PokerStars Explains Its Turn Away from Serious Players as Revenues Shift

PokerStars needed to become more entertaining to the masses, Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi stated, which is why his company has changed its focus away from efforts that appeal to skilled players.

Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi

Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi tells viewers of Bloomberg TV that he’s satisfied with the provider’s current business plan, with the positive results flowing as the website turns away from serious “pro” players. (Picture: Bloomberg.com)

Speaking to Bloomberg in his first TV interview since taking control of the recently renamed The Stars Group (previously Amaya), Ashkenazi clarified he is currently sizing up merger and acquisition opportunities. With cash flow in a positive realm, Ashkenazi believes the business is ready to expand, but not always in a manner that some PokerStars loyalists might want or expect.

Carnival Barking

In analyzing the current situation at PokerStars, Ashkenazi stated that the average player does not want to face off against experienced grinders. They instead, he said, “want to enjoy the sport for a fun entertainment experience that offers many winning minutes and the fantasy of the big payout.”

The Stars Group Director of Operations and Innovation Severin Rasset echoed that sentiment.

“We were beginning to have too many professional players for what we can maintain for a good, healthy ecosystem,” Rasset said of the business’s latest revenue report, which was released on Wednesday.

Rasset joined the company in August 2015 with a background in video games and an awareness of how “professionals” could be harming a sense of participant balance at PokerStars.

The news of this shift in outlook won’t come as much of a shock to longtime PokerStars players. When Amaya took over in 2014, a few subtle yet significant changes started to become apparent.

For one, the introduction of Spin & Go tournaments seemed to be a way to protect fish from proverbial sharks. The removal of sponsored pros at PokerStars’ sister site Full Tilt also supported a new approach, and the decrease of Supernova Elite rewards by 5 percent also took place in 2014.

For the first time in PokerStars’ history, the most loyal players seemed to be getting short shrift.

Such modifications would be compounded by a rake increase that pro player Mike McDonald described as an attack on the skill aspect of poker.

“Spend years branding poker for a skill game. Analyze win rates of top players. Establish rake to be slightly more. Our job is now a carnival game,” McDonald tweeted in 2014.

Revenue Speaks

In an effort to stem the wave of changes, players across three popular poker forums organized a demonstration in late 2014 where they took seats at PokerStars table then elected to sit out, effectively shutting down the games temporarily.

But that didn’t stop Stars from making additional modifications, and moving their attention to non-poker endeavors.

As their Q2 financial reports indicated, the Stars Group is currently drawing an ever-decreasing quantity of earnings from its poker advantage, PokerStars.

According to the report, poker earnings for Q2 of 2017 was down 5.9 percent year-on-year. More importantly, 66.5 percent of the business’s total revenue for the period came from poker, which is down from 75.5 percent compared to 2016.

Regardless of the drop in poker earnings, PokerStars’ total earnings for Q2 was up 6.8 percent, while new sign-ups increased by 2.1 million. The figures appear to support the new leadership PokerStars is heading, even if the rebalancing of skill levels could upset the “pro” poker players.  

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