Team PokerStars Online Member Alex Millar Resigns over VIP Program Cuts
British online poker player Alex Millar has resigned his role as a sponsored member of Team PokerStars Online as part of a continuing player protest against the site’s poorly announced and allegedly deceptive cutting of its VIP program. Those steep loyalty-program cuts, scheduled to go into effect on January 1st, 2016, eliminate entirely the “Supernova Elite” (SNE) and “Supernova” (SN) status levels and will cost the highest-volume Stars players as much as 50% of their previous loyalty-program benefits.
The resignation of Millar, who played high-stakes cash games on PokerStars under his “Kanu7” screen name, continues more than six weeks of controversy after the loyalty-program slashbacks first became public knowledge, following their unplanned publication on Stars’ Russian-language site. Once PokerStars representatives confirmed that the loyalty-program slashbacks were for real, protests began in earnest, though they’ve been largely ineffective.
PokerStars and parent company Amaya are likely to save between 25 and 50 million dollars over the course of 2016, once the costs associated with all of the prior secondary benefits are considered. Several player estimates place the savings directly connected to the elimination of the SNE program at about $16 million, but those SNE players — just under 400 in total — aren’t the entire picture. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of other high-volume players will also see significant reductions in their loyalty-program rewards as a result of Stars’ announced cuts.
Elements of the ongoing player protests to date have included a three-day (though mid-week, during the slowest point of Stars’s weekly traffic cycle) boycott by 2,500 or more PokerStars players, and the public wearing of t-shirts protesting Stars’ benefit slashing, worn by numerous players at the Stars-affiliated EPT Prague event.
The largest controversy between Stars and its high-volume players remains the way in the way in which the cutbacks were announced — or, in many players’ opinions, withheld from the playing public for nearly a year. PokerStars issued a general statement roughly a year ago that changes would be coming to its VIP program, then waited until early November to confirm the information leaked on the Russian-language site. Meanwhile, the site’s highest-volume players had continued putting in hundreds of thousands of hands, since information regarding the current VIP (including SNE) benefits remained unchanged on the Stars site, and such benefits have traditionally had a one-year rollover, due to the time invested in reaching the highest levels and best rewards, such as Supernova Elite.
However — and this reporter notes this while being more up to date on US laws then European and UK ones — loyalty offerings such as PokerStars’ former VIP program generally carry disclaimers that its provisions are subject to change at any time, without advance notice. Affected players have alleged that Stars’ program cutbacks amount to fraud by deception, but whether those claims have any legal merit is far beyond the scope of this update.
Nonetheless, PokerStars and Amaya’s industry-wide goodwill have taken a serious hit, whether or not the cutbacks were necessary, as the company’s statements have implied, for the long-term health, even survival of PokerStars and Amaya.
Wrote Millar on his “@Kanupoker” Twitter account, about his resignation:
I’d like to apologise to the players for my complete failure to be able to help in any way with the recent pokerstars VIP changes (1/2)
— Alex Millar (@Kanupoker) December 15, 2015
With @RealKidPoker eventually failing as well I no longer feel I can represent the company and I have now left Team Pro Online (2/2)
— Alex Millar (@Kanupoker) December 15, 2015
Following widespread Tweets and forum posts of support from his fellow online players, Millar added this:
Thanks for the messages of support, I would reply individually but don’t want to act like this is a celebration when it’s really a failure
— Alex Millar (@Kanupoker) December 16, 2015
PokerStars has not issued a statement regarding Millar’s resignation, but has removed virtually all mention of Millar in connection with its Team PokerStars Online program. Only a few old blog posts of Millar’s remain on PokerStars’ web site.
As for Daniel Negreanu, just lightly referred to in Millar’s Tweets, a separate but related fury continues to swirl. Negreanu remains embroiled amid claims of rampant hypocrisy, including claims that his possible resignation as Stars’ most prominent sponsored player was “in play” as a result of the VIP program dispute. We’ll look at the Negreanu part of the situation in a separate post.