Is Backgammon the next big thing?
Both Dubner and the folks at Party Poker think so.
Although supposedly illegal for Americans, online poker and sports betting is a huge business. At any given time, as many as 100,000 people are playing poker at Party Poker. More than half of these are Americans.
Party Poker is successful for much the same reason that eBay is. Most internet activities like searching, shopping, or viewing porn, the user doesn’t care whether other people are using the same site. All the user cares about is when it comes to auctions and poker, the big poker web sites have a built in advantage (what economists call network externalities). The more players at a site, the easier it is to find just the sort of game you are looking for, just as if you are trying to sell something you want to be at the site with the most buyers. By taking a small cut of each pot, Party Poker and the other poker web sites have been minting money, making the founders among the richest people in the entire world.
Now, there is PartyGammon. The Party Poker people are hoping that they can do the same to backgammon. I would not bet against them given their past success.
For years, Dubner has been bragging to me that he is a fantastic backgammon player and bemoaning the fact that he can play online, but not for money. Now he has his chance to prove how good he is.
My hope is that he really isn’t that good after all. Otherwise, all the hours he is supposed to be working on the sequel to Freakonomics, instead he will be getting rich playing backgammon.