okerStars’ Stars Rewards Program

PokerStars Stars Rewards Live in Denmark, Italy

PokerStars new rewards program, creatively named Stars Rewards, launched for Denmark players last week and on Thursday, it launched in Italy. PokerStars has been hyping this for months, saying it will be wonderful, but to this point, the initial reviews have been less than enthusiastic.

In a blog post this spring, Director of Poker Innovation and Operations for PokerStars Severin Rasset, gave some of the reasoning for the loyalty program overhaul, saying:

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.

As such, the days of simply grinding, grinding, grinding for rakeback and rakeback-equivalent rewards are gone. Now, in addition to volume, player rewards will be based on net deposits, stakes, and frequency of play. Note the “net deposits” part. This strongly implies that all things being equal, the recreational players, the ones who on average lose money and redeposit more often, will see better rewards.

And how will those rewards work? It starts with player rewards points (say goodbye to VPPs and FPPs). For every $1 paid in rake and/or tournament fees, players will earn 100 rewards points (We’re going with USD in this case, even though many players will be using the Euro, just for the sake of consistency. The rewards are the same, either way.).

Every player will be given some sort of points target to hit in order to earn a “Chest.” PokerStars tailors these targets to each player, so there is no way to know going in what the point requirements will be. In addition to a running numerical tally, PokerStars will also display a Chest progress bar as a way for players to keep their eyes on the prize. It’s a minor way to “gamify” the rewards process, dangling the carrot at the end of the stick.

There are six different types of chests, each with a maximum prize value:

Red Chest – $100 max
Blue Chest – $100 max
Bronze Chest – $500 max
Silver Chest – $500 max
Gold Chest – $1,000 max
Platinum Chest – $1,000 max

Chests can contain any combination of cash, StarsCoin, tournament entries, more points credited to the next Chest, and the like. The contents are said to be tailored to the individual, so poker players shouldn’t be receiving things like free sports bets or slot machine spins.

Now, that all sounds groovy until we see what the chances of actually opening a Chest and finding something worthwhile are. According to a chart found on the Frequently Asked Questions page, the odds of pulling the top value for any given Chest is just 1 in 10,000. The other 9,999 times, players will receive a tiny fraction of what the maximum value can be.

For example, the least valuable Chest, Red, will provide just SIX CENTS of value one-third of the time. SIX CENTS! The most that Chest can be worth if it is not the top value of $100 is only SIXTY CENTS, and that’s in only 400 of 10,000 instances. Thus, 99.99 percent of the time, a Red Chest will explode with 60 cents of value or less.

The most valuable Chest, Platinum, will give $10.70 in rewards one-third of the time. 400 times out of 10,000 it will have a value of $107. 90 percent of the time, the combined value of the rewards (again, StarsCoin, cash, points, and more can all be in the chest in some combination) will be $21.40 or lower.

Of course, the monetary value of the Chests does not necessarily tell us whether or not the rewards are any good, as we don’t know how many points it took to earn one. As mentioned, that number is different for everybody. So, let’s look at a couple examples players have provided on the Two Plus Two message board.

“Sauron92” provided screenshots of his progress, which showed that he needed 7,000 points ($70 in rake) to earn a Gold Chest ($1,000 max value). Upon opening the Chest, he received $3 cash, 114 StarsCoin, and 470 points towards his next Chest. That’s…not good.

Another player, “Auca32,” calculated before earning a Chest that the EV of the Chest that he was progressing towards was $7 (based on the probabilities of different reward values) and because he needed 18,000 points – $180 in rake – to open it, the expected rakeback was less than 4 percent.

The above numbers aren’t totally accurate, as PokerStars does provide “Boosts” to players, allowing them to double a certain number of points every so often, but the rate of return is still generally quite low.

On top of all that, high stakes players are completely boned because reward points are not earned at No-Limit and Pot-Limit cash game tables with blinds of $5/$10 or higher and Fixed-Limit games with stakes of $20/$40 and higher.

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