Former Team PokerStars Online Pro Alex “Kanu7” Millar appeared on the Poker Life Podcast hosted by Joey Ingram on January 2nd to talk about his decision to end his affiliation with the world’s largest poker site.
The three hour conversation featured a lot of follow up to Millar’s two-part exclusive interview with PokerUpdate and further highlighted the high stakes online pro’s reasons for resigning as a representative of PokerStars.
Rehashing The Past Two Months
Roughly two months ago, a bombshell of a forum thread was posted on the TwoPlusTwo News, Views & Gossip forum by veteran member DoGGz. The post contained a link to a PokerStars Russian-language webpage that specifically outlined planned changes to the site’s VIP Club rewards program.
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From this poker writer’s point of view, the information published seemed to be incorrect. After all, the world’s largest poker site had earned a reputation over the years of clearly communicating any significant changes with its high volume players, and the apparent legacy benefit reductions would undoubtedly result in quite a bit of blowback from those players if true.
Two months later, we now know that the VIP Club reductions were indeed legitimate and just happened to be posted (perhaps accidentally or on purpose) before PokerStars/Amaya Gaming decision makers were ready to inform their biggest rake contributors of the unpopular adjustments.
The month of November 2015 featured a lot of back-and-forth between high volume Stars players and the company, which culminated in headline Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu granting an interview to Poker Life Podcast host Joey Ingram.
The $32.3 million live poker tournament winner painted a bleak picture for hardcore online poker players and fans in that November 30th interview. Not only was Negreanu disappointed in the changes, but he conveyed — live in front of thousands of viewers — that PokerStars’ upper management did not fully understand the online poker business.
That interview may not have gone over well with Negreanu’s employer, and following what many of us assume was a private heart-to-heart between the 41 year old Canadian and Amaya Gaming executives, “KidPoker” changed his rhetoric and came out in support of his employer.
Many of PokerStars´ high volume players took part in a Player Boycott from December 1-3, but by that time it already seemed as if the PokerStars changes were non-negotiable from the company’s perspective. High profile Team Online Pros Alex Millar and Isaac Haxton parted ways with PokerStars once it became clear that the reductions were here to stay, which brings us up to date on the VIP Club saga. High volume PokerStars players continue to protest the new system with a New Boycott from now through January 7th.
I have resigned from PokerStars in protest of the changes to the Supernova and Supernova Elite programs: https://t.co/I7c49fB00D— Isaac Haxton (@ikepoker) January 1, 2016
Why Did Millar End His Relationship with PokerStars?
After eight minutes of small talk between Ingram and former Team PokerStars Online Pro Millar, the latter began explaining his recent decision to walk away from a paid endorsement deal.
You see, Millar — along with other PokerStars “Pro” representatives, was aware that some VIP Club changes were in the pipeline by October 2015. Already disillusioned with currency conversion fees, the elimination of high stakes online games and proposed rake increases that were announced last year by the site’s parent company, Millar found himself in a precarious position as a well known high stakes pro who was endorsing a site that no longer prioritized its marketing around high stakes play.
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
It would have been rash to make a final decision until the actual plan was released publicly, but one it was, Millar’s vision of a leading online poker site no longer jived with the site itself.
According to the 30-year old native Brit, “Team Pros” do not enjoy a place at the decision-making table within the publicly-traded Amaya Gaming. For his part, Millar deferred to Negreanu’s relationship with Amaya Gaming CEO David Baazov in hopes that an acceptable compromise could be worked out, but those negotiations were ultimately unfruitful from the viewpoint of high volume players.
“[Team PokerStars Pros] have zero access to the David Baazovs and [major Amaya Gaming decision makers]”, Millar told Ingram at the 12-minute mark of Saturday’s Poker Life Podcast episode. “I have no idea if [David Baazov] knows who I am.”
Isle of Man Dissension?
Amaya Gaming is based out of Quebec, Canada, while the PokerStars HQ is located on the Isle of Man. Just before the 17-minute mark of the Podcast, Ingram brought to light an apparent disconnect between PokerStars´ staff who operate out of the British Crown territory and their corporate counterparts in Canada. “ChicagoJoey” hinted that mid level PokerStars managers are not fully in agreement with the enforced changes that negatively affect high volume players.
Millar was cautious about revealing any inside info he obtained from said Isle of Man-based PokerStars staff. “If I had been working for the site for a long time, and I saw the direction it was going, I wouldn’t be very happy,” Millar told Ingram.
That quote was an obvious reference to PokerStars staff members who have transitioned from working in a corporate environment managed by former owners Isai and Mark Scheinberg to becoming part of a publicly-traded online gaming conglomerate.
In other words, some PokerStars mid level managers based in the Isle of Man have had to come to grips with the fact that their opinions may not carry the weight they once did, and that the main decisions related to the company are made up-north.
PokerStars in 2016
Despite the high profile defections of Millar and Haxton, PokerStars may be poised to maintain its market share throughout 2016. The site has an ongoing deal with the world’s most prolific Twitch Poker live stream, Jason Somerville, and recently signed popular streamer Jaime Staples as a Team Online Pro.
The two personalities possess a clear edge over Team Pros of the past in that their live shows attract a massive amount of recreational players. In fact, Somerville’s exclusive PokerStars Twitch stream midway through 2015 brought in 30,000 new sign-ups to the world’s largest poker site.
No concrete figures are available when it comes to deciphering how much marketing pull each PokerStars Pro representative has. However, it is doubtful — in this writer’s opinion — that a handful of defections will negatively impact the PokerStars brand in any meaningful way compared to the positive marketing influence that pros like Somerville wield.
There are also rumblings in the online poker industry that the game itself is in for a major facelift in 2016, with products and services that are more in-line with video games and the eSports sector. The introduction of role playing elements along with the “sportification” of the game — while potentially instrumental in spreading poker’s popularity — are unlikely to please high volume online pros who could see a further reduction in their profitability once (and if) subscription-based online poker variations catch hold.
Recent Poker Life Podcast Episodes
Joey Ingram kept particularly busy during the 2015 holiday season by conducting interviews with professional Pot Limit Omaha player Christopher “CeeGee” George and high stakes poker tournament specialist Brian Rast.
Rast was involved in a boxing bout for charity against fellow pro Sorel Mizzi on December 30th — losing via third round stoppage with event proceeds going to benefit the Raising for Effective Giving (REG) charity managed by poker players Igor Kurganov, Liv Boeree and Phillip Gruissem.
Ingram’s show continues to secure a unique niche in the online poker community due to its ability to attract thousands of live viewers who tune-in for high profile discussion of the most contentious issues facing poker.
ChicagoJoey‘s past three episodes have each been viewed thousands of times on YouTube, and the host’s archived videos typically surpass the 10-to-1 Like to Dislike ratio that is an unofficial benchmark for gauging the popularity of clips featured on that platform.
It’s unclear whether “Hollywood” Ike Haxton will appear next week on the Poker Life Podcast, but if he does we’ll be sure to keep our readers informed about any new wrinkles in the ongoing controversy between PokerStars and its high volume players.
Also should be podcasting with @ikepoker sometime during PCA while we are both down there— Apex Papi ♠️♥️♣️ (@Joeingram1) January 1, 2016