In a blog post, PokerStars Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Séverin Rasset detailed how the loyalty rewards program will shift from a tiered monthly program, where rewards are accrued over time, to a daily program with more immediate, and in some instances, randomized rewards.
Most of our players are playing in the moment,” Rasset wrote in the blog post. “Wanting a fun and exciting experience every time they play. With that in mind, the upcoming program is focused around rewarding players more frequently within a single playing session rather than providing month-long goals.”
The new program will also tie together PokerStars’ poker, casino and sports betting arms, making the same rewards available to all players.
As Rasset wrote:
“Our new loyalty program will reward play across poker, casino, and sports, without forcing anyone to play any particular product. Players should feel that no matter what they play, we appreciate their loyalty. Our current reward, StarsCoin, will become the common currency for poker, sport and casino, maintaining its current value.”
The change is part of PokerStars’ ongoing efforts to strengthen the poker ecosystem. It also hopes to reverse some of the trends that have emerged over the past half-decade or so: Online games have grown much tougher and the number of new and depositing players has waned.
PokerStars will test the changes in Denmark, beginning in late May or early June. If all goes well, PokerStars will implement the new loyalty rewards program in other markets by the end of the year.
Cognizant of the blowback when it made its first round of sweeping changes in November 2015, PokerStars foreshadowed this round of changes last September, making sure players were given fair warning. With today’s announcement, PokerStars’ customers in Denmark have a couple months to prepare for the changes. (All current PokerStars rewards tiers are monthly).
Players in other locales should have at least three months to decide what their next moves will be.
PokerStars is still ironing out the specifics on the program. But as has been the case with most of the changes to the rewards program during the past couple years, winning, high-volume players will be negatively impacted the most of any group.
Most players at the site won’t notice a measurable change. However, players who rely heavily on rakeback won’t be happy with the new program. Rewards (measured in rakeback) could be cut by as much as 80-85 percent. Stars is contacting these players to make sure they understand the new program, but expect a firestorm on social media and poker forums in the coming days and weeks.
PokerStars’ goal is to make the rewards program more appealing to new and depositing players and do a better job of spreading the wealth. The new rewards program will more closely mirror the programs in place in other industries. Elsewhere, volume is just one element used to determine rewards.
Instead of rewarding volume for volume’s sake, the new program will benefit players for a variety of actions, including:
Additionally, PokerStars appears to be trying to shed the idea that rewards are part of a player’s win rate, rebranding the rewards as a bonus. This will be a hard sell to high-volume players, who see the rewards as a key component of beating the games.
However, the changes made thus far have had the desired effect, according to Rasset’s post.
The percentage of flops is on the rise, as is the average size of pots. More importantly, new players are playing more and depositing more often.
Additionally, winning players have been playing fewer tables and altering their style of play. They’re playing fewer tables but playing to win, which is one of PokerStars’ original goals.
In the 2015 announcement, Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser wrote:
“The reason we are focused on the highest status levels is because these rewards have become so enticing that we have inadvertently altered why some people play and how they play. We are introducing these changes to move towards a more balanced long-term poker economy and to return the game back to one that rewards skill via winning at the tables rather than playing primarily for volume.”
The recent addition of the All-Stars tables — tables with zero rake and a value-added leaderboard — is further evidence of the site’s attempt to change these players’ behavior. It’s also an indication that there are ways of doing so without negatively impacting them.
That being said, expect the newly announced changes to be ill-received by the poker community, particularly among high-volume, winning players on the site.