeep of a poker players’ union. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Herding cats 

Organizing poker players to do anything is like herding cats. We are an eclectic, disparate, and complicated bunch, a community of different and indifferent people, a coterie of friends and rivals. Omar Little told us, “a man gotta have a code” but in the dog-eat-dog world of poker, not everyone does, and neither do the sites who, for the most part, are beholden to their stakeholders to squeeze out every dime.

Yong believes that poker would be well served by having more cohesion

Enter Rob Yong, high stakes cash game player, owner of the Nottingham cardroom Dusk Till Dawn, partypoker LIVE supremo, co-founder of Luxon Pay, and man who likes his Twitter polls. Yong believes that poker would be well served by having more cohesion and with that in mind, he flew a kite last Friday, asking his followers if they thought a poker union would be a good idea. 

From 2381 respondents, 1548 said that a poker union would be a good thing, 500 thought that it would be a waste of time, while the other 333 simply didn’t care either way.  

The idea has been floated before

This is not the first time that the idea of a poker union has been floated. After the Pokerstars Supernova Elite scandal, players coalesced briefly to draw attention to one of the most shameful wrongs ever perpetrated by a poker site against its own players. There was another attempt to galvanize last year, as top pro Patrick Leonard attempted to sound the alarm about the detrimental long term effects to the poker ecosystem if operators were to continue with their short-term, pandemic-era money grab approach. 

On an episode of “The Chip Race” in June 2020, Leonard elaborated on his fears, pointing to the consecutive and concurrent online series, the re-entry culture, and long late registration periods. He believed that a players union could effectively counsel the sites on more sustainable long term policies

In fact, it’s not even the first time that Rob Yong has tried to bring the poker community together. In 2019, he called on sites to sign up to the “FairPlay Initiative,” asking for a collaborative effort to stop bots and address security issues. It was a nice idea in theory, but getting rival poker sites to share data is problematic and almost certainly unfeasible with GDPR in the EU. 

Yong’s three objectives for a union

Last Friday, Yong listed the three objectives of a poker union as he sees them: 

Poker sites have to deal with a perpetually moving target when it comes to regulations. The bane of their existence, they must adjust constantly to individual country bans on poker, ring-fenced markets, desegregation when markets decide to pool liquidity, and limits imposed on customers in different territories and taxation. Yong would like this body to lobby regulators. 

there are broader observable trends in the industry which accentuate luck

Poker operators make decisions on their schedules, promotions, rake, structures, rakeback and other aspects of their offerings. It’s a competitive environment, so there is an built-in motivator for these to be attractive to the customer. That said, there are broader observable trends in the industry which accentuate luck and effectively lower ROIs for winning players. The fact that poker is a game of skill that has winning players is a unique selling proposition, so preserving that aspect is paramount and perhaps a poker union could lobby for that, too. 

Poker promotion is a multifaceted issue and, as such, it’s hard to imagine what a poker union could do to impact it. So many people in so many jobs play a role in how the game is perceived, so wrangling them seems like a daunting task. That said, promoting the game is probably the most important thing for marketers, ambassadors, content creators, authors, journalists, commentators, television producers, and players to get right. 

How should poker be promoted?

Poker attracts people from all demographics and all walks of life. Therefore, it needs a versatile approach to its promotion. Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z all respond to different types of marketing. So do men and women. 

For far too long, the game has been primarily marketed to young males and that needs to be addressed. The skill aspect, the gambling aspect, the “sportified” aspect, and the social aspect of the game all need to be embraced. There is a place for polished television coverage, frenetic livestreams, excitable Twitch streamers, edited YouTube vlogs, engrossing podcast interviews, informative strategy videos, crafted articles, and loudmouth opinion shows, so long as they all put poker’s best foot forward. 

A poker union might have minimal impact on promotion, but there was one excellent suggestion from Chris Baud: 

Poker players have historically signed away their image rights on entry to a televised tournament. In truth, they are a huge component, equivalent to “the talent” in front of camera, so why shouldn’t they receive a cut? 

Yong is willing to pony up

On Saturday, after “a lot of positive feedback,” Yong followed up on his poll with more specifics of how he envisions the poker union: 

He says that he is not looking to take charge of the proposed organization, believing that an elected person should lead. He is, however, willing to fund the project for up to five years and act as a consigliere.

Yong estimates that it will cost roughly $20,000 a month to run a website and employ all the necessary staff. That’s a whopping $1.2m pledge from the maverick entrepreneur, a commitment that would ensure “long term stability” for the union which he hopes would be “up and running by the end of the year.”

Players react

Unsurprisingly, Yong’s announcement was welcomed by Patrick Leonard who has already put time into the structure, objectives, and commitment of the proposed entity.  

Max Silver immediately spotted the problem of the union taking boycotting off the table. 

Leonard clarified his position by explaining that boycotts should not be deployed frivolously, but instead be strategically utilized for larger issues. 

Unibet Poker’s 3rd Line Product Expert Andy Paton expressed skepticism as to the viability of an industry-wide player’s poker union:

The keyword here is “manage” and Paton has honed in on the key difficulty Yong and company will face. Time will tell if the generous amount of money he is willing to guarantee for the cause will bolster it for the inevitable cat-herding years ahead. 

Whether the poker union thrives or not, one thing that is not in doubt is the worthiness of the endeavor. As Omar also said, “the game is out there, and it’s either play or get played.”