PokerStars Caps Cash Tables as TSG Reduces Poker Focus
The changes have been coming quickly at PokerStars.
Just within the past few weeks, the online poker operator rolled out its All-In Cash Out function, which allows players to cash out of an all-in cash game situation according to hand equity. The fee-based option is one that is geared toward recreational players but can be used by anyone at cash game tables.
The latest change for PokerStars players is the reduction of multi-tabling for cash game players. The cap for tables to be played simultaneously had been 24 but was just reduced to only four tables.
While many players have been rolling with the changes as best as possible over the past several years, including the elimination of Supernova VIP programs and the limiting of programs like HUDs, the ring game limitation may be the last straw for some players. Pros are unlikely to be able to make a living via online poker if they cannot play more than four tables at one time.
PokerStars is sticking to their evolution, though, to make online poker more amenable to recreational players. The backlash from poker pros has been and continues to be unable to sway the decisionmakers at the site.
The decisions from PokerStars are not surprising when looking at the overall focus of The Stars Group (TSG). Its parent company has been consistently sidelining poker in favor of online casino games and sports betting. The latest financials from TSG confirm that path.
It all started last year when PokerStars tested out the cash game table limits in the segregated Italian market.
PokerStars claimed that the move was a result of a growing number of comments from players about competitors who stall, take too long to act on hands. An internal investigation by PokerStars showed that it happened most often when players were multi-tabling.
Further research showed that 99.7% of PokerStars customers played only one to six tables at a time, meaning any limitations to multi-tabling would affect only a small percentage of its players.
The testing in the Italian market over the past year evidently showed that players didn’t even need as many as six tables. PokerStars says its data supported a decision to limit even further, which led to last week’s announcement that all players will be limited to just four tables.
As of August 20, players on PokerStars in the dot-com market, UK, France, EU, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and many more will be limited to playing four regular cash game tables at one time. This will pertain to cash games at all stakes.
PokerStars’ Severin Rasset wrote a blog post detailing the change and the reasons behind it.
He started by writing, “Maintaining a healthy poker ecosystem and balancing the interests of all of our players is at the core of what we do. It is our responsibility as hosts to ensure that every player has a safe and enjoyable poker experience.”
Rasset went on to note that multi-tabling has been a part of online poker history, as has been the goal of some players to obtain an edge over their competition.
He then said that careful management is required to keep the majority of players from having a “difficult playing experience” wherein play is interrupted and players feel outmatched.
“Attracting and retaining new poker players is crucial to the future of the game,” Rasset wrote. “By reducing the table cap from 24 to 4, we are reducing the number of multi-tabling players and increasing the number of more casual one-table players at each table. This should lead to increased win- rates on any individual table for the strongest players, while increasing the likelihood that single-table players will meet others like themselves. As a result, they’ll have more chance of experiencing winning sessions and continue to play in the longer term.”
According to Rasset, he and others who made the decision are also poker players and understand the impact it may have. He hopes that players will adapt and continue to be a part of the poker community. “We are confident this is the right thing to do for the future of the game,” he said.
Reducing Focus on Poker
Earlier this month, The Stars Group reported its financial results for the second quarter of 2019, which ended June 30.
Overall, PokerStars’ parent company showed increased revenue for the quarter, with $637.6 million up 55% from the previous year’s corresponding period.
The news for those following PokerStars, however, was grim. Of the three verticals, poker is now the least lucrative for The Stars Group. It has changed drastically in just one year.
–Sports betting: 36% of total revenue (was 20% in 2018)
–Online casino: 31% of total revenue (was 25% in 2018)
–Online poker: 30% of total revenue (was 53% in 2018)
Much of the success of The Stars Group as a whole was attributed to a record performance by newly-acquired Sky Betting & Gaming, as well as “increasing product and geographic diversification.”
Poker was hardly mentioned in the press release about the earnings, though it was mentioned frequently in the earnings call. However, that was mostly in the context of how to cross-promote TSG brands to and from poker.
CEO Rafi Ashkenazi noted, “Importantly, we have derisked and diversified our revenue base. And we have transformed from a poker-only company with less than half of our revenues generated from locally regulated or taxed jurisdictions to a balanced and highly diversified betting and gaming company…”
Sky Poker Update
It was also important to note that Sky Poker, which was a part of the Sky acquisition and hadn’t been mentioned in The Stars Group’s plans to date, was mentioned in the earnings call. It will be relaunched as “Sky Poker by PokerStars” in early 2020. It seems it will be connected to PokerStars in the same way that Full Tilt Poker relaunched on the PokerStars platform years ago.