The “City Hideout”

Why a poker website is bigger than British Airways

Over in the UK, a poker site named PartyGaming is about to go public. No big shock there — except that if the company hits its expected first-day price, it will instantly be worth $10 billion, slightly less than Marks and Spencer, and more than British Airways and EMI put together. Why? Because in the last three years, its pretax profits have risen from from $5.8 million to $372 million, and it’s currently pulling in about $58,000 an hour. The business plan is simple: It lets people play poker together online, and shaves a tiny 1% off of each pot.

The company was founded by a woman who’d made her fortune in online porn, who hired a 25-year-old kid fresh out of an Indian comp-sci program to write her software. That’s surreal enough, but my favorite detail about the company, as reported in The Guardian, is this:

PartyGaming’s head office is in Gibraltar; its computer servers run from there and from Kahnawake, a Mohawk Indian reserve within Canada; its marketing office is in London but most of its 1,000 staff work in a call centre and software development site in Hyderabad, southern India.

Man alive. Porn, call-service-centers, Canadian Indian reserves — it’s like the wireframe model for a sci-fi novel cowritten by Cory Doctorow and Thomas Friedman.

As an unrelated aside, I wonder whether the rise of poker is a permanent new fixture in global culture, or a short-term bubble. I don’t actually play poker, and I don’t find it interesting to watch. But ludologically, I’m fascinated by the ascendance of games in today’s pop culture — a category that, judging by the popularity of poker, goes quite beyond videogames, and now includes competitive reality TV. Skill-based games have always been huge, of course; pro sports have been around for centuries. But the skills celebrated in today’s newly rising games aren’t about physical achievement so much as more about cunning, bluffing, and Victorian subterfuge — it’s like a world gladiatorial culture designed by Jane Austen.

(Thanks to F!LTER magazine for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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