Handbags and Jewellery
While poker is obviously inclusive in the sense that all you need is the buy-in, (that is unless it’s a private or invitational game) it is impossible to ignore the fact that the game is mostly played by white males. The game itself may not discriminate, but there are societal biases that impact the poker world and it would be foolish to think otherwise. To address the gender imbalance, operators and advocacy groups have deployed a number of initiatives with varying amounts of tangible success.
create a level playing field in terms of equality, diversity, and inclusion
At an industry level, Unibet was one of the first companies to join the All-In Diversity project back in 2018. The mission statement of that project is to help create a level playing field in terms of equality, diversity, and inclusion throughout the gambling industry.
Pokerstars leads many diversity programs, and in March 2021, the operator announced a new female insights community called ‘Our Voices’ – a space where “PokerStars directly encourages and engages in discussion on both female-focused and general topics, activities and ideas”. In that same month, Entain, the parent of Partypoker, created partnerships with Girls Who Code and the Tech Girls Movement Foundation to close the gender gap in STEM sectors.
all the poker site has done is give away some handbags and jewelry
Last year, GGPoker announced a partnership with the FLIP ladies group, a move many (myself included) deemed to be a cynical attempt to put a plaster over an ugly, gaping Dan Bilzerian-sized wound. Since then, initiatives were promised but all the poker site has done is give away some handbags and jewelry. On the same day that Pokerstars put on their first Ladies SCOOP events, GGPoker had their own ‘Women’s Championship Event’ with one catch.
It was open to all players.
A Double Scoop With Sprinkles of Deception
Last weekend marked the end of SCOOP and the GG Online championship. The latter marketed itself cutely as ‘a double-SCOOP’, guaranteeing twice the total prize pool of their rival. That was until they started reducing guaranteed prize pools the night before scheduled tournaments, a move spotted by top online regular Jans Arends.
The Pokerstars ambassador and top poker Twitch streamer Fintan Hand reacted to this sleight of hand with frustration and concern about the company’s sharp practices.
Some more false advertising would follow as, on the closing day of the Series, the GG Online Championship held the ‘FLIP Women’s Championship’ event. The promotional material for this event read as follows:
“This Sunday, as an added bonus to the GG Online Championships, GGPoker is hosting the FLIP Women’s Championship. FLIP, which celebrates and supports the amazing achievements of women in poker both historic and current, is the poker world’s foremost female-focused player community. Founded by Daiva Byrne, this community focuses on a more inclusive poker community, a vision shared by GGPoker. To celebrate these fine women, this $100K guaranteed event will begin at 14:00 UTC and carry a $100K guarantee. Join in the efforts and support your fellow poker player.”
There was no mention of it being an open event.
Ladies events are a vital Trojan Horse
Ladies events have long been a part of the live poker landscape. In an ideal world, they would be unnecessary but the plain fact is poker is a male-dominated space and that can be intimidating to some, particularly if they are new to the game. Ladies events have thus been used as a gateway format, a Trojan horse to help some women feel more at ease in the poker room.
The gender gap is smaller on the online felt
The gender gap is smaller on the online felt but a similar strategy has been deployed by sites in recent years with online schedules adding women’s tournaments, most notably Pokerstars’ Women’s Sunday. Last Sunday’s Women’s SCOOP events were an extension of that very positive step.
Pokerstars ambassador, best-selling author, poker player, and chess champion Jennifer Shahade spoke to VSO News and explained a significant observation she has made:
“I noticed in chess that the number of girls and women doubled when more prestigious women’s events were added to the calendar so the women’s scoops were a really welcome sight — I commentated the final table with streamer Georgina ‘GJReggie’ James and the level of play was really high. I would NOT be surprised to see one of the final tablists win something huge soon.”
GGPoker accused of being tone-deaf
It seems crazy to have to say this but women’s tournaments come with one basic expectation.
VSO News reached out to ‘KABOOMpoker’, asking her to elaborate on her tweet. She agreed on the condition that we don’t use her real name as in the day since posting, she has received two death threats and one rape threat in her Twitter DMs.
“The problem is that GGpoker is hosting a poker tournament and it deliberately wants to give us the impression that it is an exclusive Women’s Championship event when it clearly is not.”
She also alluded to GGPoker’s problematic past, pulling no punches when it came to calling out their past failures.
The whole situation has tone-deaf written all over it.
“You would think that the GG marketing people would have figured out by now how precarious the history is between GGpoker and women. It’s a downright shit show, where we have at least two male ambassadors representing the GG brand who think it’s okay and a good look to enter this tournament. One of them even made it to the final table and streamed the entire thing. The whole situation has tone-deaf written all over it.”
A failure of branding or on brand?
This controversy all boils down to branding for Maureen Bloechlinger, founder of the Globetrotting Poker Ladies Group and member of the Herzdamen Core Team. Speaking to VSO News, she said:
“Since the event was called a Championship, I had different expectations and would like to have seen more effort from GG to ensure that only women play the event. PokerStars had the first SCOOPs this weekend and it was an enjoyable experience as a female player”.
Also speaking to VSO News was Vanessa Kade who expressed the view that this was par for the course from a company that simply doesn’t care.
all of their initiatives are transparently self-serving and insincere
“I am not surprised to hear their women’s championship was open to men considering how painfully clear it already is by now that all of their initiatives are transparently self-serving and insincere, especially with people like Dan Bilzerian still on the payroll. I am also not surprised to see that the response from at least one of their ambassadors was to mock the women who complained.”
For Bloechlinger, this was a failure of branding, but for Kade, it was exactly the brand message that is at the heart of the company’s values.
“This is incredibly on brand for GGPoker. At this point, I’d have more respect if they stopped the charade and ceased pretending to care about supporting women – at least it would be less dishonest.”
‘Less dishonest’ seems like a very high bar for this particular poker site to get over these days.