PokerStars Urges Players To Take A Chance With New Promotions

Better Lucky Than Good: New Promotions On PokerStars Contain A Strong Chance Element

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PokerStars‘ plan to “put the poker ecosystem on the right tracks” has gone into full effect.

Keeping true to its promise, the overwhelming market share leader has rolled out a sea of new promotions this January. Yet, unlike many of the site’s prior events, the latest batch tends to reward random luck rather than high-volume or skilled play.

It remains to be seen if this deviant approach will result in the long term sustainability and growth of online poker or simply compel players to “scratch off their lottery tickets” before promptly logging off until the next drawing.

January promotions on PokerStars

PokerStars has launched five new promotions in recent days, only one of which truly incentivizes players to up their game.

Cash Game Quests

Beginning with the most traditional offer, Cash Game Quests rewards hold’em or Zoom cash game players (stakes $.05/$.10 and higher) who complete daily objectives with a chance to win prizes ranging from $1 – $10,000 cash.

As what will amount to a recurring theme as we navigate through the new promotions, prizes will be awarded randomly, with just under 95 percent of players receiving $2.50 or less upon successful completion of a quest.

The chances of winning $500 or more is set at 0.032 percent, and the average daily reward will amount to $2.58. Players who complete a challenge every day for the duration of the promotion will pad their bankrolls by an average of roughly $100.

As for the challenges themselves, they run the gamut from winning with a particular hand to playing a predesignated number of qualifying hands (usually between 25 – 100) or being dealt a pair.

Spin & Go First Deposit Offer

New players on PokerStars who make a first real-money deposit of $20 or more will be gifted 40 $.50 Spin & Go tickets.

Currently, the top prize for playing a $.50 Spin & Go is $1 million, and PokerStars has taken liberties to emphasize that fact.

Less emphasized is that 99.995 percent of players will be fighting it out for a $3 or less prize pool, and that nearly 77 percent of games will only be worth $1 to the winner.

On the flip side, two out of every 100 million games will award the top prize of $1 million, rendering it a statistical anomaly for more than one player to strike it rich during the promotional period.

What’s worse is that it appears players will have to surrender the site’s other two first time deposit bonuses ($20 free play or a 100 percent match up to $600) in order to take advantage of the offer.

$1 Million Spin & Go – Cristiano Ronaldo Edition

As suggested already, the $.50 Spin & Go prize table has been restructured.

In addition to the new 2 million times top prize multiplier, players can also win a supercar, a special edition TAG Heuer watch, headphones and a Ronaldo documentary DVD. Each prize is redeemable for the cash equivalent in the site’s new virtual currency, StarsCoin.

Not to mention, PokerStars will host a $1 million Spin & Go All-in Shootout every hour from now until February 21. Participation is free and shootouts will award 60 tickets each.

Total promotional value of the shootouts (January only), comes out to just over $22,000.

Mega Bonus

Another promotion rooted in random rewards, Mega Bonus gifts out cash prizes and – you guessed it – $1 million Spin & Go tickets to players who make qualifying deposits on PokerStars of $30 or more. There are three chances to win, with prize values running from $.50 to $100,000.

80 percent of players will win 1 or 10 Spin & Go tickets, 18.8 percent more will pad their bankroll by $10 or $20, and .2 percent will see $100 or more deposited into their account.

The average promotional value of the weekly bonus comes out to $7.19 per player.

PokerStars Giveaway

This one appears to be a recurrent promotion. Players who deposit $10 or more can claim up to 25 giveaway tickets per week.

Tickets can also be accrued by completing simplistic daily challenges that typically entail no more than winning a few cash game hands or registering for a Spin & Go.

PokerStars is hosting four Giveaway tournaments per day, each one featuring $500 in added value. Ticket holders can buy-in directly to the events.

The total monthly value of this promotion comes out to roughly $60,000.

Predicting the impact of PokerStars’ promotional strategy

PokerStars is likely to achieve some of its proposed aims via the new promotions, but not all.

The good

The promotions, especially those which reward players that make nominal deposits, should initiate an influx of new registrations and also attract lost players back to the site.

Also, PokerStars has seemingly made good on its intention to pump some of the money saved from the recent VIP Club cutbacks back into the online poker ecosystem.

Assuming that players complete 500,000 Cash Game Quests in total this month – a conservative estimate considering that the site is currently averaging somewhere along the lines of 17,000 concurrent cash game players as per data collected on PokerScout – that equates to a promotional value of approximately $1.3 million.

If another 100,000 players take advantage of the Mega Bonus – again, conservative – that amounts to another $719,000 doled out by the operator. Factor in the PokerStars Giveaway, $1 million Spin & Go shootouts and the other promotions and we’re easily looking at $2.5 million in added player value – probably significantly more.

Compare that to last year’s January Daily Challenge ($1 million value) and Ultimate Challenge, and it’s quite evident that PokerStars is in fact allocating more funds to promotional events.

The questionable

The question then becomes, “are the funds being allocated properly?” Here is where I have my concerns.

There are several common threads that bind the January promotions:

  • Prizes are awarded randomly, with only a very small subset of the population receiving substantial rewards.
  • There is a strong emphasis on games where the luck component trumps skills (all-in shootouts, Spin & Go’s etc.).
  • Players are rewarded as much, if not more so, for making deposits as they are for playing.

In its “Comprehensive Plan for Enhanced PokerStars Experience” press release, VP of Corporate Communications for Amaya Inc. and PokerStars Eric Hollreiser states that the plan is designed to “re-emphasize the fun and social aspects of online poker.” Yet, from what it appears, the new promotions are less about making online poker more fun to play, and more about introducing a fun online lottery component to PokerStars.

While the new promotions will certainly motivate players to make a deposit, once they receive their cash bonus or Spin & Go tickets, what’s to keep them playing on the site? In select cases it might be in their best interest to simply take the money and run, especially considering that part-time players at the BronzeStar and ChromeStars VIP Club levels won’t be receiving significantly increased loyalty rewards under the new VIP Club scheme.

Going further, it’s difficult to envision how encouraging players to partake in Spin & Go’s or whatever new gambling/poker hybrid PokerStars is cooking up will strengthen the poker ecosystem. The reconfigured $.50 Spin & Go’s are more top-heavy than ever – the rake is 8 percent, but over 11 percent if one assumes that the average player will never hit a top two multiplier (6 in 100 million chance).

In one optimistic scenario, players will parlay their free Spin & Go tickets into a few real dollars and take them to the cash game tables. In turn, the low stakes cash games are inundated with new players, and as a result, the games become more fun and the ecosystem healthier.

However, the continued emphasis on lottery-style and other gambling-like poker games suggests that PokerStars has little desire to convert new players to cash game regulars, instead content to allow them to keep scratching off their lottery tickets in hopes that they’ll begin spending their own money on the format.

Cash Game Quests on the right track

The one partial exception to PokerStars’ new promotional paradigm is the Cash Game Quests promotion, which does reward consistency as much as it does luck. However, as good as this promotion will likely be at attracting players to the cash game tables, they have little incentive for remaining there once the relatively easy daily objectives are complete.

The promotion might be stronger if it were paired with a few “ultimate” objectives or a leaderboard component that awarded fixed amounts, as that would keep some net depositing players at the tables long enough for a more thorough stabilization of the online poker ecosystem, all at a somewhat nominal cost to the operator and all without forcing super casual players to commit to bigger goals.

Not only that, the longer-term monetary incentives will enable those who want to improve their game to do just that, as only those who survive long enough to reach the loftier objectives will be rewarded. Who knows, some of the survivors may even evolve into site regulars and eventually, net winners.

Isn’t that the entire point?

As is, net depositing players might be best off playing the bare minimum number of hands, scratching off their lottery ticket, and hitting the off button.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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