Poker Players Set to Boycott PokerStars

Upset with the recently announced changes to the online poker room’s loyalty program, high stakes players at PokerStars are embarking upon a 72-hour boycott of the site starting tomorrow, December 1st. The mass self-ban is scheduled to begin at midnight ET on Tuesday and run for three consecutive days.

Led by a group of Russian poker players as well as poker pro Dani “Ansky” Stern, the “strike” aims to bring attention to the discontent many pros and high volume amateurs have been feeling since the revelation of the VIP program changes, changes that will significantly reduce the benefits given to upper-tier players, supposedly in order to help recreational players. Most notably, VPP’s will no longer be awarded (starting January 1, 2016) for high stakes cash games and the Supernova Elite (SNE) status level will be discontinued as of January 1, 2017, with a cap put in place for SNE benefits that is lower than the historical average for SNE players.

“The reason we are focused on the highest status levels,” Amaya Gaming’s VP of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser wrote in a blog post in early November, “is because these rewards have become so enticing that we have inadvertently altered why some people play and how they play. We are introducing these changes to move towards a more balanced long-term poker economy and to return the game back to one that rewards skill via winning at the tables rather than playing primarily for volume.”

Dani Stern doesn’t buy it, feeling it is simply a money grab by Amaya Gaming, parent company of PokerStars. On Two Plus Two, Stern wrote:

PokerStars/Amaya has announced an aggressive overhaul of the 2016 VIP system. They have deceived SNE players about benefits they would receive, are discontinuing the SNE program, and they have completely removed all rewards for high stakes (5/10+) cash games. While PokerStars claims the changes are to provide relief to recreational players, there is no such change happening. They are telling their players outright lies, and we will not stand for it. Beyond that, it follows an ongoing trend that PokerStars/Amaya has been taking in recent years. A site that was once clearly for the players, has completely lost sight of that.

Another big complaint about the changes (and this is really goes hand-in-hand with the reduced benefits for high stakes players) is change from the Frequent Player Point (FPP) system to StarsCoin-based rewards. It does seem that StarsCoin may simplify things a bit and the new Steps program may help incentivize recreational players to keep grinding to hit the next StarsCoin milestone, but it also hurts those high stakes, high volume players who cash in FPPS for additional income. With the conversion of FPPs to StarsCoin at a 1:1.2 rate and the corresponding change in rewards prices from FPPs to StarsCoin, players will be getting less for their points than they are now.

“Despite all of what I’ve written, if there were any doubt left that this was something other than a complete revenue grab, that this wasn’t exclusively about increasing PokerStars margins, there is the FPP devaluation,” Stern wrote in a different post. “Starting on Jan 1st, 2016, PokerStars is converting all FPPs to StarsCoins, and devaluing them by 25%. I’m actually shocked that their marketing and PR team didn’t care to alter this. What could devaluing FPPs possibly do to improve the quality of the gaming experience?”

FPP rewards will not be available after the turn of the year, so those who have been saving up for a big prize will be out of luck.

According to a list of players posted on the Two Plus Two forum, it appears that there will be somewhere around 2,000 players participating in the three-day boycott of PokerStars. It is entirely possible that the number could be higher, as some players may choose to stay away from the site without making their purposeful absence public knowledge.

Stern offered his thoughts on what the strike can accomplish:

No one has any illusions of sinking PokerStars stock with a 3 day strike, or bringing down the company. That’s not what this is about. This is a demonstration of force, and an effort to show PokerStars that we are a body of players, and not just individuals. We have the ability to act as one, to make our voices heard, and to rally players behind a fair grievance. PokerStars has made it clear they do not respect us, so we need to demonstrate that we are able to fight back with volume and force.

The boycott might not end there. The Russian player who introduced the boycott to Two Plus Two, aptly named “I from Russian” (“Redon” on a Russian-language poker forum), said that this is the “first wave” and that there will be a “long campaign” starting in January.

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