PokerStars on VIP Program Changes: “Sorry not sorry.”

With the poker player boycott of PokerStars a week behind us, PokerStars has responded (somewhat) to the criticisms of the upcoming changes to the site’s VIP program. In a post on the PokerStars blog, Amaya Inc.’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser acknowledged some of the problems with the November announcement and elaborated a bit on what else PokerStars has planned for next year.

Right off the bat, Hollreiser announced four $1 million prize pool freerolls for 2016, saying they will “surely create buzz and generate excitement among players at all skill and experience levels,” and adding that new promotions and products will also be on the way.

Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at Amaya

Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at Amaya

After lamenting exchange rate fluctuations that harmed the poker buying power of players, he took a moment to perhaps gloat, saying that last week’s three-day boycott “did not have a significant impact on PokerStars,” as player traffic actually rose sharply on the first day of the sit-out.

Hollreiser addressed one of the complaints that PokerStars did not communicate the changes to its players well, explaining that players had plenty of warning and even saying that PokerStars was benevolent enough to hold off longer than it wanted and that the reduction in rewards in 2016 are not as bad as originally planned.

“In fact, we had considered making significant VIP changes to take effect in January 2015, but our new ownership at Amaya chose to delay the changes for another year,” Hollreiser said.

He did offer a small apology for the iffy communication, something PokerStars Team Pro Daniel Negreanu said that he himself had major issues with in an interview with Joe “ChicagoJoey” Ingram a couple weeks ago. Wrote Hollreiser:

In hindsight, we could have communicated to players more often that significant changes were coming in 2016. We could have been more explicit that these changes would be significant and would take effect in 2016. And we could have noted this on our VIP web pages that gave details of the program. There was no intention to deceive and certainly not to profit from this, as an increase in the number of Supernova Elites, who are on average net withdrawing players, does not provide a financial benefit to us. It was simply a function of a long internal process and an honest belief that we had given players sufficient notice.

Negreanu said that the way PokerStars communicated the changes was “nothing short of junior high.”

He had specific problems with the cancellation of the Supernova Elite program and the reduction of benefits in 2016.  “It is…a broken promise,” he said. “It’s, you know, do ‘x’ in 2015, you will receive ‘y’ in 2016. Up until November 5th or 12th, I believe, it said so in plain English on the website what value you’d get. So to not honor that is a broken promise.”

Hollreiser went on to reiterate that the changes that are being made to the VIP program are intended to benefit the PokerStars poker economy as a whole. While upper-tier VIP players will be hurt by the changes, he believes recreational players will benefit and the new loyalty system will be better for the majority of players, not just an elite sliver of high volume, high stakes pros.

Despite all the complaints, PokerStars isn’t turning back:

We will not alter those plans. The current VIP program is no longer fit for its purpose. When combined with the increasing skill gap in the online poker market, the result is an increasingly poor experience for recreational and new players.

Changes are needed and we are making them. The funds that previously went to these rewards will be placed in more and bigger online promotions, more consumer marketing campaigns to attract new players and research and development of innovative new products and features. We have mass consumer marketing campaigns featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr; we’re launching innovative new poker variants that take advantage of mobile platforms, social gaming and the popularity of other card-based strategy games and e-Sports; and levelling the playing field for recreational and new players by restricting the use of third party software and data mining that give an unfair edge to professionals.

At the end of the blog post, Hollreiser circled back to the topic of the boycott, taking one more opportunity to stick it to the boycotters. It was pretty clever.

“In that spirit of transparency, we can tell you that we did see effects from the recent boycott….”

Really? Huh, maybe the boycott did work after all! High fives all around!

“….that give us even greater confidence that our strategy is on the right track to improve the health of the ecosystem.”


“During the three-day boycott we recorded the healthiest consecutive three-day ecosystem results of the year with steady net gaming revenue, even though our net-depositing players lost at a much lower rate than they have all year.”


(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of FlushDraw or its publishers.)


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