With the game of poker on the rise once again, it’s no surprise to see that new online poker operators are emerging with an interest in carving out a slice of the pie for themselves. One such operator, fresh out of the gates, is GreySnowPoker. Though brand new, the site is staffed by some of the most experienced people in the industry and boasts a gaming license from the Isle of Man. Those two facts alone immediately lend the site a great deal of credibility; the team working to build GSP’s online presence certainly know what they’re doing.
In an effort to learn more about the site, I’ve been corresponding with a few members of their team over the past few weeks, the most prominent of whom is George McIntosh. With close to a decade of experience at The Stars Group as well as another half decade of experience with bwin Interactive and the Ongame Network before that, George is a seasoned hand working night and day to bring what he and his team believe is a fantastic new product to the attention of the poker world. Beyond that, after having had extensive conversations with him, I can tell you that his enthusiasm for having taken on this role and spearheading the operations of GreySnowPoker is quite something to behold. To me, it’s so wonderful to see that someone who already has over a decade of experience in the online poker industry has found for himself a new and invigorating challenge and has gone all-in on putting forth his best efforts in that regard.
After reading George’s responses to my extensive battery of questions, I’m convinced that the folks at GreySnowPoker might be onto something. One way or another, it’s great to see innovation in the online poker space and I wish the company much luck and success in 2019. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my feature-length interview with GreySnowPoker Managing Director George McIntosh.
A little over a month ago I read that you had launched your poker room. To the best of my recollection, you had originally intended to launch about three years ago. For how long has the company been working to make this happen?
Yes, we went live on November 5. We were in beta for a few months prior to that but it wasn’t until last month when we officially flicked the switch. As you say, this has been in the pipeline for some time albeit in other guises along the way, with different software suppliers and having different personnel at the helm. But, actually, things only started moving forward in earnest around early 2017 when the Ioway Tribe (of Oklahoma) applied for the IOM gaming license – which was then granted in September 2017.
I was brought on board in October 2017 after the license had already been granted, which was a great deal of work put together by our Legal Counsel and the Tribal Business Committee. It was only then that they contacted me to see if I’d like to put a team together to get them online; to form what is now GreySnowPoker. In all honesty, I knew very little about the Tribe and their background but after some research, and having spoken to the various members of the Tribe, I could tell they had the ambition and means to get this project off the ground. This was always going to happen and I was simply lucky enough that they put their faith in me.
Would it be possible to give us a brief timeline of highlights, from conception of starting the room until the actual launch date?
There’s been so many highlights. Because we’re still evolving, every day seems to bring more changes for the better. My first meeting with the Tribe, the People of the Grey Snow, in Oklahoma, was amazing, and so interesting. But from my point of view, from my first day of being appointed Managing Director, I would have to say that my highlight would be bringing on more great people to form the team we have now. Every time someone joins us, the difference is astounding. We’ve got people I’ve worked with previously along with new faces from the poker industry, plus other unrelated sectors. Everyone has made a difference for the better.
On top of that, there’s been many other milestones. To go from just the kernel of an idea of ‘FairPlay’ to then launching a website where we’ve implemented these ideas is fantastic.
When we removed the previous software incumbents from the picture, that was a huge weight off our shoulders. And when we found our current software supplier (RedLark) that was a great step in the right direction.
Little things like payment integration might be a standard part of the development of a gaming site, but for every new payment method we supply, the more people we can attract – and the more we can be seen by new eyes.
From our first day on November 5, we’ve hit so many of our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)… our first player sign up, our first deposit, our first tournament running, our first cash game table opening, our first tournament not overlaying, etc. These are all great, but so is having feedback, where players are personally telling us that they’re loving the tournaments; how they’re telling their friends to play here; how they love the FairPlay philosophy; that playing at GSP is an antidote to the behemoth institutions that we’re all used to playing on. It’s so pleasing to know that people still feel there’s a place for the little man in the poker-sphere.
To get to where we are today and see what we have done in a matter of months – with such a small team – is flabbergasting!
Approximately how large is your team and where is it based?
Good question… we’re everywhere! We have a small team on the Isle of Man, some of us in Malta, some in Canada, some in the UK, some in Poland, Venezuela and even India. And, of course, the original People of the Grey Snow (The Tribe’s full name translated into English) are based out of Oklahoma, USA. I think we’re now around 15 and counting… We’re adding to the roster every month.
What sort of experience do you and your colleagues running GreySnowPoker have in the online poker business?
I have to give credit to my employers here. They have a wealth of experience when it comes to brick and mortar casinos – but they needed someone with a background in online poker to get the ball rolling. Having been in the online poker industry for 14 years, I guess I fitted the bill. It’s a fascinating set up. The Tribe have allowed me the opportunity to go out there and seek out a great team. Between us all, we probably have over 50 years’ experience in poker – some in the industry itself, some as grinders. We have the knowledge regarding everything from compliance, security, support, marketing to development of some of the world’s biggest poker sites.
My first role in poker back in 2004 was in Sweden working for Ongame (PokerRoom.com) as a support agent speaking to our US customers. It was a great experience which taught me so much about the site, about the players, and about their likes and dislikes. Essentially, support gives you the insight to create the best user experience. I think once you’ve worked in support you continue to see things very much from a player’s perspective, which can only help. Working for great family-run businesses like the original Ongame / PokerRoom.com and PokerStars (before the respective huge buy-outs) also gives a work ethic worth repeating.
Coupled with this, we have people who previously worked at RunItOnce, FullTilt, and PokerStars among others. This mix of cream-of-the-crop experience with new perspectives is the reason we’ve gotten to where we are so soon. We all chip in, we all help out, and we all have a common goal to produce the best poker site on the planet. However, honesty and openness can be just as important as experience. I’d like to think there are no egos at GSP. We’re very much a team where everyone makes a difference and where everyone can bring about change for the better.
You clearly haven’t developed new online poker software on your own, and are utilizing more of a turnkey solution. Can you reveal who your provider is and the nature/extent of your relationship with them?
Absolutely. I realize that there has been some interest in this but it’s no secret who our software partner is. We’ve teamed up with RedLark, a great new company with a similar attitude and vision when it comes to traditional online poker and its future. When they realized we wanted to make a difference in the poker community, they couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. We found a software provider who couldn’t have been more aligned to our brand values (of integrity, innovation, fairness, and fun). And so far, so good. We’re bringing about changes to the software as often as we can. And the great thing about us being small is that we can listen to our players and get any good suggestions flagged up and sent to RedLark right away – and they make those changes. Nothing gets lost in the mix.
It seems like the main unique selling point of GreySnowPoker is quite clear: “FairPlay” rake-free cash game play with a fee equivalent to 3% of a player’s stack upon leaving the table. How did you come up with this idea and why do you think it’s a winner?
OK, how long do you have? I could talk for hours on this, but I’ll try to keep it brief! Generally speaking, GSP feel that the online poker culture has changed over the last few years – and not for the better, unfortunately. Sites try to cater to higher rake, with fewer promotions aimed at regulars/grinders, and more quick-hit gambling-type games, while making the games more difficult to beat.
As you’ve already mentioned, we bring you the service fee. I guess this is a somewhat seismic shift within the poker world… but it shouldn’t be. We basically just stood in the shoes of poker beginners and asked ourselves what part of the game could be improved upon – and all roads lead to rake. We sat down with RedLark, our software team, and we carved out what is now the FairPlay model.
— GreySnowPoker (@greysnow2018) November 15, 2018
So, with FairPlay, during the game itself, nobody pays rake. We thought long and hard about this, and rather than take rake from the pot (like traditional cash games), all players simply pay a 3% fee on everything that they leave the table with when they decide to stop playing. We find that this is not only easier to understand and calculate but it means the same amount of cash is always available to be won while everyone is playing. If nine players sit down at a table with $100 each, the same total of $900 will still be available to be won in a few hours if nobody has left. For heads-up games, two players can sit down with $100 each, and they already know the total service fee will be $6 regardless of how many hands or hours are played.
All in all, it should hopefully lead to a longer time at the table, which should hopefully give players a longer time to learn, and allow for their money to last longer. Coupled with random seating, we think that the playing environment will be more fun, more thrilling, and create a more level playing field than at other sites. FairPlay allows the poker dream to thrive – i.e., players start as beginners from small stakes and work their way up in becoming better poker players with bigger bankrolls.
So tournaments still work the same way as conventionally approached by other online poker sites or is there a difference?
With tournaments, we have decided to leave them as the familiar format, but with our fees being more favorable for the player. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (just a bit cheaper).
What other features make GreySnowPoker unique versus existing online poker offerings?
The FairPlay philosophy isn’t just about being rake-free. It works on a few levels: pre-play, post-play, and during the game itself. Most of us at GreySnowPoker are poker enthusiasts while some of us have been grinders, so we bring an abundance of knowledge and perspectives to our roles. One thing we noticed was that, in recent years, novices or recreational players were being targeted by more predatory players who were only after their cash, with little or no consideration for the game itself. For a newbie to get fleeced in a matter of minutes leads to a poor experience, and one which they’ll likely not want to repeat. It became obvious that this wasn’t ideal if we want online poker to evolve and grow.
What GSP has in place is simple. When you’re in the lobby and you want to observe a cash game table, all the players are anonymous. There is no username and a generic avatar so you have no way of telling who the players are at the table you’re watching. You can watch and study the gameplay, but you have no idea who anyone is.
When you then decide you want to play at a cash table, our FairPlay lobby seats everybody randomly at any table and at any seat (once you’ve chosen the stake). Only then will you see your fellow opponents’ identities. Because we also prohibit the use of any third-party software and seating scripts, no one player has that edge.
But there’s even more we do, thanks to our cashback scheme. Every time you sit at a table, 1% of your buy-in is awarded to you in points, which can be instantly converted back to cash. It’s the same rate for everyone; no special treatment. In reality it just means your service fee is only 2% rather than 3%. The value you get from playing at GreySnowPoker is incomparable to anything else out there.
As GreySnowPoker was launched by the Ioway Tribe of Oklahoma, principle objectives of the company are “to promote Native American culture and community, increase awareness of the Tribe, and support the rights of North America’s indigenous people.” Can you detail a few practical ways in which the company hopes to achieve these aims?
We want to support the Ioway, so profits we make from the site will go back to the Tribe as well as charities associated with the Native American peoples. In addition to this, we would like our players to learn more about this extraordinary culture. I can’t necessarily give you specifics right now, but I just know it’s something that we’re keen to make something of. I’m just a guy from Wales – and I’m in a unique situation to be linked with a culture that respects both tradition and land. I guess I’m a bit of a hippy at heart and essentially GreySnowPoker is about inclusivity. We’re obviously all about the poker but if we can encourage our players to discover more about the Native American communities then we’ll do what we can to help.
If you take a look at our tournament lobby and cash game tables, they are actually named after some GreySnow phrases. Our logo, the eagle, is of huge significance to the Ioway Tribe and the indigenous people as a whole. It’s only a small step, but going forward we want to do more when it comes to connecting with our players. We’ll hopefully have tournament prizes of meeting the Tribe in Perkins, Oklahoma, or bringing the players to experience a Powwow, for example. I’d love to do something like this, and so much more.
What made GreySnowPoker seek out a gaming license specifically from the Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission?
The issuing of the IOM license was actually before my time. That said, having lived on the Isle of Man and worked with PokerStars for nearly a decade, it would have been my first choice anyway. It is the most respected license that a gaming site can hold. An IOM gaming license carries weight. Our players benefit from us holding this license because of the high standards that it upholds and what we adhere to. It reflects the high standards we put on ourselves and the importance we put on the safety and security of our players. In my opinion, it’s the first place any gaming site should look to if they are to be taken seriously by the poker community. Of course, as we grow we will be applying for other licenses along the way.
How large would you estimate your potential player pool is from the jurisdictions in which you operate?
As the Brits would say, “how long is a piece of string?”
What I’m enthused by right now is the renewed interest in poker. You just have to look at the huge numbers for this year’s WSOP Main Event and, more recently, the Five-Diamond Classic. I would suggest that poker is as healthy as it’s ever been since Black Friday, and it’s certainly not on the wane. The markets we operate in reflect this renewed vigor so this is a great indicator for the near future.
Our main focus right now is in the tier 1 markets of Canada, Russia, Germany and, of course, Latin America. Although these markets already have a tradition of online poker, we’re still offering something unique in these markets. And it seems Canada has definitely taken to GSP. Russia loves poker – and Russia loves GreySnowPoker! What can I say about LATAM? It’s huge and we would love a piece of the pie, so we’re doing all we can in getting established there. We know poker players are willing to try out the smaller sites like GSP so long as they offer great value and offer a great proposition – which obviously we do!
However, this is just the start. It’s the emerging markets of Africa and Asia that get my blood pumping right now. Thanks to the smartphone, internet penetration is now rapidly increasing in areas that were considered off the grid until recently. GreySnowPoker was designed with HTML5 in mind, so we’re the perfect online poker site for these markets. The site and software are responsive across all platforms, and we’ll continue to make our product even more mobile-friendly, more lightweight, and more convenient for these parts of the world. It’s a potential gold mine.
The site went live in early November. Has traffic been within your expected range thus far?
It’s probably testament to our collective knowledge and experience of online poker, but when it comes to our projections for traffic and registrations, we pretty much nailed it. In fact, we ‘re doing better than expected and should easily hit our 6-month target much sooner than expected. A lot of this traffic, naturally, comes from our affiliates, but I also think there is still room for word-of-mouth marketing in the poker world.
It’s not just about traffic and signups though. We need to make sure we engage with our players and retain their interest. That’s where our great poker room management team have come up with a tourney schedule to die for no matter where you are in the world.
The whispers will get louder and louder. Our voice is getting heard thanks to the poker community taking to us and FairPlay – and wanting to help us succeed, and urging us on. We don’t want to let down the loyal players who have supported us from the outset, so we’ll continue to listen to – and evolve for – our players.
What poker variants do you currently offer besides No-limit Hold’em and what is the range of stakes someone can play for? Are there plans to eventually add in all the variants offered by the larger online poker sites and to offer nosebleed stakes?
As we say on the site, “We’re not the biggest – and that’s our strength. We give you poker how it should be played; simplified and stripped back.”
Having said that, we will expand our games and variants over time but for now we’re happy offering Omaha and Hold’em to our players with stakes ranging from $0.01/0.02 to $50/100. This meets most expectations but the offerings will inevitably grow as we continue to listen to our players. For example, we recognize that people do like the buzz of the Spin&Go style formats, so we will be launching something similar in the very near future.
— GreySnowPoker (@greysnow2018) December 20, 2018
In this day and age of online poker, players want immediate assistance if they encounter any sort of problems. As such, what sort of technical and player support do you offer? 24/7 live chat? Email/phone? Multi-lingual?
Eventually we will have all of the above. You’re right, people want (and expect) 24/7 service. I know if I am on any site and I have a problem, I expect to either find a 24-hour number or live chat. We have staff dotted all over the globe, so we’re already in a position where we can answer emails as soon as they come in. Currently our site is available in a few languages, but our email communication is only available in English. As our player-base grows and as the geography of our players expands, we will try to cater to everyone in real time and in their own language.
What currencies and payment methods do you accept for deposits/withdrawals, and would you at any point consider accepting cryptocurrency or facilitating cryptocurrency gameplay?
The payments methods we offer right now are Neteller, Skrill, MuchBetter, and NeoSurf. We’re on the verge of going live with Visa & Mastercard plus Interac (for Canada) but we will always be vigilant and keep adding new payment methods when necessary.
I’m a big believer in crypto for online gaming and have looked into a few possibilities such as CasinoCoin, which has been developed by ex-PokerStars and online casino execs primarily for online poker & casino use. These guys are pushing for regulation when it comes to crypto in gaming. Blockchain is quick, secure, and transparent with no chargebacks, so it’s perfect for online gaming operators like GreySnowPoker, especially in markets where banks prohibit gaming transactions.
Can you give our readers some details as to your Player Loyalty program? Is it focused on rewarding high-volume play with rakeback-like incentives or rather focused on more of the “recreational player model” that we’ve seen as of late from some of the world’s leading online poker rooms?
Our aim is not to offer special ‘rakeback’ deals to one group of players over another, but we will do what we can to ensure great service to players that love playing on the site. Essentially, we are all about being a level playing field and not giving special treatment to one player profile.
As it happens, our loyalty program of 1% cashback is so f**ing good that everybody wins! Every time you sit at a cash table, 1% of your buy-in (one-third of your service fee) is awarded back to you in comp points, which can instantly be converted to cash. So it’s not about volume or hours played or hands played or winning or losing. It’s merely us saying “whatever you want to sit down and play with at a cash game, you’ll get 1% back even before you’ve played a hand” – this in effect means that the service fee becomes 2%, not 3%.
— GreySnowPoker (@greysnow2018) November 9, 2018
Will deposit bonuses regularly be offered to the more active players on the site?
We will consider any deposit bonuses, especially if we have players who enjoy the site. Bonuses are part and parcel of online poker, we all get that, so we need to consider bonus frequency and to whom. For example, the first deposit bonus we offer (we match what you deposit) is available for absolutely everyone who has yet to make a deposit – and with no deposit code necessary, you don’t even need to be aware of it. We simply enroll you automatically in the bonus scheme as soon as you make that first deposit. But we shouldn’t forget about the player who deposits each week; who has supported us from their day one. They should be entitled to a reward every now and again for their participation. So, we will offer reload bonuses on top of first deposit bonuses throughout the year.
Towards the end of November, I noticed that you opened an official support thread on the 2+2 forums. Interestingly, some of the larger rooms, like partypoker and PokerStars are specifically pulling back from being active there. What made you decide to take that step in terms of your initial marketing?
Call us old fashioned, but we want to connect with our players. I hate to repeat myself, but we want to hear from our fans and our critics alike. We want to answer any questions that people may have about the site. We’re new; of course people will want (or even need) answers. For example, we understand that FairPlay may well be met with some cynicism or at least some curiosity. We want to address any concerns people have. 2+2 is still the go-to poker forum site. Transparency and integrity are big deals to us. The least we can do is try and convey our passion for the site and for poker with like-minded poker brains. If we want the site to evolve for our players, why wouldn’t we have a 2+2 account?
You’re still a very young site, with a potentially bright future ahead. Let’s pretend that you had the attention of everyone in the entire poker industry – players and operators alike – for the next 60 seconds. What message(s) would you like to share with them before we let you go?
I’m not one to discredit other online poker sites, but we’ve gone back to the old-skool. This love of poker has been noticeable by its absence with the big sites. In a nutshell, let’s get back to why we fell in love with poker. I want poker to grow in popularity, and I want GSP to be part of the next generation of poker. We need the new players to become fans and to learn the skills. Poker needs to be creating the next champions. The best athletes in the world aren’t the best because they get paid the most, they’re the best in spite of their salary; because they would do it for free. We need to encourage more Serenas and LeBrons, not stifle them. GreySnowPoker will attract and nurture players to create champions.
We start as we mean to go on. Poker needs to be more user friendly, to be open and transparent and honest. We’re cutting out the bad and replacing with the good, without alienating our experts, our great poker community, and our fantastic ambassadors. Expert or beginner, so long as you love poker and you love the thrill of the game, GSP will be there to encourage poker while discouraging unethical play.
Poker needs to change with the times otherwise it will become a victim of the past. We don’t want a 95:5 ratio of male to female players, we want poker to be as inclusive as possible, and as diverse as possible. GSP will broaden the appeal of poker without forgetting why we started out. GSP can’t reflect the changes because they aren’t happening; we have to make them. If we don’t do it, nobody else will.