PokerStars Drops Markets as Flutter Ups Online Poker
It has been a wild decade for PokerStars. From one merger to another and a fairly consistent move away from online poker as its focus, the company may again be putting its poker product back in the spotlight. That is courtesy of the most recent financial reports from Flutter Entertainment, the latest and greatest parent company of PokerStars.
In order to make that happen, however, Flutter needed to get its ducks in a row. And that meant pulling PokerStars from a few key markets due to legally ambiguous regulations.
Players from China, Taiwan, and Macau are no longer able to play on PokerStars.
Quietly Dropping Markets
About those markets, PokerStars departed fairly quietly. An inquiring player received this message and posted it on the Two Plus Two forums:
“Please be informed that as of 1st of September, we’ll be exiting China, Taiwan and Macau.”
Players were advised to withdraw their account balances.
Note that this move happened just a few months after the previous notice that PokerStars was leaving the Cyprus online poker market. Players were forced to withdraw their funds by the first week of May.
Nick Jones at Poker Industry PRO confirmed this (in legal-speak) with PokerStars, that these were jurisdictions were ones in which Flutter had chosen not to operate.
1️⃣ So, first point – TSG is not confirming the explicit withdrawal from China, Thailand or Taiwan – only: “There were a small number of TSG jurisdictions that Flutter had previously determined it would not operate in and in such cases, these markets are being switched off.”
— Nick Jones (@pokerprojones) September 3, 2020
Jones confirmed the years-long relationship between PokerStars and Red Dragon (remember all of those Macau Red Dragon tournaments and series?), and this will remain somewhat intact. PokerStars may continue working with the Red Dragon Poker Tour in some sort of consultancy role, also providing the online platform and limited PokerStars liquidity.
Anyway, this app allow you to register for these tournaments. The site says that cryptocurrencies are supported here, at least for deposit.
But, once you have a RDP/6UP account, you can sign into a special PokerStars client, PokerStars Asia. pic.twitter.com/1EZRcprepH
— Nick Jones (@pokerprojones) September 3, 2020
It remains unclear if Japan, Russia, and other questionable markets for internet gambling will remain open to PokerStars customers, at least for online poker. For now, despite some speculation, PokerStars is not leaving those markets.
For much more information and analysis, check Jones’ Twitter thread on this subject.
Flutter as PokerStars Parent
On May 4, 2020, amidst a pandemic and global economic uncertainty, Flutter Entertainment officially acquired The Stars Group. The deal had been announced in October 2019 as a combination that would create one of the largest gambling mergers in the world.
At that point, Flutter owned PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Adjarabet, Paddy Power, Betfair, Sky Betting & Gaming, FoxBet, and several other entities.
PokerStars had a new parent. Initial analyses expected online poker to be low on the list of priorities for Flutter as the company moved toward world domination (that could be an exaggeration).
First Combined Financials and PokerStars Focus
Despite the pandemic, the Flutter financials from the first half of 2020 were positive. Revenue was up 49% year-on-year. Adjusted EBITDA was up 59%. Global online growth checked in at 29%.
Of course, there was a downside, too. Profits before tax were down 70%, earnings per share down 81%, and net debt up 714%. Ouch.
Flutter CEO Peter Jackson sounded positive about the numbers. “The group’s first half financial performance exceeded expectations as we benefitted from geographic and product diversification.”
Interestingly, the Covid-19 disruption to its expected path of growth delivered perspective. Without sports from most of March through June, sports betting numbers dipped. The segments that did really well were online poker and casino games. In fact, that Q2 period saw PokerStars’ average daily gaming customers up 70% year-on-year “despite relatively low levels of marketing investment.” Online poker and casino games also increased at Paddy Power Betfair and Sky Betting and Gaming by 65%.
PokerStars revenue up 40% in H1 to £697m with average daily customers up 70% in Q2. Elevation in customer numbers across both poker and casino platforms due to people looking for alternative forms of entertainment during lockdown. pic.twitter.com/z4tIr6uNxW
— Flutter plc (@FlutterPLC) August 27, 2020
As an example, a customer survey showed that the top reason that customers signed up to play on PokerStars was to play against family and friends online via the home games, mostly for virtual chips.
This led to Flutter’s mid-year statement that it would be increasing its overall investment in PokerStars. This stand in opposition to the last several years, during which The Stars Group put a majority of its focus on sports betting and some on casino gaming online. But per a review of H1 numbers, “we have identified further opportunities to invest in areas such as marketing, product and technology.”
-1. Marketing: underinvested in PokerStars in 2019 at just 14%
-2. Promotional generosity: promotions significantly reduced at PokerStars in past five years
-3. Product, tech, customer experience: PokerStars product lags behind competitors
Flutter is looking at those three opportunities for investments in the future, along with assessing potential acquisitions that would “further enhance the growth profile and diversification” of The Stars Group.
It seems as though PokerStars may see an influx of investment in those areas in the second half of 2020 and beyond. This will happen under completely new leadership, however, as a part of the merger. Just after the financial reports emerged last week, former The Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi left Flutter completely instead of staying on as a non-executive director.
— Poker Industry PRO (@pokerindpro) August 28, 2020