PokerStars to Raise the Rake Next Week

Maybe it was strategic, perhaps it was coincidental, but the same day the poker world celebrated PokerStars’ launch in New Jersey, marking the return to the United States for the popular poker room after it left following Black Friday, PokerStars announced that it will be increasing the rake at many of its tables. Can’t have it all, I guess.

PokerStars, via Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser, used great corporate speak in the blog post announcement, calling the rake hike “revised pricing.” In the poker room’s defense, it did clarify in the second sentence that pricing is, in fact, rake. It also admitted that poker does come with a cost other than parental disapproval, but anyone who knows enough to read the PokerStars corporate blog knows this. Recreational players, on the other hand, may very well be blissfully unaware that the price of poker has increased. Good, bad, or indifferent, that’s what’s happening.

Here are the rake changes highlighted by Hollreiser:

• Spin & Go rake will be increased by one percentage point for buy-ins from $1 to $30 (two percentage points in $3 buy-in). $0.25, $60 and $100 buy-ins will not change.
• In multi-table tournaments, PokerStars will match the practices deployed in our closed liquidity markets where rebuys and add-ons incur fees similar to the original entry. These tournaments represent approximately 12% of the current main schedule.
• MTT hyper-turbo rake will be increased to 5%.
• Cap and percentage of rake will be increased in some no limit and pot limit ring games, mainly heads-up. Some rake caps will be lowered. Limit games will not be affected.

According to PokerStars’ calculations, overall rake across the site will be going up about 4 percent next Monday, March 28th.

RakeIt certainly appears that most of the rake changes are being made to further PokerStars’ move away from high volume professional grinders and towards the recreational player. Heads-up cash games, hyper-turbos, and re-buys/add-ons all seeing their rake increased points to this. The one exception is that the lower buy-in Spin & Go’s are having their rake bumped up, but this may simply be a way for PokerStars to take advantage of those who are most unaware of rake in the first place and to capitalize on the popularity of the lottery Sit-and-Go.

PokerStars would like to let us all know, though, that even though the rake is going up, the largest online poker site in the world is still the best deal going. So that’s something. PokerStars took one million hands from this year and churned them through a simulation using the rake structures of three major competitors: partypoker, 888poker, and the iPoker Network. According to Stars, it is still the cheapest of them all:

The stakes where players benefit from the biggest cost savings (relative to competitors) at PokerStars are also the stakes that have the highest volume of hands played. When the rake is weighted according to the different volumes of games played at different stakes, the current rake at PartyPoker is 7% more expensive than under the new PokerStars rake. The current rake at 888 Poker is 16% more expensive than under the new PokerStars rake. The current rake at iPoker is 19% more expensive than under the new PokerStars rake.

Of course, these numbers don’t take into account rakeback or other benefits players can earn at the competitors’ sites. Thus, if PokerStars’ numbers are correct, the site could be cheaper on a pure rake basis, but others might a better deal (or at least much closer) when factoring in loyalty program rewards or possible rakeback offers.

If you have detected a hint of sarcasm is my typed text, you are quite observant; I find it funny that PokerStars is saying, “Hey, we’re not going to let you win as much money any more, but it could be worse: our competition takes even more from you!”

But really, though, I don’t begrudge PokerStars for doing this. Every business has the right to adjust its prices as necessary. I just hope it is actually necessary and not just a way to help Amaya executives fill their pockets.

The poker community, as one might guess, is none too pleased about this. PokerStars used to be ultimate in customer-focused poker room – and it probably still ranks way up there – but in the last year or so, primarily since it was purchased by Amaya Gaming, it seems to have made changes that benefit the company instead of the players. Constantly touting how all the changes that have been implemented will help the poker ecosystem, PokerStars has got to be hoping its theory is correct, or else it is risking alienating its most loyal customers for nothing.

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