‘A shame to watch my baby die’: PKR founder Jez San on poker site’s demise

  • PKR founder says investors ‘put in as much money as they could afford’ to save iconic brand
  • San says poker downturn hit ground-breaking 3D poker room hard
  • Last-minute attempts to expand into online casino failed

The founder of pioneering online poker site PKR.com, Jez San, has told of his sorrow at ‘watching his baby die’ when the business went into administration.

PKR founder Jez San said it was tough watching his creation slowly fail.
PKR founder Jez San said it was tough watching his creation slowly fail.

PKR filed for administration on May 5 and San, who set up the site in 2004, revealed to Casinopedia that he and fellow investors in the business tried desperately to keep it afloat, but in the end had to fold.

PKR made waves in the mid-2000s for its advanced 3D online poker, which set it apart from its rivals who offered a more basic visual experience.

At the time of the administration, San’s role in PKR was purely as an investor.

Watching ‘his baby die’

San told Casinopedia’s Luke Page: “The investors were pumping in money to try to keep it alive and to try to find a buyer for it – it just wasn’t possible.

“We put as much money in it as we could have afforded.

“What happened to PKR was very expensive for me, and a real shame to see my baby die, but the reality is that poker is tough business – a declining business – and very few poker companies are making money. Even those that are making money are seeing their business erode.

“A small poker company like PKR just found it very tough. PKR’s only survival would have been to sell it to someone else, and we tried. But no one was found and in the end it died and it was a real shame.

He added: “I have lost a lot of money in PKR – both my initial investment and the recent attempts to try to save it.”

A losing hand

Although he was PKR’s founder and CEO until 2005, his involvement gradually wound down after that time. In the last eight years his interest had been as an investor only.

“It had a good running, it lasted 12 years. Five of them were really good years and five were declining years. I was only in it in the beginning as an employee and as a management team, and its a shame, but some things don’t last. It had its time. Poker was big ten years ago, it isn’t now.
Jez San, PKR founder.

San said that things began to get tricky for the industry when the US Congress enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). That effectively made, as San put it, the “grandaddy of markets”, the USA, out of bounds for internet poker operators.

But that law also coincided with a drop-off in interest in the game generally. San said: “There used to be poker on television all hours of day and it was all content coming out of America being promoted.

“There were celebrities and superstars and it was basically…huge ten years ago and it isn’t now.”

PKR’s final Hail Mary

PKR simply didn’t have the resources to change effectively, like some of its rivals.

PokerStars has for many years now been diversifying its business, notably investing into its online casino operation, which has helped it offset the declining or flat growth from online poker.

The most recent figures for Amaya, the parent company of PokerStars, state poker is responsible for 73% of total company revenue. In 2015 it was 82.7%.

San said: ““In the last year it (PKR) tried to transition into casino but it wasn’t really able to do that.”

The launch of that casino, in 2016, was followed by a virtual sports platform later that year. But neither really gained traction, and it appeared to be a final throw of the dice for the Alderney-based site.

It moved to the Microgaming Poker Network in 2016 too, in a bid to boost the cash floating around in its games.

What once had been a well-positioned brand sitting in its own niche, had lost its identity amid a downturn in the market generally.

PKR’s final resting place

Administrators RSM Restructuring Advisory LLP are joint administrators of PKR Limited and PKR Technologies Limited, an appointment that was made by the High Court in London on May 11.

There were hopes that it would be sold off as a going concern. Casinopedia contacted the administrators on Tuesday (July 4) for an update but a spokesman for the administrators said they were “not in a position to provide an update at present”.

The expectation now is that the business will be broken up and sold into pieces. There may be a buyer for the technology and a buyer for the roster of players, for example.

Players who had funds deposited in PKR accounts had to apply to the administrator to get their money back, but there were no guarantees that they would see all of it again.

Jez San, who is also known as pioneer in the field of video games, has recently made headlines for his latest bid to break new ground. His venture FunFair is aiming to ‘disrupt’ the online casino market by basing online casino games on Ethereum, a blockchain platform which is seen as a more advanced version of Bitcoin.

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