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Now that the December 2015 Player Boycott of the world’s largest poker site — PokerStars — has come and gone, it’s time to turn our attention to the near future of online poker, and whether the 2016 calendar year will witness continued market dominance by the Amaya-owned behemoth.

One question that is on the minds of many online poker players and industry representatives alike is, “Will PokerStars continue its market domination in 2016?

Such a question may have been unthinkable during the online poker boom and subsequent positive press surrounding the brand following Black Friday. Its deal with the US Department of Justice that enabled PokerStars to absorb its then-largest competitor — Full Tilt Poker — and payout victims of a Ponzi Scheme placed PokerStars in good graces with just about anyone who matters in the Internet Poker world.

Before we take a look at whether PokerStars will endure (and maybe even prosper) in 2016, we’ll recap a couple of the major controversies that have led to the site’s once-gilded reputation being called into question.

Major Controversy for PokerStars in 2015

However, 2015 has been a Public Relations disaster for PokerStars. No longer privately owned and no longer riding a wave of worldwide industry growth, the company has enacted a number of “cost saving” (or “money grabbing” — depending on how you look at it) measures that have rubbed many of their most loyal customers and most adamant defenders the wrong way.

The most heated controversy created by Stars in 2015 is undoubtedly its decision to reduce benefits for its high volume players. Perhaps a philosophical change in how the world’s largest poker site had historically catered to high volume, winning players was indeed necessary as many in the poker industry believe, yet doing so without any prior notice, and without following through with legacy-based VIP Club benefit guarantees that had been marketed to those players has resulted in a lot of bonafide ill will towards the company.

After all, it’s one thing to decrease customer benefits — but it’s another thing altogether to entice your clientele to utilize a product in exchange for future benefits that are suddenly revoked. Poker players who began “grinding” online games at PokerStars in January 2015 were told they would receive certain benefits well into 2016 if they fit certain criteria linked to rake contribution, but in November 2015, the company decided to re-neg on that promise.

The fact that PokerStars would nonchalantly alter a prior agreement with its high volume players may have come as a shock to those most negatively affected, but it certainly didn’t surprise a lot of longtime PokerStars affiliates who received the same treatment in mid-2015.

You see, in May 2015, PokerStars advised its affiliates that “legacy” revenue payouts linked to veteran accounts that signed up to Stars years ago would no longer be awarded. The PokerStars Affiliate Program Restructuring that went into effect on June 1, 2015, caused a quiet stir that was limited mainly to the poker affiliate community, but was based on the same principle as the VIP Club changes — taking away promised future benefits on a month’s notice with zero regard for what was previously agreed upon.

Of course, both the affiliate and high volume player-focused changes were packaged as what’s good for the game, but were seen by most of those who were affected as what’s good for the Amaya/PokerStars bottom line. And those weren’t the only two alterations to PokerStars’ policies in 2015, but those two had the biggest short-term impact and negative press.

The affiliate revenue alterations that went into effect in June 2015 resulted in yet another shakeup in the online poker media industry, as dozens of content producers and forum personnel were laid off. It certainly isn’t PokerStars’ responsibility to create and maintain jobs for middleman companies, but you could argue that it is their responsibility to honor their agreements.

Regardless, the changes that negatively affect high volume, longtime affiliates and players are probably here to stay, so the next logical step is to decipher whether PokerStars will remain as the dominant force in the online poker industry in 2016.

Will PokerStars Maintain Its Hefty Market Share in 2016?

Based on the marketing infrastructure, employee force, and worldwide exposure that PokerStars already has in place, the answer to this question is pretty obvious to me.

Yes, PokerStars will maintain its hefty online poker consumer market share in 2016.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the site will see an increase in traditional poker-based traffic next year, but the company should be able to maintain its stranglehold on the consumer market rather easily.

As far as high volume, winning online poker players are concerned, the actions (or lack thereof) by competing sites during the December 1-3, 2015 “PokerStars Player Boycott” referenced above was a telltale sign that no major online poker sites value this genre of customers.

Sure, there were a few tournaments on competing sites that saw a temporary bump in guaranteed prize pools, but there weren’t any Match Deposit ‘Balla’ Reload Bonuses offered.

Without those non-existent reload bonuses aimed at high volume, winning players — and more importantly, without a steady “global boom” stream of new players — competing sites such as 888 Poker and partypoker are relegated to attracting deposits via existing player fields and overall software-based “experiences.” Both of these are far inferior to what PokerStars already has, at least in this writer’s opinion.

The Twitch Poker live streaming market, which took off in 2015, is pretty much cornered by the world’s largest poker site through deals with high profile poker streamers Jason Somerville and Jaime Staples, not to mention that the all-time biggest tournament winner, Daniel Negreanu, is pretty much the face of PokerStars and can easily attract a slew of viewers any time he decides to broadcast his thoughts on the Twitch platform.

The TwoPlusTwo Pokercast is presented by PokerStars, so that leaves only Poker Life Podcast host Joey Ingram as a major live-casting poker personality who isn’t “brought to you by” the world’s largest poker site. “ChicagoJoey” may be unhappy about the recent PokerStars VIP Club shunning of high volume players, but he (along with other winning players who spend the majority of their online poker playing time on Stars) is going to be hard-pressed to find another site to replace Amaya’s powerhouse.

And PokerStars’ broad industry influence doesn’t end there. There’s also the pseudo-partnership with Alex Dreyfus of the American Poker Awards and Global Poker League. By “pseudo-partnership” I mean that PokerStars is contributing some money to these projects without officially “sponsoring” them — a fact that is talked about in this June 8, 2015 Poker Life Podcast episode. For our readers who aren’t that familiar with Dreyfus, he is also the owner of the Global Poker Index poker rankings system and The Hendon Mob poker database.

Let’s not forget about the European Poker Tour. The World Series of Poker in Las Vegas may still be the most prestigious annual poker series, but the EPT (sponsored by PokerStars, obviously) has a more consistent presence throughout the year and is currently enjoying record player fields. As this article is being written, the EPT Season 12 Prague series is in the middle of a 12-day, 97-event “poker festival” that is being broadcast in real time by PokerStars’ own Twitch channel.

Then there’s PokerStars’ pending entry into the regulated New Jersey online poker market. The three-state “licensed” online poker system currently available to those living in the United States may be a shell of its former self, but there’s something to be said about PokerStars’ influence when even their biggest competitor is hailing the site’s Garden State arrival with praise. Don’t believe me? Check out this June 18, 2014 interview article with 888 Poker CEO Brian Mattingley from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

To be blunt, the PokerStars train is unlikely to be derailed anytime soon. I could go on and on about Amaya using its newly-acquired Daily Fantasy Sports platform, StarsDraft, to cross-promote its brands while further solidifying its existing database. Or I could tell you about a new poker game that has a lot in common with Hearthstone that the company is rumored to launch in 2016. Perhaps I should also mention that PokerStars’ sister site, Full Tilt, is about to launch a play money app that will be available to 125 million video game players within the Steam community.

With the infrastructure in place to secure PokerStars’ consumer market share stability in 2016, we will finally take a look at whether there will be any negative consequences to PokerStars’ alterations of its respective deals with affiliates and high volume players.

Ramifications of PokerStars Losing Its “Trust Factor”

High volume PokerStars players and affiliates (many of the latter also serve as poker media representatives) are now on full notice that the PokerStars brand is capable of not following through on its promises.

While the PokerStars Player Boycott didn’t gain any significant traction in halting the poker site’s policy changes (Boycott organizer Dani “ansky” Stern assumed this would be the case even before the “strike” went into effect), there will be a gradual decrease in patronizing PokerStars (and its business partners) by high volume, winning players.

The full effects of the VIP Club changes will still take a year to play out, but there are less obvious ways that these players can “vote with their dollars.” It’s well known that EPT events throughout Europe are largely dependent on high stakes players, many of whom will think twice before starting a $10,000 mini-bar party from their hotel room. Business should be good at nightclubs located near EPT events in 2016.

Then there’s poker media outlets — which as I’ve already mentioned, double as PokerStars affiliates in many cases. Previous “alleged” missteps by PokerStars and its business interests are unlikely to be dismissed as easily as they have in the past.

Take the August 2015 EPT Barcelona “Missing Chip Debacle” (as PokerNews described it) that involved Jason MoBen Tollerene, and a couple other high stakes players who claim they lost chips during a color-up at EPT Barcelona. There is a PokerNews video interview that correspondent Sarah Herring did with Mo (aka “Klink”) to get his side of the story, but other than that the story didn’t get much press.

To Herring and PokerNews’ credit, they did about all they could do given the circumstances, which was to broadcast the alleged victim’s side of the story. The reason they couldn’t do more was due to a lack of evidence, as the EPT Barcelona poker tables supposedly were not being monitored by security cameras.

With all the hype about “the integrity of poker” that gets published by PokerStars, you would think that having security tables at a major live event would be elementary, and that responding to the allegations would be of top priority, but there was no “response” and life went on for everyone except those who may have been cheated out of tournament equity.

If you want to get more of Jason Mo’s story about what happened, check out his September 1, 2015 Poker Life Podcast interview with Joey Ingram. It’s an entertaining episode on a show that does quite a bit to spread informed information to the poker community.

Personally, I don’t believe these allegations (regardless of whether they involve PokerStars) will be so easily passed over by poker media outlets in 2016. In 2015, Mo allegedly gets the shaft and there’s no further discussion. In 2016 in a hypothetical scenario that’s similar, Mo probably gets air time on various media outlets and Google search engines get saturated with Why the **** aren’t there any security cameras at poker tables during a live, PokerStars sponsored event? stories.

And one final tidbit about Jason Mo before you vote in our latest poll. He might be guilty of spewing a bit on Twitter, and he may be a bit irked (wrongfully so, in my opinion) that at least a couple of his high stakes, highly poker-savvy colleagues don’t have deals with the world’s largest poker site in-place like Jaime Staples does, but he is also a widely respected member of the poker community with absolutely no tendencies to BS his way into an argument with a pity-party based on a made up story.

I feel it’s necessary to include the above paragraph since anyone reading this article will likely get linked to a couple of hit pieces when placing “Jason Mo” into a Google search.

Please Vote In Our Poll

With the information provided in this article combined with your own beliefs, we would appreciate it if you would take the time to vote in our poll. Do you believe PokerStars will maintain its online poker consumer market share in 2016?

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David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as "dhubermex" online, David's poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.