PokerStars - The Empire Strikes Back

July 6, 2011, Posted by Pokerfarm

PokerStars - The Empire Strikes Back

In the ongoing turmoil surrounding the potential collapse of Full Tilt Poker, it's easy to miss how quickly rival PokerStars has returned to form, gaining a lot of new traffic and largely retaining the trust of the poker community.

Since FTP shut down games following its license suspension, PokerStars player numbers have shot up. Independent sources have tracked an extra 3000 or so cash game players at Stars in the week following Full Tilt closing, which is a week-on-week increase of about 15%. Stars’ own tracking numbers are substantially higher, but they count freerollers, play money regs, observers and other assorted degenerates.

Amid the turmoil following Black Friday and FTP’s descent into infamy, many players speculated Stars would take an aggressive strategy towards attracting the dispossessed hordes of former Tilt regs. In fact, what PS has come out with is a fairly anemic reload bonus that offers no real value to most serious players. It’s reminiscent of a fish min-donking the river in a transparent attempt to prevent you from value betting - Stars obviously felt they had to offer something to stop players going elsewhere, but it’s a token gesture at best. Either PokerStars are so confident of their virtually unchallenged position as market leader that they don’t feel the need to spend too much to attract players, or they’re purposefully being austere to save money (one of the downsides of being regulated in a jurisdiction where you can’t spend player deposits on operating costs, I guess. Full Tilt, I’m looking in your direction.) In any case, their strategy seems to be working - players are flocking to Stars without any really juicy bonuses to entice them.

Although PS is now the largest online poker site by a country mile, it’s not all good news in the months following Black Friday - overall, their cash-game traffic is down at least 17% year-on-year, even after the migration from Full Tilt.

The next-largest site, PartyPoker, saw traffic increase by around a quarter following the FTP game freeze, but it’s still dwarfed by Stars - average traffic is less than a fifth of that of its rival. Party has been much more aggressive at trying to attract former Tilt players, with better bonuses and a moratorium on MTT fees.

Worryingly for poker in general, at least 40% of Tilt’s player traffic hasn’t migrated to a different site but has simply disappeared. It’s to be expected that many regs aren’t able to move their action to a different site when their bankrolls are stuck in Full Tilt’s black hole of a bank account, but there’s a good chance that many of Tilt’s recreational and casual players (i.e. fish) may simply stop playing all together, their trust in online poker having been eroded away by FTP’s cavalier attitude to protecting player funds.

Turning off recreational players has clear, serious consequences for online poker as a whole, and it’s yet to be seen what the FTP debacle will do for the image of online poker among fish. After all, while I’m sure that you can crush the regs at your stakes, for many players the bulk of profits come from casual players, and the poker economy as a whole needs players who deposit more than they cash out.

Stars may be the short-term winners of Full Tilt’s license suspension, but in the long term the poker world as a whole may lose out.


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