Professional Poker Players Problematic for PokerStars

Canada online poker giant PokerStars continues axing professional poker players in favor of casual gamers.

Canada Online Poker CEO PokerStars Rafi AshkenaziRafi Ashkenazi has been the CEO of The Stars Group (formerly Amaya) for almost two years. He replaced the company’s immensely successful, but legally challenged founder, David Bazzov, in November 2015. Since then, Ashkenazi’s reign has been a prodigious one.

Following a number of substantial changes to the company, everything from managerial roles to the latest name change, The Stars Group has seen spectacular growth. After paying down a lot of company debt, Q2-17 revenue beat out industry estimates.

One of the most controversial changes came to the PokerStars platform, wherein the CEO is clearly taking the ax to as many professional poker players as possible. He views them as the proverbial head of the snake that’s driving the overall online poker business into the ground. And in this case, cutting off the head of the snake means giving less treats to the site’s most prominent pros.

Stop Winning, You’re Scaring Away the Fish!

For many years, PokerStars thrived on professional poker players. Their salient faces told the world that they, too, could become poker pros by joining the online poker site. It was a successful campaign – apparently, too successful. Now, the company finds the opposite to be true.

There are so many professional poker players now inhabiting the Canada online poker site that there’s no room left—or more appropriately, no enjoyment left—for the little guys. Ashkenazi believes amateur poker players are no longer spending much time at PokerStars because the overflow of pros are preying on them from the moment they place their first wager.

In an interview with Bloomberg, the CEO said recreational players “want to enjoy the game as a fun entertainment experience that offers many winning moments and the dream of the big payout.”

Unfortunately, the professional sharks are preventing them from doing so. Thus PokerStars began slowly, but progressively, altering their rewards program.

New Loyalty Scheme Benefits Casual Players

Stars Rewards No Good for Professional Poker Players

A scheme that once offered fantastic rake-back rewards for the highest volume players, now provides minimal rewards for those players, and more benefits alluring for the casual variety. They also target all player types, sharing Stars Rewards across the brand’s three iGaming platforms, PokerStars, StarsCasino and BetStars.

Furthermore, online poker tournaments, which don’t attract nearly as many players as they once did, have seen their payout schedules altered. Professional poker players looking for the big payout no longer find PokerStars so appealing, whereas casual players are drawn to the new schedules. The prize pools have been spread out, delivering lower payouts overall, but to a lot more players.

According to The Stars Group’s Director of Operations and Innovation, Severin Rasset, a healthy player base is dependent upon a level playing field. “We were starting to have too many professional players for what we could maintain for a good, healthy eco system,” said Rasset.

The alterations began about 18 months ago, much to the dismay of professional poker players. Despite their protests, the changes continued, with the latest adjustments coming last month. And Ashkenazi says they are working.

“We see exactly what we wanted to see: a higher degree of engagement of our players,” he told Bloomberg.

Awaiting Results for Canada Online Poker Giant

We won’t know for sure just how effective the latest casual-player campaign is until the next quarter’s results are published. In the previous quarter, of the 113 million registered players at the Canada online poker site, only 2 million actively participated.

That’s still a significant number, though. PokerStars is in a position of handling an estimated 70% of the global online poker player base. 888Poker and PartyPoker are running a very distant second and third.

And while revenue may be down on the poker side of the business, shares have risen 41% for The Stars Group since Ashkenazi took over. From an investment prospective, he’s clearly doing something right.

It’s unlikely PokerStars will ever enjoy the fame and freedom it did prior to its unceremonious exit from the US market in 2011. But with steady growth in the brand’s online casino and sports businesses, things are clearly looking up for the company as a whole.

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