PokerStars Gives Another Update Regarding VIP Program Changes

In November 2015, PokerStars gave a vague, short-on-details preview of changes it would be making to its VIP loyalty program in 2016. The news did not sit well with a lot of players, as it signaled the eventual end of the Supernova Elite VIP level and a cap on rewards at 30 percent equivalent rakeback. Players were also incensed that they were given so little warning. In September 2016, more information (light on details again) was provided as to continued 2017 changes and now, on Monday, PokerStars has given yet another update as the total revamp of the VIP program draws near.

In a blog post, Director of Poker Innovation and Operations for PokerStars Severin Rasset gave a high-level explanation of why changes to the VIP program are in order:

Poker is a game of wits with players competing against each other for fun, for competition and for profit. Our goal in managing poker is always to maintain that delicate balance and deliver the best possible playing experience while doing so. Since 2006, our loyalty program has encouraged volume rather than competition. It has been a tremendous success and was the right approach for many years. However, the environment has changed. The game has matured; the profile of our players has changed.

Reading between the lines, PokerStars, like most other online poker rooms, has been getting tired of high volume pros and serious amateur grinders clogging up tables with overly-tight play just to pull in rakeback. These strong players also suck up money from recreational players, potentially discouraging those players from continuing to play poker.

The changes started with the introduction of the VIP Steps loyalty program. So far, Rasset, said, it has paid dividends for PokerStars:

Since that time, many of our high-volume players have focused more on winning at the tables rather than playing a style optimised for rewards. We want to further encourage this behaviour at the tables: it promotes a more natural and engaging form of poker and creates a better experience for all our players. We have seen additional concrete positive signs: more hands seeing the flop, bigger pot sizes, new players playing longer on the site than the year before, and players playing more frequently.

But, as we know, the full transformation of the VIP program has yet to happen. StarsCoin will become the “common currency” for every gambling option on PokerStars sites, from poker to casino games to sports betting. Players can achieve loyalty rewards playing anywhere.

PokerStarsBut that’s just minutia. The big change will come in the elimination of monthly rewards tiers. Rasset wrote that PokerStars wants to “give players a rich, exciting, personalised experience with randomized rewards and the chance at winning big prizes.”

What will happen is that players will be rewarded less for sheer volume of play. Instead, while volume will still be a factor, other things like stakes, frequency of play, and net deposits will go into the rewards calculations.

There will be a relatively small, but vocal segment of players that will be very upset by the following sentence from the blog post:

“Players whose rewards are likely to be significantly decreased under the new program are being contacted today with more details of the impact on them.”

Interestingly, these types of players will typically be high volume, high frequency, high stakes players, which are three factors that PokerStars will use to determine rakeback/rewards in the new VIP system. For these players, rakeback is immensely important, providing them thousands of dollars of extra income per year. As PokerStars has said, though, it feels that these players play more just to grind out rakeback than to actually try to win and/or have fun (agree or disagree, that’s what Stars has said).

PokerStars has contacted these players already, linking the blog post and giving a short explanation of what’s going on. The most telling part of the e-mail is, “Based on your previous play, you will likely be significantly impacted by the new changes. We cannot give you an exact figure, but in the most extreme cases some players will receive up to 85% less than under the previous program.”

One of the more eye-opening portions of the short preview from the blog post is that net deposits will be used to determine rewards. Winning players, who are generally the rakeback grinders, take money from losing players and therefore don’t need to re-deposit as frequently. While PokerStars would probably prefer players don’t bomb out and lose all their money right away, the only way for the poker room to keep a flow of money going at the tables is for those who lose to re-deposit. Thus the desire to reward net depositors over long-term winners.

Denmark will be the first country to experience the new VIP program, with the rollout coming “no sooner than late May.” Other countries will see the changes throughout the summer.

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