Amaya to Fold Full Tilt into PokerStars

Amaya Inc. announced on Tuesday that come this spring, Full Tilt and PokerStars will be combined into a single poker platform. Both brands will remain separate, but Full Tilt is effectively being absorbed by PokerStars, as the vast majority of features, such as the VIP program and game types, will be legacy PokerStars.

In a press release, Amaya explained the reasoning behind the decision:

This platform migration will allow Amaya’s development and technology teams to focus on improving one market-leading platform rather than two, leading to a better gaming experience for all; improvements and features will be delivered faster and more efficiently rather than doubling development requirements. For instance, rather than splitting resources developing Full Tilt Jackpot Sit & Go and PokerStars Spin & Go features independently, teams will be able to work together on delivering the best possible product on one platform.

This also means, according to Rational Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi, that the combined site will have larger player pools and therefore greater prize pools for tournaments and more tables at which to play.

amaya-gaming-logoIn its statement, Amaya was surprisingly honest about how Full Tilt has fared in recent years. “Although Full Tilt continues to be a profitable poker room, the gaming brand’s market share has been in decline since its 2012 re-launch,” the company said.

As seasoned poker players and fans remember, Full Tilt disappeared after April 15th, 2011, known in the industry as “Black Friday.” Executives from Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker were named in an indictment that was unsealed that day, alleged to have violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) and to have engaged in crimes such as money laundering and bank fraud. All three sites (as well as Absolute’s sister site, UltimateBet) had their domain names seized by the U.S. Department of Justice, though PokerStars and Full Tilt soon had theirs returned so they could process customer cashouts.

Problem was, Full Tilt didn’t have the money to do that. It was soon discovered that Full Tilt execs had been using customer funds for personal and company use. While it seems that, in general, the intent was to “borrow” as opposed to “steal,” when Black Friday hit, many of the funds that were in the hands of payment processors were frozen or seized, leaving customer accounts largely dry.

In 2012, PokerStars settled with the DoJ, agreeing to pay a hefty fine plus takeover Full Tilt and pay back all of its customers. In the meantime, Full Tilt had shut down completely, but was revived by PokerStars’ parent company, Rational Group, in November 2012. It never got back to its spot as the second most popular poker site after PokerStars, but for a while, it was ranked fourth in cash game traffic according to PokerScout, not a bad situation to be in after its troubles.

In the last year or two, though, Full Tilt has seen its traffic decline to the point where it now sits outside of PokerScout’s top ten with a seven day average of just 850 cash game players. For comparison, PokerStars has 17,500 and second place 888 has 2,300. Amaya is right: Full Tilt has been in decline. Thus, while Amaya says that player liquidity will increase in PokerStars as the result of Full Tilt players coming over, it probably won’t be that big of a boost. Plus, there is likely some significant overlap between customers of the two sites.

Amaya will keep the Full Tilt brand operational; Full Tilt players will still have access to certain Full Tilt-specific promotions, including the popular “The Deal” promo. Players will also be able to use their old Full Tilt avatars. It appears – and this is not 100 percent clear from the press release – that the Full Tilt software will remain intact for those who chose to stick with the Full Tilt brand, but it just won’t be developed anymore. While the press release, as quoted earlier, says that the company is going to focus on improving one platform (PokerStars) rather than two, it says later, “Full Tilt will retain its own great promotions, table layouts, specialist tournaments and branded differences, such as Rush Poker (instead of Zoom Poker).”

If Full Tilt’s software remains in place, it would not be surprising if it is eventually phased out, which is a shame, because it is really good.

While both brands will remain intact, players will be required to have one universal account to be used on the shared platform. Players who have accounts on both sites will use their PokerStars username. Those who are on Full Tilt but don’t have a PokerStars screenname will be allowed to keep their Full Tilt name if it is not already taken on PokerStars or create a new one.

Though various Full Tilt-specific promotions and features will remain for Full Tilt players, the loyalty programs will be merged under the PokerStars VIP Club umbrella.

One unfortunate byproduct of the merge is that some employees in the Dublin office will lose their jobs, as not as many developers and customer service staff will be needed. “Staff who are at-risk have been notified and the company is in the final stages of a formal consultation process to determine the extent of the redundancies and expects to conclude that process in coming months,” the company said.


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