A few years ago Mike McDonald felt that some players were getting out of hand with how they priced themselves when selling pieces. As a bit of a lark he launched a Twitter account under the name @BankofTimex and started offering his own pricing on some players in high profile events. He never meant for it to be a real thing.
“Originally it wasn’t so much looking at betting on it, it was more just looking to just troll people who had too high markups and things like that. It was not a very well thought out thing,” said McDonald. “After a couple of days when there were a bunch of people responding and some messages going back and forth, somebody was just like ‘Hey Mike, what you’re doing is basically just bookmaking in the public eye’.”
And with that the Bank of Timex was shut down. Fast forward three-and-a-half years and McDonald has brought the concept back, but this time he’s jumped through all the necessary hoops to make it real and earlier this month launched PokerShares.com.
“What’s changed is that we’ve found a way to get it fully licensed,” said McDonald. “We wanted to be as cautious as possible and what we’re doing, obviously there’s no gambling key slot to support what poker betting would be like, but we figured it would be treated similarly enough to sports betting that we should have proper licenses if we’re actually going to do it.”
The company has a Curacao gaming license and is accepting action now – just not from America. The idea was reborn after Veron Lammers, a high stakes poker player that McDonald had hired to do some coaching a few years ago, asked about the Bank of Timex.
“I was talking to a friend of mine and he was asking me why I never really pursued turning it into something more and I was like ‘well, it’s a lot of work and I’m kinda lazy and I’m always traveling around for poker tournaments and I don’t know if I really have the time to set up a proper company’,” said McDonald.
Lammers offered McDonald a deal. If McDonald would be the face of the company and do most of the promotional and marketing work, as well as set the prices on players, Lammers was more than happy to do the other stuff. Lammers is in charge of day-to-day business operations and set up the LLC and pursued the gaming license.
“In my mind this is the stuff I find fun, so it feels like I’m doing that much work. He enjoys that stuff, where he doesn’t feel like he’s that much work and it worked out well for both of us,” said McDonald.
Unlike sites like StakeKings or YouStake that allow poker fans and players to buy shares that players have decided to sell, PokerShares is selling action in players and assuming all of the risk. The site began selling action in players at the PokerStars Championship Bahamas as well as the much-hyped heads-up match between Cate Hall and Mike Dentale.
“What we do is we create a share, you purchase it through us and we don’t even own the share, we just give you what that share would have paid out,” said McDonald, who knows that lending his credibility in the poker world is a big part of his role. “A lot of people wouldn’t want to make a bet just hoping that someone is going to pay them out $100,000 or $1 million when they win, but I think I’m one of the few people where in the early stages of the company my reputation is strong enough that very few people are actually questioning that.”
While the ‘Bank of Timex’ was originally intended to point out some of the bad pricing McDonald saw in the marketplace at the time, PokerShares could end up acting as a market correction tool and change the price players are able to charge.
“People who charge too high of a mark up will probably have less opportunity to sell, but I still think plenty of people will sell out from prices higher than we’re charging,” said McDonald. “The product or experience that you’re getting from PokerShares is different from buying form your friend. If you’re buying from your friend, whether or not you buy might be the difference between him getting to play the tournament or not. And it just feels better to be winning with your best friend than it does to be winning off of some company.”
McDonald is also savvy enough to know that pricing certain players a certain way could end up generating buzz, particularly on social media.
“It is one of those things where it’s kind of interesting, separating emotions from the success of the business. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” said McDonald. “I don’t want to get it into any ego battles or anything like, but getting into those ego battles is good for the company. It’s not a bad idea to price some people down, specifically guys you know will get offended, if that gets the word out there.”