PokerStars trading player loyalty for short term money

Jan 5, 2016 3:00 AM

I once told a casino owner that excessive rake would be the downfall to his casino poker business. His response was, “I thought the idea was get all you can as fast as you can.”

That reminded me of the lyrics to a song from one of my wife’s favorite groups Depeche Mode from the 80s called “Everything Counts.” They go like this: “The grabbing hands grab all they can, All for themselves. After all, it’s a competitive world.”

I recently played a poker tournament where the assistant tournament director said to me, “Can you believe the turnout out for this tournament? It’s amazing. I don’t think the players realize we are charging 35% juice.” He was right. If the players keep playing such tournaments, why should they change anything? Players don’t seem to mind if the house money is more than first place money.

Those Depeche Mode lyrics also reminded me of PokerStars’ new business model for 2016 that reduces rewards for high-volume players, the ones who have been so loyal to them for so long. The Depeche Mode song describes what is happening with PokerStars and brick-and-mortar casinos. They all miss a valuable point in gambling – players have to win sometime, or it’s a zero sum game for all.

PokerStars seems to believe professional poker players and other loyal customers are not as valuable as recreational players. The company seems to be shifting their marketing dollars to hire superstar athletes to appeal to this demographic. This summer PokerStars launched the biggest marketing campaign in its history featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr.

PokerStars released two commercials on Facebook, two weeks before they aired on television, to Ronaldo’s 104 million Facebook fans and Neymar Jr.’s 53 million. It seems these days if you are not a superstar athlete, the online poker sites are just not that into you.

Gone are the days when online poker superstars got lucrative sponsorship deals based on results. The brutal truth is no one is into you after all when you are online, and no one knows who you are, and when you’re in public, you hide behind sunglasses and a hoodie and put headphones on at the poker table to tune the world out.

The truth is a company has to have loyal players to survive and thrive. And you as the player have enormous power. Play where they are into you. Play where the rake and rewards are in your favor. Remember you are the customer, and you can spend your hard-earned money where you are appreciated, whether online or in a brick-and-mortar casino.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what’s best for all the players. A healthy poker economy is made up of a variety of poker players from the elite professional poker players at the top to the large pool of recreational players at the bottom of the pyramid and all the other players in-between.

To offset the reduction in rewards the highest-volume players on PokerStars will receive in 2016, PokerStars announced a series of four $1 million freeroll tournaments planned for 2016. According to a PokerStars press release, “These tournaments will surely create buzz and generate excitement among players at all skill and experience levels, and the injection of $4 million into the economy will help many players’ bankrolls.”

Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, acknowledges there is an imbalance in the poker ecosystem, and PokerStars’ plans to address it includes, “more and bigger online promotions, more consumer marketing campaigns to attract new players and research and development of innovative new products and features.”

Whether PokerStars can retain its position as the largest online poker site in the world remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, big changes are coming to the online and brick-and-mortar casinos in the coming years. The Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New Jersey markets are going to become super competitive. It will be survival of the fittest.

I ask the gaming companies to understand they are now dealing with very smart, savvy millennials, and the next generation after them will be even more so because they have so many more entertainment choices than the generations before them.

Though poker can sometimes seem like a solitary pursuit, what one player does affects the whole. Now is the time we need to use our collective power and not play where the players are being taken advantage of. We do have power in numbers; it’s time to use it.

The direction of where poker is headed is in our hands. Support sites and casinos that rewards all of us, no matter whether we are a poker pro or a recreational player. That’s the best way to produce a healthy poker ecosystem for all.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter: @thechipburnerEmail: [email protected].