International PokerStars players can receive up to a theoretical 65% maximum rakeback compared to just 33% in the US

PokerStars US Sites Deploy Partial Version Of International Rewards Program

Ever since PokerStars revealed its new, more generous rewards program for international players, those in the US have been wondering when they’d get their turn. That has finally happened this week… sort of.

The program currently on offer for players on the international dot-com site is a two-pronged affair. Unfortunately, the American program only includes one half of that.

PokerStars began the latest round of rewards system overhauls last summer. Initially, it extended the new system to only a subset of its players on a trial basis. In October, after it proved popular, the company announced that it was now permanent and universal.

The new program was taken by many as evidence that the company was moving away from the philosophy it adopted under Amaya ownership (later known as The Stars Group). After acquiring PokerStars and taking it public, Amaya infamously killed its Supernova and Supernova Elite programs on short notice. Around the same time were multiple rounds of rake increases and other reductions of bonuses.

Similarly, the new program came about not long after The Stars Group (TSG) was itself acquired by the Irish conglomerate Flutter. It seemed as if Flutter felt TSG had gone too far in its cuts. Players had also criticized the TSG-era program for being confusing, so the new program aimed to be more transparent.

Even the half of the program US players will get is an upgrade over the old chests. The bottom line impact of the difference between the US and international systems may not be meaningful for everyone. Still, poker players are very sensitive to any perceived unfairness. That may mean a cooler response to the program than PokerStars will be hoping for.

What’s in the new program

As mentioned, the international program consists of two parts:

  • Rewards Chests
  • Monthly Poker Challenges

US players will only be getting the first of these. That said, the version they’ll get has slightly improved terms for higher volume players, relative to the international system. That will partially offset the missing Challenges.

Earning chests in the new system isn’t too different from the old Stars Rewards. Players earn 100 points for every $1 in rake or tournament fees. Collect enough points and you’ll earn a chest. Earn enough chests and you’ll progress to the next tier, where chests require more points but also equate to a higher rakeback percentage.

The main difference from before is that the chests are of fixed value, not randomized, and are more generous overall. The lowest-stakes, least frequent players earn the equivalent of 15% rakeback, while the biggest players get 33%.

That’s better than the 25% at which the chests portion of the international program caps out. The next two highest tiers are also slightly better in the US.

Breaking down the tiers

The system is almost identical for dot-com and US players. The only significant difference points-to-reward ratio for the chests, and then only for the top three tiers. Some of those tiers also cost slightly more to achieve in the US, due to the difference in point costs.

Earning and losing tiers is based on rolling 28-day period. Because it takes more points to earn a tier than to maintain it, two players with identical volume might be earning different chests depending on their respective history.

Here’s a table showing the tiers, the rewards per chest in the US and internationally, and the minimum and maximum rake per 28 days to remain in the tier.

Tier NameRewards (US)Rewards (Int'l)Rake/28 days (US)
Blue$0.50 / $3.33 (15%)$0.50 / $3.33 (15%)$0-$16.65
Bronze$1.50 / $9.35 (16%)$1.50 / $9.35 (16%)$9.35-$46.75
Silver$5 / $28.50 (17.5%)$5 / $28.50 (17.5%)$28.50-$199.50
Gold$25 / $125 (20%)$20 / $108 (18.5%)$125-$875
Diamond$100 / $400 (25%)$75 / $375 (20%)$400-$4000
Black$330 / $1000 (33%)$250 / $1000 (25%)$1000-Unlimited

What’s missing from the US

International players get a second type of reward added to this, which is the Monthly Rewards. These grant “up to” an additional 40% rakeback, which players can earn in two blocks per monthly cycle. The exact value of these, and the points requirement to earn them depends on the tier the player began the month in, and their playing history.

PokerStars adds that theoretical 40% to the 25% for Black-tier chests in the international market, and advertises this as rewards of up to 65%. Compared to the 33% maximum for US players, it feels as if the latter are getting a raw deal. The reality, however, is that they may not be much worse off.

In practice, the rewards for most international players aren’t nearly as good as they sound. For one thing, a player would only come close to the theoretical maximum if they earned exactly enough points to unlock their second reward for the month, and stopped there. Unlike the chests system, excess points don’t carry over to a future reward.

More importantly, not everyone gets the 40%. The offers are “personalized,” and PokerStars offers only 10% to those it considers long-term winners. A PokerStars representative told Online Poker Report this is only 6% to 7% of all players.

Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that there were a range of offers. It has been clarified by PokerStars that 10% and 40% are the only possibilities at this time.

Who’s better off and who’s worse off?

Taking all these differences into consideration, the players most adversely affected by the missing Challenges are the proverbial “whales.”

For a high-volume, high-stakes losing player the difference between 33% and 65% rakeback is huge. However, one would expect there to be a larger number of winning players among those who put in this kind of volume. After all, not many can afford $1000 per month in rake while also being a net loser.

For a high-volume, high-stakes winner, the difference is merely 33% vs. 35%. Moreover, that latter rate only applies up until the player earns their second Monthly Challenge. Thereafter, it would drop to 25%, so the very most active players are actually better off in the US, earning 33% for as long as they care to play.

At the other end of the scale, very low volume, Blue and Bronze tier players don’t get Monthly Challenges to begin with. The systems are exactly identical for these players.

For everyone in the middle, the impact depends on their exact habits. That said, among winning players, those worst impacted will be those in the Silver and Gold tiers. The loss of the extra 10% in Challenges will hurt. Meanwhile, the Silver tier chests are worth the same on all sites, while Gold are only worth an extra 1.5 percentage points in the US, so there’s little compensating upside.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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