The buzz around the launch of 4Poker feels different to the usual poker start-up. With some industry big-hitters behind it, the site intends to do the right thing for players, putting them at the heart of business operations.
If it sounds a little similar to the PokerStars of old, that’s not entirely surprising, given that several former senior executives are working on the new venture, joining a founding team that includes high-stakes player Bryn Kenney.
4Poker Chief Operating Officer Heath Cram is one of the ex-Stars staffers. Here, he reveals how he became involved, why 4Poker will be good for the game and how a soft launch is expected towards the end of the year.
After so many years at PokerStars, many will likely be surprised at this move. What brings you to 4Poker?
The simple answer is, I love start-ups! Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment (laughs), but ultimately it was the passion and energy of the founder and team.
I was aware of this project under a different name, as several experienced ex-PokerStars colleagues found themselves there, but I knew little of the vision until I did a bit of consulting for the company.
PokerStars was incredibly good to me for many years, so poker remains close to my heart. This is why I am so excited that a poker start-up even exists, and as a bonus – much of the original PokerStars DNA, I see now at 4Poker.
Is there a compelling opportunity for another Poker operator in 2022?
It’s a fair question because I asked the same myself, especially given the global dominance of a single operator for much of the past decade. However, we’ve seen in the past few years that space has opened up for a poker-centric operator like 4Poker because most of the sites today are huge corporate-run, multi-product public gaming companies that are focused on sports or casino.
I’m a firm believer that other brands competing and helping to grow the category is a good thing for the game. I just feel there is a space for a private operator that is not short-termist, M&A or share price focused, and who believes in serving player over corporate interests.
Are you able to divulge any of the vision or 4Poker’s mission?
It’s a little too early. However, the team has put a year’s work into this long before me, and is now nearing a launch, which I would suggest, at minimum, can be disruptive and, at best, turn into a beast and leader in many markets over the coming years.
“Poker for players, by players” and “If it’s good for poker, we’ll do it” probably sums up enough to give a sense of our approach.
When can we expect to see the world’s newest poker site go live?
We are taking it slowly and iterative while we ensure the product is ready and that we are able to scale once we have it right. So, that means we’ll have a soft launch, with some invited guests, trialling the product through Q4 on desktop-only.
We are keen to run a major series early in 2023 to get some people onto the site and playing and rewarded for being early adopters.
You mentioned “If it’s good for poker, we’ll do it” – how will you ensure you’re giving the players what they want or the game what it needs?
This is something I am particularly excited about; creating the two-way dialogue and virtual open door with players that I feel has been missing in recent years. PokerStars, back in the early 2000s, used to fly players into HQ to meet and speak with them. They had an almost always-on dialogue between the top pros and SuperNovas and the then founder/owner, and we’ll be doing much of the same, only in real-time, online via a dedicated players’ forum.
Players at 4Poker will genuinely have a seat at our table, so we can grow poker together and deal directly with some of the less sexy developments, and product hygiene deemed most important to them!
It’s not an industry secret that one of 4Poker’s founders is the world’s leading prizemoney earner, Bryn Kenney. What’s your stance on the recent allegations against him?
By chance, this was actually brought to my attention by a former Stars colleague when I was holidaying in Australia, and I had spoken to Bryn by this stage, unbeknown to them.
I was shocked but also open-minded at this point – taking it for what it was – which was a social media outburst by a character of pretty questionable credibility to my eye.
I’m not naïve to the industries I’ve worked in and players that play in horse racing, sports betting or poker. The truth is, as always, I’ll make my own judgement of people, and in the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of not only spending time with Bryn and other investors in person but meeting his family and loved ones.
I frankly haven’t spent time with someone with as much passion for poker and people since working for PokerStars’ founding owners.
Are you supportive of Bryn’s denial of the most serious allegations related to cheating?
Bryn doesn’t need my opinion of this, nor should anyone else in social, media, or worse yet, business circles be playing judge, jury and executioner with such an allegation.
With me having a long background in Customer Operations, even without knowing the team or people there, I would firmly put the trust back in the hands of the likes of GGPoker, should Bryn or anyone else be implicated, it should be from an investigation by them, in reaction to this as a complaint.
Bryn has opted to treat this for what it is, a quite desperate outburst from a former disgruntled associate. He says he’s staked 100s of players over the years and lost with many of them but is losing more than money with this one, I think, unfairly.
Most important to me in my business relationship with Bryn is that he is voting with his feet. Since my very first discussion with him, he has been speaking about launching a site that takes integrity and responsibility to the next level. The public can be the judge of that soon enough.
There is an increased focus on integrity. GGPoker has just launched the PIC. What do you think about that, and what will 4Poker do to address game integrity?
Big fan. I know Bryn has long and good relationships with the High Stakes poker community and people like Jason Koon, so he is in a good position as one of our ambassadors to help, as ironic as some may see that!
For starters, we need to do our bit by hiring the best in the field who share our passion for poker. There are people already in the 4Poker team that had been around before the words responsible gaming or game integrity even existed.
In fact, I was part of the management team who came up with “game integrity” around 2010-11 as a way to distinguish from fraud security, a function once known as “game security”. In my opinion, a few of the very best people in that entire field are now at 4Poker.
We will certainly be responsible in collaboration with our fellow operators, where it benefits. I’m a big fan of working close to, not against, our competition on the subjects that matter most and look forward to working together to ensure the online poker sector remains a fun and safe environment for players.
We all have a shared interest in a clean game. As I said, if it’s good for poker, we’ll do it.