PokerStars' international players participating in the trial can earn up to 20% cash back from chests plus 45% from monthly challenges

PokerStars Launches Trial Version of New Rewards Program in International Markets, Promising Generosity And Transparency

This week, PokerStars announced the limited launch of a newly revised rewards program on its international sites.

For the next three months, the new PokerStars Rewards program will offered to randomly selected players in its international player pool, as well as its ring-fenced sites in France and Spain.

The trial is not being offered on PokerStars’ US sites in Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. However, if the experiment goes as the company hopes and becomes a permanent feature, it will likely appear in the US as well. It has generally been the case in the past that whatever changes PokerStars makes on its international site also roll out in its regional markets, either at the same time or shortly thereafter.

Selected players to receive increased cash back

According to PokerStars, the trial aims to address player concerns “around transparency, complexity and value.” PokerStars intends to test the program and receive player feedback before implementing it on a permanent basis.

Players can potentially earn up to 65% cash back from rake and fees in the new program, a significant increase over the rewards currently offered.

The PokerStars Rewards trial began July 6 and lasts through Sept. 30. The program retains the same tier-based chest level system already used by PokerStars, although the rewards have changed. The chests are as follows:

  • Blue
  • Bronze
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Diamond
  • Black

Players acquire reward points as they play, with minimum point requirements enabling them to “unlock” chests. Unlocking the required number of chests at one level moves players up to the next chest level where rewards increase. Players chosen to participate in the trial have two options. They can remain at their current level and complete their progress to the next level before officially joining. Alternatively, they can go down one level and start the trial right away.

How the new rewards system works

The reward percentages increase from 15% at the lowest Blue level to 25% at the highest Black level. The biggest difference from the current program when it comes to the chests is that their contents are no longer randomized. Each chest will be worth a fixed amount based on its tier, as given in a table now available on PokerStars’ international site. (Note: Link may not work for US readers due to location detection.)

However, all players regardless of their level can earn up to an additional 40% rakeback by completing the Monthly Poker Challenge, thus making it possible to earn as much as 65% cash back in combination with the highest tier chests. The Challenge pays outs awards in up to five blocks each month. For instance, Blue tier players receive $20 for each $50 in rake they pay, up to a maximum of $100 in rewards for $250 in rake. For higher tiers, the rewards and requirements scale proportionally.

Additionally, the new program equalizes reward points across all game types. Under the existing system, players earn fewer points per dollar for playing multi-table tournaments, and can’t earn points at all playing certain very high stakes cash games. All those asterisks will be gone for those participating in the trial.

Competition may be forcing PokerStars to backtrack

For longtime PokerStars players, the increase may recall the glory days of the site’s lucrative Supernova Elite program as it existed prior to changes made in 2016. That 65% figure also exceeds current reward programs offered by PokerStars’ competitors GGPoker and partypoker where rewards top out at 60% cash back.

GGPoker recently overtook PokerStars’ international site for the lead in cash game traffic, according to PokerScout. That loss of its position as the top dog in the western dot-com market may be part of why the company is considering a loosening of its purse strings.

Players selected to participate in the trial will receive three emails along the way linking to surveys. PokerStars says feedback from these surveys will “impact the shape of future tests, and ultimately what PokerStars Rewards will become.”

By soliciting such input, the trial does satisfy that goal of transparency. The fact that the trial program makes it easier to track one’s progress than was the case before also adds clarity to the process.

The new program is also more streamlined and even more egalitarian, in a sense, insofar as similar rewards are now available to all players, regardless of the stakes they play or their volume. That said, those who play the most and pay the most rake enjoy the highest total percentage of cash back.

Will the new rewards program come to the US?

The situation in the US is of course quite different that it is elsewhere. In the US there is no GGPoker, and PokerStars’ primary rivals are WSOP/888 and the partypoker US network sites including BetMGM Poker, Borgata Poker, and Partypoker.

Currently PokerStars enjoys a dominant position in Pennsylvania (over BetMGM/Borgata, with WSOP coming in just a few days) and Michigan (over BetMGM). Meanwhile PokerStars trails WSOP/888 significantly in New Jersey, in part because WSOP shares its NJ player pool with its Nevada site.

As noted, PokerStars’ US sites are not participating in the trial. For its US sites, PokerStars currently offers the same rewards program used on its international sites.

If PokerStars eventually revises its rewards program on the non-US sites, chances are those changes would come to PokerStars’ US sites sooner or later. The current system has been widely criticized, both by international players and those in the US who remember the way things were before Black Friday. By the same token, if the new one is well received internationally, it will probably prove popular in the US as well.

- Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.
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