There have been so many changes at PokerStars in the past year that many have forgotten just how much did happen in that period of time. It was a whirlwind year for the company, which did everything from change its entire live tour schedule and operation to merge traffic with Full Tilt. Even its parent company, Amaya, went through a series of changes as it grew.
The transition of PokerStars from the most widely-loved online poker room in the world to one that has taken on its fair share of criticisms in the past year saw overall growth. Its poker component took many steps to becoming a friendlier site for recreational players, while its online casino and sports betting sites gathered steam in various parts of the world. PokerStars even returned to the United States – well, New Jersey – amidst its year of change.
Let’s take a look at some of the happenings at PokerStars throughout 2016.
The first announcement of the year was a new PokerStars app for Apple TV. The site then asked its players to participate in a campaign to fight bots at the tables, and it hosted a meeting with some high-stakes players to calm fears about upcoming changes to its VIP and Supernova programs. A heads-up mobile app named DUEL was released as a test version, but it ultimately pulled the product due to a less-than-ideal response from players.
The DUEL returned in a different form, however, as videos were released featuring some of the biggest names on the PokerStars roster taking on celebrities. Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., and actor Aaron Paul were some of the players in the series of heads-up tournaments set to appeal to recreational players.
A rake increase was announced in March and took effect before the end of the month. While it was only four percent and only on games like Spin & Gos, multi-table tournaments in closed-liquidity markets, and MTT hyper turbos, as well as some cash game tables, players were displeased by the move. Some details of changes to the PokerStars rewards program were leaked throughout the year, with the date for the final transformation set for January 2017.
The Sunday Million celebrated its tenth anniversary with a massive $10 million guarantee on its long-running Sunday tournament, and the Sunday Storm celebrated its fifth anniversary with a $1 million prize pool. PokerStars ran its annual TCOOP turbo online series in January and ran its new Mountain Series a few months later with $4 million in guarantees. SCOOP was set for May with more than $40 million guaranteed, and WCOOP ran its massive series as the last major one of the year.
Full Tilt continued running on its own domain, but PokerStars finally made the decision to merge traffic on the two sites in order to maximize liquidity and run singular promotions.
Some of the smaller changes on the site throughout the year included the display of hole cards in all-in hands, and the launch of Bubble Rush tournaments and Beat the Clock tournaments.
The schedule of live tournaments in various regional series around the world kicked off in usual fashion via the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas in January. But in August, PokerStars announced radical changes to its live events, with all tours – including the European Poker Tour – ending in favor of new global Festivals and Championships. One schedule was to replace all of the regional tours, a decision that came upon mixed reviews.
EPT Prague closed out the wildly popular tour with its last-ever event in December, and players came from numerous parts of the world to participate. Participation was up, and many remembered more than a decade of tournaments on the EPT.
The first New Jersey Festival took place in the fall, with a slew of live events at the Resorts Casino in Atlantic City. While many Team PokerStars Pros participated, turnout was low overall, though another attempt at a live series is promised for 2017.
The vast array of Team PokerStars Pros lost a few at the beginning of 2016 when Isaac Haxton and Alex Millar departed under tense circumstances following an attempted boycott of PokerStars.
Neymar Jr. was featured in a number of promotions in the first part of the year, and Cristiano Ronaldo took part in the aforementioned DUEL heads-up videos as well as a Beat the Clock promotion. And later in the year, the #RaiseItUp series of video challenges started by Neymar Jr. was carried on by a number of Team Pros and even US basketball pro Dwayne Wade.
In the world of business and legislation, PokerStars made some strides. In the first month of the year, it settled a significant tax dispute in Italy and won a lawsuit in the state of Illinois in the United States.
The French version of PokerStars had been running in Austria but departed that market to avoid double taxes, and then it departed Israel and Slovenia a few months later to comply with laws. But in March, the site made its long-awaited return to the United States with a March launch in New Jersey. The site was well-received but did not dominate the market as anticipated; it did increase the overall size of the market, however, and compete mightily with the other two online poker operators there. Finally, Amaya indicated that it may have to withdraw from the Australian market in 2017, but it will seek licensing in new places like India.
The biggest launch of the year came in Portugal, where the action in that singular market soared and put PokerStars.PT into place as the third largest online poker site in the world. PokerStars was the first online poker site to garner a license under new laws in that market.
PokerStars also got involved with the Global Poker League and became its exclusive online poker sponsor, complete with avatars on the site and logos at GPL events.
As for Amaya, the company faced numerous challenges, including its founder and now-former CEO making two attempts to purchase the company and privatize it. Meanwhile, he faced insider trading charges from the Montreal securities regulator, for which he remains under investigation. Those allegations, however, led him to take a leave of absence from the company and eventually resign, with Rafi Ashkenazi taking over as the new CEO. Amaya also engaged in talks with several companies about possible mergers and takeovers, but it ultimately made no deals.