Second PokerStars Boycott Scheduled for New Year’s Day

At the beginning of December, around 2,500 PokerStars players boycotted the world’s largest poker site for three days in protest of the company’s announced changes to the VIP program, slated to go into effect tomorrow. Also starting tomorrow: another boycott.

The catalyst behind the boycott dates back to November, when PokerStars and its corporate parent Amaya Gaming announced changes to the loyalty program. It had said about a year ago that changes were coming, but nobody expected those changes to be so dramatic. Supernova Elite and Supernova VIP levels will disappear in January 2017, rewards that players at those levels were slated to earn have been capped for 2016, no VPPs will be awarded for high stakes games, and FPPs will be converted to the new loyalty point unit, StarsCoins, at a reduced exchange rate.

picket sign - boycottIt all adds up to a significant reduction in rewards and earning potential for many players, both those who play poker for a living and those who are simply avid players. It has been estimated that the changes will save Amaya between 25 and 50 million dollars next year, with possible savings from the Supernova Elite program alone clocking in at 16 million dollars (these estimates come from players).

Though changes were mentioned many months ago, there was no indication that high level VIP program players would be affected so drastically, so they kept grinding away, seeking to hit higher levels and reap the rewards the following year. The sudden announcement, just two months before the changes were to take effect, came off as a betrayal.

First Boycott a Mixed Bag

Hence, the December protest. The boycott itself was well-intentioned, but the timing may have been unfortunate. December 1st was the first day of the Christmas Calendar portion of PokerStars’ Christmas festival promotion, so despite 2,500 or so players sitting out, cash game traffic was up as many other players flocked to the site to try to cash in on the promo. PokerScout did note, though, that on the first day of the boycott, a Tuesday, high stakes games saw a 29 percent decrease in peak traffic compared to the average of the previous three Tuesdays.

The boycott was also criticized by some for “conveniently” being held mid-week, allowing players to still participate in PokerStars’ biggest weekend tournaments.

In a blog post, Amaya Inc.’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser offered a slight apology for the lack of communication, but also took a jab at the protesters, saying, “In that spirit of transparency, we can tell you that we did see effects from the recent boycott that give us even greater confidence that our strategy is on the right track to improve the health of the ecosystem.”

Second Boycott Has Higher Aspirations

Now on to the next sit-out. The second boycott is scheduled to run from January 1st through January 7th. Participants are also expected to cash out at least ten percent of their PokerStars bankrolls.

In a post on Two Plus Two, a poster named “Tannhauser” (real name Ivan) detailed what was going on. He wrote that he and other boycott leaders have laid out the following plan for long-term protests:

a) Common goals and coordinated actions by all protest groups (Wearepokerplayers, Tiltbook, twoplustwo, other leaders, local communities)
b) We’ll grow our protest over time (we start small and eventually include as many players as we can).
c) As the numbers of our supporters grow, we’ll move our goal from attracting interest and attention to making a real financial hit to Amaya in order to make them negotiate.

He also listed the group’s “demands” and “suggestions”:

We demand
– rewards for all games and stakes offered
– a rewards review in games that have a low percentage of winners
– promised SN and SNE rewards for 2016
– regularly scheduled meetings with players from the community

We suggest
– table starter rewards and happy hours
– lowering microstakes rake

The first step, Alex said, is the January boycott. A second step is to stage another boycott, tentatively scheduled for February 2nd through February 11th. Step three is still in flux, as apparently the group has not reached consensus. Alex summarized the very ambitious idea:

We (wearepokerplayers.com) are making a longer protest with the possibility of its prolongation by united voting of the protesters as soon as we reach 5,000 signees in our list. Our participants will decrease Amaya’s rake by 20% (according to the MacroPoker statistical service), which will reduce their EBITDA to around half of its previous level. This will make Amaya sit down at the negotiating table. We want to see the results of the January strike first so that we can discuss the details of this very protest.

It is not exactly clear how many players will be participating in tomorrow’s boycott, as signups are scattered across various sites like Two Plus Two, wearepokerplayers.com, tiltbook.com, and more. Tiltbook’s boycott page says about 1,500 players have signed up, while wearepokerplayers.com has more than 600 signups. It is unknown how many on Two Plus Two or other sites are joining in or whether there is any overlap in those who registered on the different sites. Of course, plenty of players might boycott and not make their names known publicly.

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