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PokerStars Pulls Sponsorship from Playground Poker Montreal Festival

In a move which has taken the poker world by surprise, PokerStars has withdrawn its sponsorship of the Playground Poker Montreal Festival, slated to begin August 22nd.

PokerStars, which seemingly sponsors every poker tournament under the sun, has not given any sort of reason for the last-minute exodus. Instead, it issued a cryptic message through Lee Jones, Head of Poker Communications. On the Two Plus Two poker forum, Jones wrote, “Due to unforeseen circumstances, PokerStars will not be continuing its participation in the upcoming festival. However the tournament will continue as planned as the ‘Playground Festival of Poker’ and we will, of course, honor our previous commitment to players and satellite winners. No other PokerStars services in Canada are affected.”

As one might guess, players are none too satisfied with Jones’ statement.  Playground Poker Club Montreal seems to have been the first to have noticed the sponsorship removal, seeing the event information missing from PokerStars’ website and then satellites to the tournaments disappear from PokerStars’ schedule. And then, clinching matters, PokerNews Canada was told by PokerStars that it was no longer needed to provide live tournament coverage of the Montreal Festival.

PokerStars is still honoring seats that have already been awarded through satellite play.

So what is going on? Nobody really knows. All anyone can do is speculate.

Some think that it could have something to do with the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Championship (SHRPC) down in Hollywood, Florida. As odd as that may seem, what is making people curious is the fact that at about the same time that PokerStars withdrew its sponsorship from the Montreal Festival, it partnered with the SHRPC, allowing players to buy into one of the starting flights via their PokerStars account. PokerStars is not an official sponsor of the event, though. And this relationship comes without PokerStars having any sort of toehold yet in the United States.

Adding to the little bit of intrigue this might provide, the Seminole Hard Rock casino decided in June to change the dates of the SHRPC so as not to be in conflict with the European Poker Tour’s Barcelona stop, which starts August 16th. PokerStars is the title sponsor of the European Poker Tour.

Of course, none of the above may be of any importance, but again, some are intrigued.

Then there is the recent purchase of PokerStars by Canada-based Amaya Gaming. Though Canada is a strong country for online poker, the game resides in a bit of a grey area legally. As such, there has been some degree of worry in the poker community that PokerStars might pull out of the Canadian market at some point. Amaya Gaming is a publicly traded company; typically, publicly traded companies are less risk averse than are privately-held firms, as the public companies must answer to shareholders. Shareholders don’t want their investment to sink just because an online gaming firm decided to stand up to laws it doesn’t like, so there could be pressure on Amaya to just close off PokerStars to Canadians and be done with it.

This is just a fear some players have, though. PokerStars and Amaya have said that it is and will be business as usual for the poker room in Canada. After the deal between Amaya and PokerStars was made, PokerStars Director of Poker Room Operations Steve Day addressed concerns on the Two Plus Two forums, saying, “The short version is that there will be no significant impact on the player experience. We still plan to serve all current markets, including Canada, and to work to grow the game of poker globally.”

And then there is the question as to whether or not the PokerStars withdrawal from the Montreal Festival has anything to do with talks it is having with Loto-Quebec, the province’s government-run gaming monopoly. In June, a representative from Loto-Quebec told the Huffington Post that it is considering licensing deals with overseas online poker firms. Furthermore, the spokesperson confirmed that it was in the nascent stages of discussions with Amaya. Amaya already has an “in” with Loto-Quebec, as it already provides the platform for the agency’s internet gambling site, Espace-Jeux. The site has struggled to provide significant revenue to the provincial government, so one might guess that it is looking for ways to benefit from its international competitors while at the same time giving them a clear way to legally operate in Canada. Whether that means licensing, say, PokerStars straight-up to operate in Quebec or maybe just combining player pools remains to be seen. Again, talks are in the very early stages – little is known as to what exactly is going on.

What we do know is that PokerStars is no longer sponsoring the Playground Poker Montreal Festival. What we don’t know is why. All we have is speculation.


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