PokerStars Year in Review.
YouTube Poker personality Doug Polk informs and entertains fans in recent video.
Upswing Poker Lab creator Doug Polk uploaded a YouTube video Monday which communicates his thoughts on PokerStars and its “award winning” efforts in 2016. Fresh off a third straight Poker Operator of the Year victory at the eGaming Review (EGR) Awards in November, the world’s largest online poker brand praised its own commitment to “players first” as it now looks forward to a rewards program overhaul in upcoming months.
PokerStars’ decision to make its real money Internet Poker games more expensive and less skill-based has come under fire from players throughout the calendar year. While the majority of operators and media outlets in our industry point out that these changes have been effective in driving away pros, the counter-argument is that higher rake is detrimental to all players — regardless of their long-term aspirations.
“PokerStars continues to make these decisions that not only hurt the professional players, but also hurt the recreational players, and they try to pretend like it’s a good thing,” says two-time WSOP bracelet winner Polk just before the 4-minute mark of the clip.
“No one has the balls to actually step up and say something about it. The media is in the pocket of Stars and then the people that are streaming on Twitch, making videos, etc. They’re either sponsored by Stars, trying to be sponsored by Stars or simply can’t afford to make enemies within the poker space.”
PokerStars Credibility Issues
Doug’s negative view on PokerStars is shared by many community enthusiasts who balk at the lack of leadership shown by some of the game’s most influential personalities this year.
Whether it’s former Amaya Gaming CEO David Baazov coming out with a drama-laden bid for the entity he once managed while facing formal insider trading charges or current Global Poker League chief Alex Dreyfus grandstanding The Cube for 20% APR pity-loan rates just to scurry underneath the PokerStars corporate umbrella once his actions were made public, industry headlines have been dominated in 2016 by disingenuous business deals, poor communication and bad press embraced by the biggest movers-and-shakers in poker.
Defining the “Recreational Poker Player”
PokerStars’ rhetoric has turned against online pros who were once placed upon a pedestal by the industry as shining examples of the game’s skill-based characteristics. Rather than address growing concerns with game security and deceptive marketing practices, the world’s largest poker site has instead shifted its focus to “protecting” casual players from superior opponents. This line of thinking has been used by the company to justify across-the-board rake hikes, loyalty-based payout reductions and outright negativity toward profitable players in general since Amaya purchased Rational Group‘s assets in 2014.
But will higher fees truly make online poker games more attractive to an increasingly informed mainstream audience? Does more rake equal more fun, as Team PokerStars Headline Pro Daniel Negreanu argues? Will unbeatable stakes and formats spark actual market growth and revive online poker?
The vast majority of recreational poker players may not aspire to be full-time pros, but they don’t necessarily gravitate toward negative expectation deals in perpetuity either. At what point do new “fish” become conscious gamblers who seek out resources which at the very least will decrease their overall disadvantage?
Real money poker has traditionally been marketed as a long-term winning venture to highly-skilled competitors… a direction that played a substantial role in the poker boom of the mid-2000s. Even if Amaya’s cross-sell efforts into its online casino products have been initially successful, will the online gaming conglomerate be able to retain those customers for any meaningful period of time? Or will the online gambling community at large eventually sidestep Amaya’s versions of poker, pit games and sports betting altogether in favor of more innovative options?
These are just a few of the burning questions on the minds of poker enthusiasts worldwide as we head toward 2017 and a breath-before-the-plunge leading up to the launch of PokerStars’ revamped rewards program. Amaya’s upper management is betting its own future on being able to convince most casual gamblers that its games are the best choice when compared to other offerings. Perhaps the final verdict on whether Stars has paved its own way for continued industry dominance won’t be handed down until the EGR Awards reconvene next year.
(Note: Serious about improving your cash game, tournament and/or live poker skills? Check out the Lab, a comprehensive poker training course developed by Doug Polk & Ryan Fee. Our subscribers are crushing everything and you can too!)
David Huber (known as “dhubermex” online) has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade. He currently assists several poker and gaming entities as a researcher, writer, and consultant. Former Editor-in-Chief & Head Moderator of online tournament rankings site PocketFives (2006-2011).