StarsDraft Officially Launched as PokerStars Enters U.S. DFS Industry
PokerStars is back in the United States. Sort of. On Friday, the parent company of the world’s largest poker room, Amaya Gaming, launched the newly-rebranded daily fantasy sports (DFS) site, StarsDraft, the first time PokerStars has had any sort of presence in the United States since Black Friday in April 2011.
Of course, this was not unexpected. In April, Amaya Gaming CEO David Baazov said in an earnings call, “We have also taken the strategic decision to enter the daily fantasy sports category and are pursuing parallel tracks of internal development and strategic acquisition. We expect to provide more details on this strategy in the second half of 2015 but see a clear crossover from poker and daily fantasy sports.”
In August, his company made good on that promise, acquiring the small, Austin-based daily fantasy sports site, Victiv.com. Victiv has only been in existence for about a year, and though it is dwarfed by DFS market leaders DraftKings and FanDuel, it has garnered a positive reputation.
On Friday, Victiv was officially rebranded to StarsDraft, thus marking, at least in some sense, PokerStars’ return to the U.S. market. There is still no *actual* PokerStars in any state, but hey, this is still at least a little bit of a momentous occasion.
Not much has changed as far as the user experience is concerned in the transition from Victiv to StarsDraft. Most importantly, everyone’s accounts are intact, including login information, funds, bonuses, and the like. The lobby, contests, promotions, and all are going to look the same as they were, with the obvious exception of the branding.
There is one significant difference between then and now, though: customers from Michigan and the entire country of Canada are getting the boot. Michigan residents received the following e-mail from StarsDraft (it is likely the same for Canadians):
You are receiving this notice because your account lists Michigan as your registered state of residence.
Following a recent management review of our terms and conditions, we have elected to no longer offer the ability to deposit and fund accounts for Michigan residents.
120-Day Wind Down Period
Starting today, your account will enter into a 120-day wind down period. During this period, your account will retain open and full access of the StarsDraft.com website.
Your account will remain open with full access until January 1, 2016.
Please make sure that you have withdrawn your entire balance before this date. After that point, you will no longer be able to access your Victiv.com account.
We apologize for the abrupt change in policy and hope to be able to reopen access if there’s any future change to this restriction.
So, if we are going to be “glass half-full” types of people, at least Michiganders and Canadians have four months to continue playing, which will take care of the all-important NFL season. They will not be able to make any additional deposits, though, so they will have to make do with the funds they already have in their accounts.
StarsDraft didn’t make it abundantly clear as to why it was banning people from those jurisdictions, but it looks like Amaya Gaming just doesn’t want to take any unnecessary legal chances right now. Players from Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington were already barred, as they were from other DFS sites because of state laws forbidding the hobby, but in Michigan there is no such law making fantasy sports explicitly illegal.
The problem with Michigan, though, is that the head of the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) has a problem with fantasy sports. Rick Kalm, director of the MGCB, recently told Gambling Compliance that fantasy sports are ““illegal under current Michigan law.”
Now, we all may want to quote The Dude and say, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man,” but it looks like Amaya Gaming isn’t going to mess with Kalm after that. The company just has too much to lose. It has taken several years now for PokerStars to maybe, possibly, get on the good side of regulators in the United States, so Amaya/Stars don’t want to jeopardize their future in the country. Amaya is trying to get into the New Jersey online poker market and is actually licensed in a number of U.S. markets, so it needs to tread carefully.
In addition, it isn’t going to commit tons of resources to DFS, so the reward for pushing Michigan and Canada’s buttons just isn’t there. In Amaya’s latest earnings call, when it announced the Victiv deal, David Baazov said:
I’d also emphasize that this is not a category in which we will be doing any significant investment in, as they first start cross-selling and leveraging the 1 in 10 U.S. adults we have in the database. And I think the market still has to mature more, it has to appreciate to a size where we would be willing to make a significant investment.
He added that his company is not going to go the route of DraftKings and FanDuel, which spend loads of money on advertising and have overlay after overlay in their contests. Slow and steady wins the race seems to be Baazov’s mantra.
As for Canada, StarsDraft has not provided an explanation of any sort of substance as to why it has withdrawn from the country. One could assume that it is similar situation to Michigan – a legal gray area that the company just doesn’t want to touch right now.