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PokerStars has long been the dominant online poker site in the world, and it remains so. With cash game and tournament traffic hovering high above that of its nearest competitors, PokerStars is a force in nearly every internet poker market in the world.

With that said, the industry has seen immense shrinkage since 2011, when it was forced out of the United States and then other markets like France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. PokerStars continues to obtain licenses wherever possible, but the dot-com traffic that used to drive profits has substantially decreased in the past several years. And the impending and probable exit from the Australian market has many worried about the future of the game. Though PokerStars will undoubtedly remain the industry leader, the profit decreases have pushed PokerStars and others to expand into new markets, such as online casinos and sports betting.

When PokerStars decided to end its official contracts with Team SportStar, which included football legends Neymar Jr. and Cristiano Ronaldo, it meant the potential end of fun videos including those stars and other promotions that appealed to new crowds. The #RaiseIt campaign and other promotions that had included sports stars drew attention to online poker from new players around the world, and the worry set in that poker might become a side business for PokerStars.

A Bit Awkward but Full of Hart

At the beginning of 2017, actor and comedian Kevin Hart traveled to the Bahamas to play some events at the PokerStars Championship Bahamas live series. His participation in interviews and tournaments, as well as his sharing of said activities on his wildly popular social media accounts, was a great promotion.

#DopePic

A post shared by Kevin Hart (@kevinhart4real) on

When he then showed up at the PokerStars Championship in Monte Carlo, things began to look interesting. Hart played in several tournaments and seemed to interact more with the players, especially Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu. And toward the end of the series, it became clear that there was a partnership in the works.

The way it played out was a little hokey, as Hart was the one who supposedly called PokerStars and demanded a press conference. Even Amya executive Eric Hollreiser got into the game on Twitter and pretended to be responding to Hart on the fly. The ultimate press conference featured Hart and Negreanu talking to the media and cameras about a partnership, with Hart expressing his intention to play more poker and use PokerStars to make poker fun and cool.

There were some somewhat serious moments in the press conference when Hart spoke of his true love of poker, a game he plays with friends and family at home. Hart also spoke of his intention to become a better player. Most of the event, however, was intended to be funny while announcing the new partnership and answering questions from poker media and mainstream celebrity news outlets.

While many in poker saw through the public relations stunt, and some of poker’s pro players and poker media members seemed irritated by it all, the move did garner a lot of press. Not only did Hart set up some fantastic photo opportunities, he also shared photos, videos, and poker excitement with his 32.7 million followers on Twitter and 51.7 million fans on Instagram.

Showing Hart

The timing of the partnership couldn’t be better. At the time of the announcement from Monte Carlo, Hart was preparing for the publication of a book, doing publicity for an upcoming film, and working on a new television network. He also had an ongoing sponsorship with Nike and numerous other projects in the works. Adding PokerStars to the mix amidst the other work and interviews and time in the spotlight was the epitome of good timing.

It is unclear where Hart will appear next sporting the PokerStars logo. Not much has been revealed about the actual plans for appearances or other promotions, but many are anticipating that he may play some events at the summer World Series of Poker in Las Vegas or future global PokerStars tour stops.

PokerStars may not have the ability to promote much in the United States or grow its business in some parts of the world, but there are other opportunities to grow the company. And putting Hart together with the PokerStars name and logo opens the company to millions of new potential players and bettors.

Longtime poker players have every right to be cynical, but the bigger picture indicates that the move is a smart one for PokerStars, a company that is trying to survive a tough time for the online poker industry. The move has a great deal of potential for the brand and the game, so it behooves the rest of the online poker community to give it a chance.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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