Vicki trophy

Victoria Coren-Mitchell Quits PokerStars Sponsorship over Addition of Casino

When I think about sponsored poker players that are worth their weight in gold to their sponsors, my list has Victoria Coren-Mitchell in the top three spots. As of today, she no longer qualifies at all, as she has decided to leave her highly lucrative sponsorship/endorsement deal with industry leader PokerStars. The decision was triggered by the recent announcement that PokerStars are bringing casino games to their client to run alongside their poker offerings, something that Victoria was unwilling to promote, even if only tacitly.

Vicky Coren-Mitchell Winning her 2nd PokerStars EPT Title

Vicky Coren-Mitchell Winning her 2nd PokerStars EPT Title

Victoria Coren-Mitchell is a well known celebrity in the UK, and for all the right reasons. She is a regular on mainstream television panel shows, both for her acerbic wit as well as her common sense. Victoria also hosts “Only Connect” on the BBC, which is advertised as the hardest quiz show on television, and as someone who barely scores a success rate of 25% on the questions, I have to agree with that analysis. Alongside her TV work, Coren-Mitchell also writes columns for The Guardian and The Observer papers, which can cover subjects as diverse as the human condition allows. Add in her best-selling books, and you can see why PokerStars wanted her as a face of their business, and that was before she won her second EPT title!

Victoria posted a full statement about the situation yesterday on her own site, in which she started by typing:

“On Friday night, PokerStars.com announced that it will be rolling out online casino gaming alongside its internet poker. As a result, on Saturday morning, I terminated my endorsement contract with them.”

This short paragraph would normally be enough for most poker players, and they’d leave any thoughts about their motivations for us in the poker media to ponder, but Victoria isn’t most poker players and the next 539 words in her blog contained her attempt to explain her decision.

Her primary concern is the affiliation with games against the house. While the UK has a vibrant and expanding online gambling market, it’s still frowned on by a lot of the population. While poker does get tarred with the same brush on occasion, years of the “skill game” argument have borne some fruit and the game is accepted by many while games such as blackjack and roulette are not. Victoria commented that a large percentage of her interviews (presumably with mainstream media) include questions about gambling addiction:

“The question I’m probably asked most often in interviews is about the danger of addiction, going skint and so on. I’m always careful to explain the difference between the essentially fair nature of poker, where we all take each other on with the same basic chance, and those casino games at unfavourable odds which can be (especially online) so dangerous for the vulnerable or desperate.”

While Coren-Mitchell was at great pains to state that PokerStars had assured her that she would not be required to publicise or promote the casino part of the business, she just wasn’t happy with the change:

“But I cannot professionally and publicly endorse it, even passively by silence with my name still over the shop. Poker is the game I love, poker is what I signed up to promote.”

Victoria Coren-Mitchell at the recent PokerStars London EPT

Victoria Coren-Mitchell at the recent PokerStars London EPT

From reading the rest of the blog, it’s very obvious that Victoria was reluctant to make this decision, and she was very happy working with the poker giant before this change. She goes out of her way to comment favourably on her time with PokerStars (nine years for those counting), and she will continue to play the PokerStars sponsored UKIPT and EPT tours, albeit with less frequency.

The announcement has been read as many as a player sticking to her own moral code, and not letting something pesky like money cloud her vision. Several high profile poker players tweeted their statements of respect to Coren-Mitchell:

Some of the poker media joined in, but EPT Commentator Joe “Stapes” Stapleton summed up what a lot of us where thinking:

The forums weren’t quiet on the subject either, with a thread going up in the NVG forum of 2+2 in a rapid fashion. Most of the posters there were also applauding Victoria’s decision with a few claiming it was a “jump before she was pushed” situation. That was obviously not the case, as just her two EPT wins would have been enough for at least another 12 months of her contract. However, she was also one of the best ambassadors for the game to the mainstream, and PokerStars is probably now hunting through a list of potential replacements for one of their most influential sponsored players, but they are unlikely to find someone to cover what Victoria was doing.

PokerStars have yet to make any formal announcement, and have not responded as yet to my request for comment, but Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications for PokerStars, tweeted the following on his personal account:

It seems that no one is particularly happy with this result, with Victoria losing what we guess is a rather substantial sponsorship deal, and PokerStars losing one of their best marketing tools in the highly competitive UK market. We haven’t heard of any other poker players struggling with this decision as yet, but time will tell if any of them has trouble sleeping at night following the recent changes.

<EDIT> 28th Novemeber: We have received a comment from PokerStars Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser regarding Victoria Coren-Mitchell’s decision:

“We respect Vicky Coren’s decision to leave Team PokerStars Pro following our recent announcement to add casino games. We’re sad to see Vicky go and remain thankful for her support of the game and the company and wish her success in poker and in life.”

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