Over the last few weeks, there’s been quite a bit of buzz about the new online poker site Phenom Poker. Created “by professional poker players for the players”, the site’s founders aim to address a number of issues plaguing legacy sites and genuinely innovate with a next-level product.
In an effort to better understand what exactly Phenom Poker is, the story behind its creation, and what makes it unique, I spoke at length with 2x World Series of Poker bracelet winner Nathan Gamble, the company’s Director of Ambassador Relations.
We had a wide-ranging conversation covering a variety of poker topics pertaining to Phenom Poker’s emergence, including the current state of online poker, the role of Phenom Poker Ambassadors, how Phenom Poker’s blockchain-based infrastructure helps reduce the risk of cyber security leaks, and how the company plans to gain market share.
When did the idea to create Phenom Poker come about and what was the specific catalyst?
As a group of long time poker players ourselves, we’ve been waiting for a new offering to come to market that addresses a lot of concerns that the community has about the online poker industry. I’ve also been keeping an eye on more crypto-based offerings as I think they have the best potential to help our industry.
After seeing enough time pass and the same sites continuing to dominate the industry, we decided to give it a go ourselves. The idea has been bouncing around for some time but we started building out the site late last year.
How and why did you come to get involved?
I have known several members of the founding team for many years and they approached me due to my knowledge of the industry, reputation within the community, and love for the game. Although I started playing when I was 12, had a few years away from the game while serving in the military, and other such interlopers, I have been a part of the poker community for over 20 years and am well connected with some of the best players that poker has to offer.
I will be helping to bring forward a known and trusted ambassador team, as can be seen by the Ambassadors currently signed, and figuring out how to best utilize their potential as we move forward both pre and post launch.
Who are the site owners? Who are the ambassadors for the site?
In time the entire team will be disclosed at their discretion but publicly both myself and Matt Valeo are two of the founding members. Matt has been in the poker community for 20 years as both an online player and live cash game player. On top of that, he has a background founding, building, and investing in technology companies over the last 10 years. So I think his background will be very helpful as we navigate what will no doubt be an uphill battle to build something good for the community.
Our current list of Phenom Poker ambassadors are:
- Brian Rast
- Sergio Aido
- Joey Cheong
- Ari Engel
- Justin Young
- Chris “Big Huni” Hunichen
- Eric “Basebaldy” Baldwin
- Angela Jordison
- Farid Jattin
- Francisco “Tomatee” Benitez
More ambassadors will be announced soon!
What do you see as the ambassadors’ responsibilities?
A big part of the ambassador’s role will be providing real and meaningful feedback on what is important to the industry. These players are actively playing day in and day out and talking with other players; they know what is truly important from a players perspective. We are building a site for the community; who better to turn to for answers than those who best represent the community?
We are not asking for quiet consent from the ambassadors but rather real and meaningful impact on how to improve games, moderate rake, handle problems that may arise, etc. They have a direct line to the team and have already made some meaningful contributions to Phenom Poker that will be announced prelaunch!
What makes Phenom Poker unique vs. other online poker sites?
Honestly, what isn’t unique about Phenom Poker? We are working to build a site based around a couple of core principles: Fairness, Community, and Security.
We will be built on the foundation of a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO). The founders and investors will still hold a large amount of votes and guide the company but it ensures that we are beholden to the voices of our players and will continue to listen to them no matter how large the player base grows.
The DAO model means that people will be able to earn a share of the company’s net revenues and a vote in the path forward for the company based on their play on the site. They will be earning rakeback in the form of tokens that will be issued to their wallets; these tokens will be used to distribute weekly dividends based on the net revenue generated by the company. The players always have the option to redeem their tokens for cash (USDT) if they prefer not to hold so there’s full optionality for token holders.
I personally can’t recall any poker site that has given players the ability to earn equity in the company and earn weekly capital based on how the site is doing and not their own personal play. We love the idea of having a site that is owned by the poker community and keeps more money in the poker ecosystem to help our community thrive and grow. Many times we’ve seen operators pull too much money out of the ecosystem which throws the industry into stages of flat growth.
Oh, plus there’s going to be a ton of different poker variants on offer. Truly, a ton!
All the circus games you love
We’re aiming for nearly 30 games available at launch PLUS the ability to create your own mix
— Phenom Poker (@PhenomPokerApp) December 17, 2023
Will players be able to play from anywhere in the world? What’s the site’s official attitude towards regulated jurisdictions and licenses?
We will be complying with all jurisdictions and necessary licenses to ensure that we are able to take Phenom Poker as global as possible as quickly as possible. Quite simply, if a country’s/states/province’s jurisdiction allows for online poker to be legally spread, we will be working to enter the market.
While we will be taking this on a case by case basis we want to highlight some of our ambassadors, in particular Farid Jattin who is #1 in Columbia, Francisco “Tomatee” Benitez #1 in Uruguay, and Sergio Aido #2 in Spain.
We are very committed to having ambassadors who represent the world of poker at large and having the voices of every community heard. Poker is a global game and we hope to bring it to as many enthusiasts as possible.
Solid ownership and poker ambassadors with stellar reputations are one thing, but that doesn’t mean you have the technical know-how for how to operate a poker site. Who’s doing that stuff? Where are they based? What sort of experience do they have?
The team is currently comprised of approximately 25 contributors and is continuing to grow. We are sourcing people with the appropriate backgrounds and experience pertaining to their area of focus. For example, our engineers have extensive background in engineering. Our security team has a background in security. We have operators with extensive experience in the poker industry. It’s not just a group of people who have no relevant experience, I can assure you. As we grow we will continue to recruit talented people who can help Phenom thrive.
A lot of people seem to be comparing Phenom Poker with Virtue Poker. What are the similarities and what are the differences between the two?
Yes I’ve seen the comparisons but other than both being “crypto” related, the actual overlap is quite slim. Virtue was attempting to be fully on-chain, and that was 6-7 years ago when blockchain infrastructure was still in its infancy. As an emerging market, things have evolved very fast and we are in a different world now vs. then. That being said, we are still very different in virtually every aspect — our ownership model, our security model, our infrastructure, design, team, core values, etc.
When you first approached me re: doing this Q&A my initial reaction was “I stay far away from stuff that’s cryptocurrency related – I don’t personally use cryptocurrency, so I can’t add my own stamp of approval or vouch for anything because that would not be authentic”. You told me that there’s a lot of misinformation out there… So here’s the chance to set things straight and clear up misunderstandings. What’s Phenom Poker’s relationship with cryptocurrency? Can players use fiat currency and conventional deposit/withdrawal methods?
Phenom Poker is first and foremost an online poker platform. The game engine, software, and user interface will be similar to what players are already accustomed to and include features players love. For example, we will have full support for mixed game players at launch!
We’ve made the decision to build using Web3 technology to facilitate real money transactions. The reason why is we think that’s the direction things are going and we are building something to be as “future proof” as possible. It’s not just a quick cash grab – we envision something for the poker community to use and enjoy for many years to come.
We are aware that not everybody uses crypto (yet) but we believe crypto adoption is just going to grow over time and hopefully that translates to a growing user base over time as well. Remember, only a small part of the platform is “on-chain” – that means many components have similar infrastructure to what players are already used to, just with an emphasis on design, security, and fairness.
Because we made the decision to be Web3-based, that means traditional deposits and withdrawals and fiat currency won’t be supported, but we believe this is a feature, not a bug. Depositing and withdrawing on traditional sites has been a bottleneck in the industry and in some cases has forced operators out of business trying to comply with ever changing local laws and banks closing their doors to the online gambling industry.
No longer will you have to load money onto a site, play for a while, and then wait for days, weeks, or go back and forth with customer support to get a withdrawal through. Instant funds settlement is a game changer.
We also think our P2P shuffler is a step in the right direction for the industry. We will be putting out more information on this prelaunch but we firmly believe we have found a solution that will make superusers impossible on Phenom Poker.
I think most of the misconceptions we’ve seen at least publicly are concerning our Token. People have claimed we are introducing a token to run up the price and quickly make our exit stage left while leaving the poker industry holding the bag. I can’t blame anyone for being skeptical or concerned but I think looking a little closer at our Token model will dispel many of these notions.
First: The sale of tokens does not impact the price as the token price is directly tied to revenue of the company, not the recent sales of small or large amounts of tokens.
Second: The token will not be sellable or transferable to anyone other than the site itself (either via earning the token as a reward or redeeming the token for cash).
Third: The founders and investors who have pre-existing tokens are vested for a minimum duration of time and cannot sell until the vesting period is over.
Fourth: Token holders automatically receive distributions of Revenue Share from the site every week. This creates an additional incentive to hold the tokens because anyone can participate in financial upside if the site continues to grow and generates revenue without having to sell their tokens. The goal here is community ownership and keeping more money in the poker ecosystem.
Phil Galfond pulled off something pretty great back in the day with Run It Once Poker. And yet, despite lots of support from the professional poker community and even plenty of amateurs and recreational players, the site didn’t do as well as hoped, and ended up being sold. Liquidity was a major issue. What makes you certain that Phenom Poker will have enough liquidity to survive?
We’re not under any illusion that starting a new site from scratch is going to be easy or is in any way a “certain” outcome. Our approach is to build the best product possible and to be the most player-centric offering on the market.
We believe if we can deliver the product we envision, and execute in a way that delivers on our core values, that the community will find it compelling enough to come and play. There are no gimmicks here. Just a different approach and a transparent, community focused product that we think is a net positive for our industry. At the end of the day, the players get to decide for themselves where they want to play.
It seems like a main selling point for the site is “impenetrable cybersecurity” – that you’ll be giving players the best possible protection so they can play safely and securely, knowing there’s no cheating, collusion, or funny business. Talk to me about that. How is that achieved? How are players protected?
I wouldn’t so much say “impenetrable” security, but more a strong focus on security and transparency. Making player protection, transparency, and preventing any form of cheating a top priority and commitment is in and of itself different from what we’ve seen in the market. There’s no magical solution — as long as there is money at stake, there will be people trying to game the system. However, there are things that can be done to deter and prevent these things as much as possible.
Our process starts at the KYC (Know Your Customer)/onboarding process – we are working with state of the art vendors to identify malicious actors from the start.
We are also using a Big Data approach and writing algorithms into our game integrity and monitoring software to detect patterns in every aspect of gameplay that might be suspicious. Such as when players are playing together too often (possible collusion) or their betting patterns relative to their holdings are consistently outside the norm. And on top of that we are implementing a big deterrent into our Terms of Service, as follows:
If a player is caught cheating in any way, they give Phenom Poker the right to publicly release findings including their Real Identity. We think that, combined with other things, will make players think twice about attempting to cheat on the site.
The main reason I wanted to have this conversation and learn more about Phenom Poker is in order to help inform the poker community. Without slipping into giving me or anyone the “hard sell”, what else haven’t we discussed that you feel is important for the poker community to know about Phenom Poker?
Quite simply, the Phenom Poker team is built by poker players, for poker players. We aren’t asking our ambassadors to be quiet if they see an issue, we aren’t asking our players to be quiet. We welcome the feedback and will build out channels to have direct and meaningful conversations with the poker community.
We have a projected beta test launch of April 2024 where we will ask anyone who believes in making the online poker community better to come and test the site. Find holes, find mistakes, and get rewarded for helping.
Collectively our team has over 100 years of experience in the poker industry and we will do our best to ensure that everyone who loves the game has that same opportunity.
My Thoughts on Phenom Poker
I went into my conversation with Nathan very skeptical. After all, how many times over the last few years have we seen “yet another online poker site” take a stab at making a splash, onto to inevitable fail and disappear.
I came out of the conversation with Nathan convinced that the Phenom Poker team were quite genuinely onto something different. The team is very clearly innovating something new and special in terms of an online poker offering, chiefly because of the enhanced level of security brought about by their Web3-based software and P2P shuffler.
The company is of course still in its infancy, not yet even beta testing. Yet, what I see is a determined, brilliant group of poker players putting their minds together to create a next-level online poker site. It stands to reason that, should the team behind Phenom Poker be able to pull it off, many players would strongly consider playing on such a platform.