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PokerStars responds to boycott

10 Dec 2015

By Gary Trask
Talk about burying the lead.

At long last, responded to last week's boycott of the site by several well-known and high-volume poker players when Vice President of Corporate Communication Eric Hollreiser posted a blog item yesterday.

It has been eight days since the start of the boycott, which included more than 2,000 players and was organized on the Two Plus Two forums in response to changes announced by PokerStars on Nov. 1 that mostly affect high-volume and high-stakes players. But anyone interested in PokerStars' long-awaited reaction may have missed it, since the headline on yesterday's post was "Four $1 Million Freerolls Planned for 2016” and it began with an announcement of the "series of promotions, events and new products that are planned for 2016."

Hollreiser slowly transitioned into the matter at hand, beginning with, "We're doing everything we can to make 2016 an exciting year for poker, but recognize that 2015 has been tough for many of our players." He went on to acknowledge and dismiss the effectiveness of the boycott in one sentence, claiming "traffic actually spiked through the period as a result of the start of our long-planned holiday promotion," but the money line about the new VIP plans for 2016 didn't come until the 11th paragraph:

"We will not alter those plans. The current VIP program is no longer fit for its purpose. When combined with the increasing skill gap in the online poker market, the result is an increasingly poor experience for recreational and new players."

So there you have it. Despite the protest, PokerStars will indeed put a cap on the number of VIP Rewards a player can earn, cut benefits for SuperNova and SuperNova Elite players, and eliminate loyalty points earned in high-stakes cash games. In addition, PokerStars expanded its restrictions on data mining software, a common tool used by high-volume players.

Hollreiser does admit in the post that "we could have communicated to players more often that significant changes were coming in 2016," and apologized to players "who did not expect cuts as significant in 2016 as we announced on November 1st and (we) recognize that some players may have chosen not to participate in the rewards program in 2015."

But along with those regrets came strong words of conviction about the reasoning behind the changes:

"A tremendous amount of analysis goes into making these decisions by PokerStars. Our poker room management team is staffed with many former poker pros. And we have examined all possible scenarios. We are making these changes for the long term health of the poker ecosystem and to put in place a system that is sustainable . . . Changes are needed and we are making them. The funds that previously went to these rewards will be placed in more and bigger online promotions, more consumer marketing campaigns to attract new players and research and development of innovative new products and features."

The reaction to the post from PokerStars customers was predictably harsh, as shown by the comments to Hollreiser's post on Twitter:

One point made in the blog post caught the ire of Dani Stern, who helped spearhead the boycott. Hollreiser pointed out that it was announced there would be significant changes to the 2016 VIP program in October 2014 and "repeated this several times throughout 2015, including telling players that details would be provided in October."

When Stern challenged Hollreiser about this claim on Twitter, he responded with:

On the heels of Hollreiser's post, Daniel Negreanu, who was openly critical of the changes despite his status as one of PokerStars' most well-known pros, went to his blog on Full Contact Poker and wrote a lengthy response, saying, "I realize many of you will be disappointed that we couldn't delay the changes a full year. I'm also disappointed, but I promise you I did the absolute best I could to make sure the players voices were heard, and they were.

"On that note, I want to take full responsibility for my role in the communications breakdown between PokerStars and the players. I didn't write the messaging, but there was more I could have done to help avoid this that I failed to do. I had the opportunity to ask the right questions in October 2014 about when these changes would take effect, but I failed to do that. Had I been more involved at the time, I could have addressed this issue prior to January 1st, 2015 and make sure that the messaging to the players was crystal clear that cuts to the VIP program were going to be implemented in 2016.

"As far as my role with the company, what I'm committed to is making sure that nothing like this ever happens again. I'm extremely embarrassed by this communications blunder and I'm committed to making sure that from now on I am fully up to date and briefed on any and all new promotions and potential changes to any policies."
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