On October 31, 2015, an inconspicuous thread popped up in the TwoPlusTwo News, Views & Gossip forum that would alter the poker media news cycle for the rest of the year. That Saturday, the new PokerStars rewards program was published on a Russian-language website and cross-posted on the world’s largest poker forum.
Since that fateful day, poker media outlets have published dozens of opinion pieces that outlined the changes — and took a general stance of either defending the reduction in rakeback-equivalent benefits for high volume players, or siding with the plight of said high volume players on PokerStars.
Given that the “PokerStars News” has had such a dominant presence within the poker media news cycle these past two months, I thought it would be a great opportunity to use that as an example — to evaluate whether poker news websites are fair and balanced.
Before you continuing reading, I should point out that this is my personal viewpoint, and does not necessarily reflect the views of PokerUpdate, or any other poker media website. I am writing this with a 10-year plus background working in the poker industry, as a former low stakes online grinder, and as a fan of both the game and poker players.
How Poker News “Scoops” Are Brought To Light
In this day and age, getting a “breaking news” story in poker is a lot more difficult that it used to be. Personal contacts will only get you so far when it comes to a high profile interview, and once you get it, the person being interviewed may decline to comment if it’s a contentious issue.
There are fewer poker-related stories that originate from one person within the media getting an inside scoop from a poker site or high profile personality, as any “news” that the individual or company wants to discuss is usually released via a presser or social media post.
This is why so many of us “poker writers” keep such a close watch on social media feeds and high traffic online poker forums like TwoPlusTwo and PocketFives. It is within these communities that some of the biggest news stories arise.
It’s also why shows like the Poker Life Podcast hosted by Joey Ingram are such an invaluable resource to the poker community as a whole. Although so many of us in the industry come from a strong poker background, most of us do not play the game professionally at this time.
It takes someone with a truly unique skill set of on-air personality, bonafide, long-term online poker credentials, and a penchant for discussing contentious topics openly for thousands to critique (such as Joey Ingram) to get some of the movers-and-shakers to open up… and that’s completely fine with me.
News Originates, What’s Next?
As was the case on October 31st, 2015, a major, breaking poker news story can often originate from an online poker community forum. When this happens, the first step for any reputable poker media outlet is to verify it.
This took place somewhat quickly once the PokerStars VIP Club changes were released (either on purpose or accidentally). Within a short period of time, we received “official” word, and could then evaluate the ramifications.
There is a unique dynamic to covering a story that pits a group of people (high volume PokerStars players in this case) against a corporate entity. While a corporation may release a single statement as a blanket response to an issue, online poker forum threads continue in perpetuity — with real time reactions and nuances to any new wrinkle that is reported.
This dynamic wasn’t nearly as pronounced in the New PokerStars System news bit, because PokerStars’ headline Team Pro Daniel Negreanu acted as a liaison between affected players and the company for more than a month.
Has Poker Media Covered the PokerStars Changes Fairly?
So what has been the Poker Media reaction to the PokerStars VIP Club changes that significantly reduce cashback benefits for high volume players?
Has it been skewed to benefit the world’s largest poker site, which of course generates affiliate revenue for many poker media outlets? Or perhaps the majority of poker news websites reported on the issue without giving PokerStars a fair shake?
Neither, in my opinion.
Head over to Google or to your favorite poker news website and search for PokerStars VIP Changes or PokerStars Player Boycott.
You’ll be linked to a wide variety of articles that cover the issue. Everything from “hard news” stories that exclusively cover the facts to op-ed pieces that take a stance one way or the other.
You can use the following two PokerUpdate articles as an example.
I’ve brought this up in a past article, but it should be repeated affiliates (which often double as poker media outlets) can directly relate to the treatment that PokerStars high volume players received when it comes to yanking away promised benefits — see the “Major Controversy” section of my recent article, Will PokerStars Maintain Its Market Share in 2016? for more info.
Why Don’t You Call The PokerStars Changes What They Are?
This is a question that is directed towards me in private conversations, typically by affected PokerStars players who believe the VIP Club changes correlate to theft.
While suddenly changing a system to reduce promised legacy benefits for high paying customers is highly questionable, I don’t personally label the move as theft, as that is a determination that’s best suited for a judge (and the debate may ultimately be decided by a judge).
What do you call it when a site promises benefits, removes them, but also had a clause in their Terms & Conditions (which must be universally accepted before a person can play on PokerStars) that specifically mentioned benefits and promotions could be altered at any time, without any notice?
Continued Promotion of PokerStars
As you have probably noticed, PokerStars continues to be a widely marketed online poker site among affiliate-slash-media websites. In fact, PokerUpdate is on hand at the 2016 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (shout-out to Robbie). That’s a first for PokerUpdate.
You’ll also notice if you peruse the archived content here on the site, that a number of our articles are directed towards helping new poker players who are introduced to the online format. This is a service that almost all poker media outlets provide in order to promote poker to a wider, untapped market — and something that major sites and high volume players benefit from.
PokerStars, in spite of its late 2015 “communication mistake” which earned the site a spot in the proverbial doghouse with many high volume players, still offers a highly competitive rewards program when compared to other sites. It is still by far the world’s most popular online poker site, and has had not had any significant cashout issues since I began covering poker more than a decade ago.
The site is investing heavily in a grassroots effort to promote legal online poker in several US states, actively markets to recreational players, and remains a beacon of within an industry that has been pummeled by scandal for nearly 10 years.
High volume poker players — or “sole traders” as Alex Dreyfus of the Global Poker League calls poker pros — should probably do a lot of thinking about which online poker site they choose to patronize in 2016, and follow through with whatever conclusion is perceived to be the best for each.
Regardless of whether that decision results in continuing to play on PokerStars, leaving the site for good, supplementing online poker activity by playing real money games on other sites, or even starting an all new poker site (good luck with that), the poker community can still rely on media outlets to reliably report on hot news topics — at least those that can be verified.
Reporting on controversial poker news items drives traffic, as do less serious stories aimed at recreational players.
But what are your thoughts? Let us know if our latest poll, and best of luck at the tables!