PokerStars: A Year in ReviewDecember 28, 2016 2:14 pm
This year has certainly been a transformative one for the world’s biggest online poker site, and Amaya Inc, the Canadian company that owns the brand. Furthermore, monumental changes took place in both the online and live arenas, leading to both praise and criticism in equal measure, depending on your point of view.
Full Tilt and PokerStars Merge
One of the biggest online developments to take place in 2016 was the merging of Full Tilt players with those of PokerStars in order to offer a streamlined site that is able to offer a more attractive range of promotions and products. At one stage, Full Tilt was the preferred destination for high-stakes cash games, but its transformation into a recreational friendly poker room was completed with the move.
Reward Programs Reduced
In the meantime, PokerStars continued to severely curtail its VIP and Supernova programs in order to offer its recreational customers better incentives too play, while promotions involving such sporting icons as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. proved hugely successful in attracting new casual players to the site.
PokerStars Returns to USA
Another major development was that PokerStars finally returned to the USA in March after partnering with Resorts casino and officially launching its New Jersey site. While its initial impact has been less than expected, the brand has still helped stimulate further online poker interest in the Garden State. The brand also took its promotion to the live tournament arena, too, and from October 29th to November 6th held the PokerStars Festival at Resorts AC. PokerStars managed to put on an impressive spectacle, with some of its top sponsored pros helping to promote the event, and next year its organizers are hoping to make a number of improvements to the schedule that will allow its popularity to grow.
Live Tours Rebranded
As alluded to above, PokerStars took its live tournament sponsorship to a whole new level this year after rebranding its EPT, LAPT, UKIPT, and other live series to either the PokerStars Championship or the PokerStars Festival. Not only are the new tours intended to more closely target their intended audience, be they professional or casual enthusiasts, but having the brand’s name hallmarked on the new series will also help promote its poker site to a worldwide audience.
Portuguese Market Success
In 2016, PokerStars also reentered the Portuguese market having first been granted an official iGaming license by the country’s gaming regulator. To say that its initial performance has been dramatic is an understatement, with PokerStars.pt showing 1,800 cash game players over a 7-day period, placing it at number 3 in terms of global online poker traffic. Also helping to drum up extra interest in the site is Cristiano Ronaldo, the national soccer captain who lead his country to UEFA EURO 2016 victory.
David Baazov Steps Down
This year saw Amaya CEO and founder David Baazov come under fire by Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), with Quebec’s securities regulator levelling insider trading allegations against him. As a result of the case, Baazov resigned from his CEO position and was replaced by Rafi Ashkenazi. Nevertheless, Baazov still had high hopes of increasing his current 17.2% stake in Amaya and wrestling back control of the company. Unfortunately for Baazov, however, his proposed acquisition offer was rejected, and so he will now have to be contented with playing a reduced role in the company’s future direction.
Finally, PokerStars online casino and sports betting products grew to represent 24% of the company’s revenues in the third quarter of 2016, as the firm continues to roll out more gambling and innovative poker games. Looking ahead to the future, Kevin Wright from Canaccord Genuity gave this assessment of the company’s prospects:
“We see value in the name for investors that can look past the year’s ups and downs in Canadian gaming and focus on the fundamentals of a global leader in online gaming as the company is likely to deploy capital to deleverage as a means to surface value for equity holders.”