One, Two, Trio! PokerStars Celebrates Share Market With MTT Series

three kittens in a field

The playing field for Portuguese players on PokerStars got significantly bigger this month.

PokerStars announced that Portugal would finally be joining a player pool that already includes players from Spain and France.

It’s a win for players from every country as they’ll all enjoy a wider selection of games to play. PokerStars is the first operator that has been able to unite the three countries for online poker.

PokerStars is set to host a series of tournaments with millions of Euros in guaranteed prize pools to celebrate the new union.

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More games, better rewards

A bigger player pool means more games, bigger prizes, and better rewards for PokerStars players in Portugal, Spain, and France.

The infusion of thousands of Portuguese players should help solidify PokerStars Europe’s position in third on PokerScout’s worldwide traffic report behind only Asian network IDN Poker and the global PokerStars site.

“We have worked hard to become the first operator to bring the benefits of shared liquidity to Portugal. Our players will see a huge increase in the variety and scale of our tournaments and promotions and will enjoy more excitement, more competition and more fun!” said Guy Templer, COO of The Stars Group.

“This dramatically strengthens our offering and demonstrates our commitment to the Portuguese market.

“We look forward to working with the Portuguese regulator to further improve the poker product offering for Portuguese players, and additionally hope that Italy will soon progress so that their players can also enjoy the significantly better experience that shared liquidity brings.”

€5 million Trio Series for PokerStars.eu players

PokerStars is kicking off the newly-unified Portuguese/Spanish/French-facing site with a new Trio Series that will offer €5 million in guarantees spread across 78 events including a €250 Main Event with a €500,000-GTD prize pool.

The Trio Series will run from June 3-13 and buy-ins start at just €1. There will also be a number of freerolls to Trio events for new depositors in Portugal, Spain, and France.

The Trio Series comes hot on the heels of France and Spain’s very own version of the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP), which smashed its guarantee of €10 million to hit over €11.7 million awarded to players.

PokerStars Europe also hosted the French Espania Hold’em Series (FRESH), which attracted over 30,000 unique entries and paid out over €6.1 million.

The inclusion of Portuguese players on PokerStars Europe should help boost those numbers even further and create some eye-popping prize pools.

Will Italy be next to join PokerStars Europe?

With Portugal finally onboard with PokerStars Europe, there remains one big outsider: Italy.

The Italian poker market is one of the biggest in Europe but it’s taken a bit of a hit thanks to restrictive legislation in the country. The country passed a digital tax in 2017, which obliges companies to play a three percent levy on some internet transactions.

The Italian PokerStars site ranked slightly below PokerStars.pt according to PokerScout’s traffic reports.

Italy signed a pact with France, Italy, and Portugal last summer with the intention of allowing cross-border play.

Unfortunately, there has been speculation that Italy is second-guessing the commitment over fears of money laundering.

Right now it’s the Italian poker players who are suffering as they have to deal with much smaller player pools and prizes than the rest of Europe.

Ex-Amaya CEO Baazov’s Trial Potentially Sidelined By Paperwork Snafu

financial paperwork with man in background

A legal fumble is threatening to derail the entire case against former Amaya CEO David Baazov and two other men for insider trading relating to Amaya’s purchase of PokerStars back in 2014.

Baazov’s lawyers are alleging that Quebec’s securities regulator — the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) — accidentally shared private information with the defense. Specifically, the AMF is accused of sharing more than 300,000 privileged documents.

The problem is that six weeks into the trial, AMF wants the documents back. Baazov’s defense is calling it an “abusive procedure” and looking to get charges in the case stayed. It’s the third time lawyers have attempted to get the charges tossed.

Baazov faces five charges in total including influencing or attempting to influence the market price of Amaya’s securities.

Defense claims “violation of rights”

Earlier this month lawyers for AMF asked the judge to remove the aforementioned documents from disclosures.

Baazov’s representation quickly responded by filing a motion for a stay of charges for all defendants citing “repeated errors.”

The lawyers claimed that denying access to evidence in the middle of an ongoing trial represented a “violation of their rights”.

The trial is currently in week seven and scheduled to get at least 11 more weeks before the parties complete their proof.

Lawyers from Baazov also represent Benjamin Ahdoot and Yoel Altman. The legal team has already attempted to get the charges dropped two times before.

The first time lawyers moved to have the charges tossed due to an unreasonable delay in getting them to court. The second time lawyers argued the prosecution was late in disclosing evidence.

The judge, Salvatore Mascia, rejected both motions.

Stars Group stock hits record high

When Amaya purchased PokerStars for $4.9 billion in 2014 it instantly became the biggest online poker business in the world. Forbes hailed Baazov as the new “King of Online Gambling”.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. Baazov took an indefinite leave of absence in the spring of 2016 after the AMF filed five charges against him. Specifically, Baazov was accused of sharing private information with investors prior to Amaya’s purchase of PokerStars. The investors then used the information to buy up company stock months before the stock price peaked.

Since then, Rafi Ashkenazi has taken the reins of the company as CEO. He both moved the organization to Toronto and rebranded Amaya as The Stars Group.

Baazov’s ongoing case hasn’t seemed to have much of an effect on the Stars Group. The company just posted another solid annual earnings report thanks in large parts to its efforts to diversify with rapidly expanding casino and sports betting operations.

The Stars Group stock price hit a record-high of $47.30 CAD earlier this month. The company’s stock has been on the rise ever since it announced a potentially game-changing deal to purchase Sky Betting & Gaming for $4.7 billion in April. Stars stock has remained fairly steady over the last seven days hovering around the $46 mark.

It’s easy to forget that Baazov also attempted to take PokerStars private in 2016 but was ultimately unsuccessful. As of 2017, Baazov still owned a four-percent stake in the company, however.

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High-profile Baazov case continues

The case against David Baazov continues to make headlines in Canada. Some are calling it the biggest alleged case of insider trading in the country’s history.

Regardless of what happens with the new motion, the AMF has taken some heat over its handling of the high-profile case. Baazov’s lawyers have already filed to get the charges dropped due to delays in the proceedings.

In addition, a rabbi named Momi Pinto sued the AMF for infringing on his family’s rights in a raid that took place in their home. The raid was in relation to the Amaya case.

The judge in the Baazov case, Salvatore Mascia, will consider the new request to stay the charges this Thursday.

WSOP.com And PokerStarsNJ Setting Online Poker Records

old vinyl records

The dust is settling, and poker players in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware are settling into their seats.

It has been three weeks since New Jersey joined Nevada and Delaware in the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement. The combined player pool is beginning to show its power.

The key stories from the last two weeks:

  • WSOP.com hosted the tournament with the largest prize pool in regulated U.S. poker history
  • PokerStarsNJ hosted the tournament with the most entries – even surpassing WSOP.com’s marquee event in the Coast to Coast Classic
  • Cash game traffic is soaring on WSOP.com and showing only a slight decline on PokerStarsNJ and partypokerNJ
  • Peak cash game traffic is showing a declining trend across the board

Now that you’ve been briefed let’s take a look back at the cash game and tournament trends for the two-week period ending May 20, 2018.

U.S. Regulated online poker operators

The major U.S. poker operators are:

Operator Network Provider Other Sites in the Network
WSOP.com 888 888poker
PokerStarsNJ PokerStars None
partypokerNJ partypoker Borgata Poker and PlayMGM-NJ

Pala Poker also operates in New Jersey on its own network. We do not include Pala Poker in this report because the traffic volume is low and doesn’t affect the latest online poker trends.

Major online poker tournaments summary

WSOP.com hosted the Coast 2 Coast Classic from May 11 – 20. Holding a big tournament series following the combining of player pools was a smart move by WSOP.com. It encouraged poker players that hadn’t done so to create their new accounts and get online.

The series came with over $1,000,000 in guarantees and included 32 events. All but one of the events made their guarantees. This is something even the most popular series over the recent past have failed to do.

The big story, though, is the Coast 2 Coast Main Event. Its $200,001 guarantee was the largest guarantee in regulated U.S. poker – by $1. What’s more impressive is that it shattered the historic guarantee by posting a massive prize pool of $245,642.

PokerStarsNJ and partypokerNJ both held their regular $45,000 and $40,000 guaranteed Sunday tournaments, respectively.

PokerStarsNJ switched things up by hosting a half-off version on Sunday, May 20. The tournament drew 583 entries for the largest tournament of the two week period.

WSOP.com met its guarantees for both weeks, while PokerStarsNJ and partypokerNJ did not meet them on May 13. Both sites rebounded and exceeded their guarantees on Sunday, May 20.

Tournament data for Sunday, May 13.

Tournament Entries Guarantee Prize Pool Overlay
WSOP $320 Coast 2 Coast Event #7 – $100,000 NLH 502 $100,000 $150,600 N/A
PokerStarsNJ $200 Sunday Special, $45,000 Guaranteed 216 $45,000 $38,200 $6,800
partypokerNJ $215 Sunday $40,000 Guaranteed NLH 175 $40,000 $35,000 $5,000

Tournament data for Sunday, May 20.

Tournament Entries Guarantee Prize Pool Difference
WSOP $500 Coast 2 Coast Event #29 – $200,001 NLH Main Event 526 $200,001 $245,642 $45,641
PokerStarsNJ $100 Half-Price Sunday Special, $45,000 Guaranteed 583 $45,000 $53,519 $8,519
partypokerNJ $215 Sunday $40,000 Guaranteed NLH 214 $40,000 $42,800 $2,800

Average cash game and peak traffic summary

Shared liquidity has only had a small impact on the cash game seven-day rolling average traffic numbers.

Before the merging of player pools, WSOP.com in Nevada and Delaware averaged 135 cash game players. New Jersey averaged 75 on the network. Since the launch, the combined number is 240. That number equals about 30 additional players on average logging into the site.

PokerStarsNJ and partypokerNJ have remained relatively flat post-liquidity with a seven-day rolling average of 85 and 50 cash game players, respectively. PokerStarsNJ posted a decline of about five players, while partypokerNJ posted a decrease of 10.

The big question at the beginning of the month was how a combined player pool on WSOP.com would affect PokerStarsNJ and partypokerNJ. Well, it seems like it is business as usual.

Peak traffic seems to be struggling a bit more than the average traffic numbers. There is a declining trend among all three operators following the merging of player pools.

WSOP.com’s negative trend line is most likely due to low peak numbers on May 18 and 19.

Nevada hosted Electric Daisy Carnival which historically draws players away from the tables. Additionally, the Las Vegas Knights were busy fighting for their spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. These events can easily explain the significant drop in peak traffic for those days.

Surprisingly, partypokerNJ had the best trend line of the bunch. Of course, it is a hollow victory with two outlier days for WSOP.com and two missing days of data for PokerStarsNJ.

Factors that will likely impact U.S. online poker in the coming weeks

In one week, crowds of poker players from around the world will descend on the Las Vegas desert for the 2018 World Series of Poker.

Four online bracelet events, online satellites, and the ability to play live and online at the same time will likely drive online traffic numbers higher for WSOP.com over the coming months.

Expect business as usual for PokerStarsNJ or partypokerNJ. It is unlikely for the sites to try and compete with WSOP.com during this time.

We will be reporting again on the U.S. online poker landscape on June 5.

The first online bracelet will be awarded to a combined player pool, and the WSOP will have a week’s worth tournaments under its belt.

China’s Online Poker Black Friday Having Live Casino Effects

City of Dreams Casino in Macau

China will ban all forms of online social media poker games as of June 1 according to numerous reports.

The ban could have a catastrophic effect on the burgeoning poker industry in the region, which relies on social media poker to build awareness for the game.

At this point in time, there are no real-money poker sites allowed in China so play money poker is essentially the only game in town.

To make matters worse the government is also cracking down on any mention of poker on social media. IAdditionally, the game will no longer be recognized as a competitive sport.

The ban could stifle Chinese poker in its infancy and pundits are already likening it to a Chinese Black Friday.

Huge hit for all of Asia

The potentially devastating effects of a play money ban in China could have ramifications for numerous neighboring Asian countries.

Local tournaments in nearby countries regularly receive a sizable influx of players who qualified for events through play money promotions in China.

There’s also a good chance the special administrative region of Macau will take a significant hit from the ban.

First off, it appears the special PokerStars-branded poker room at the City of Dreams in Cotai will be closing.

According to reports, it was the City of Dreams parent company Melco Resorts & Entertainment that terminated the deal. The City of Dreams PokerStars LIVE poker room operated for five years.

Meanwhile, the big online players in China, including the massive Tencent Gaming, have already started to remove some of their poker apps from the Android, Apple App store, and WeChat store.

Hong Kong-based Boyaa Interactive, which runs the Boyaa Poker Tour, has already seen its share price drop 12 percent, according to a report from Inside Asia Gaming.

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More than virtual currency at stake

The ban on free-to-play poker may seem unnecessarily harsh but there are a few factors that likely contributed to the Chinese government’s decision to move for an outright ban.

In the past play money poker has been used as a way to play real-money games in China and especially Hong Kong using apps called agents.

It’s a concept that’s largely unfamiliar to most western poker markets but the agents basically allowed players to wager real money on free-to-play sites.

While the free-to-play sites were completely devoid of real money and consisted entirely of virtual currency the agents would allow players to put real currency behind virtual bets.

The practice was particularly popular in Hong Kong where several high-stakes online private games allegedly ran.

It’s unclear at this point how much agents played into the government’s decision to ban free-to-play poker.

Last gasp for poker in China?

The ban wasn’t completely out of nowhere, as the government has shown a reluctance to permit the game in the past. Chinese National Police raided a PokerStars-backed APPT event in Nanjing in 2015.

There’s no telling where poker in China goes from here but it goes without saying that it’s a huge step back for the game.

The complete legal framework for the upcoming ban hasn’t been released so some of the social game developers are hopeful there will still be space to operate.

Beijing’s Ourgame, one of the biggest players in Asian poker and owner of the World Poker Tour, released a statement saying it will conduct an in-depth examination of the new law.

It’s unknown what will happen to the numerous live events that PokerStars runs in Macau. Interest in the game remains high. The most recent Macau Millions main event attracted nearly 2,500 players.

It’s also unclear what will happen to the Alisports-backed International Poker Tour. The IPT offers various poker tournaments around the country combined with other mind sports like chess and bridge.

Photo by Nataliya Nazarova / Shutterstock.com

PokerStars Buys Up Sky Betting For Whopping $4.7 Billion

shooting star in the sky

PokerStars augmented its poker and gambling empire this week with the acquisition of the U.K.’s Sky Betting & Gambling for $4.7 billion in cash and stock.

It’s the single biggest acquisition that PokerStars has made since Amaya took over in 2014 and pundits are calling it a pivotal moment for Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi.

The Sky Betting portfolio includes gambling, sports betting, and poker verticals with a strong integration into the U.K. market. The separate brands include Sky Bet, Sky Vegas, Sky Casino, and Sky Poker.

Sky Poker TV, in particular, played a key role in attracting new players to poker in the U.K. during the mid-2000s.

The Stars Group has allegedly been seeking a large acquisition for several years now. It previously considered a merger with William Hill in 2016.

With the Sky Betting acquisition, the Stars Group becomes the largest publicly listed gaming company based on revenue.

A “Landmark” Moment for Stars Group

The $4.7 billion Sky Betting acquisition is a truly staggering amount considering PokerStars itself was acquired for $4.9 billion in 2014.

To put things in perspective a UK venture capitalist company called CVC purchased Sky Betting for $1.14 million in 2014. That means the company will make out with a profit of approximately $3.7 billion in less than four years time.

“The acquisition of Sky Betting & Gaming is a landmark moment in The Stars Group’s history,” said Rafi Ashkenazi in a statement.

“SBG operates one of the world’s fastest growing sportsbooks and is one of the United Kingdom’s leading gaming providers. SBG’s premier sports betting product is the ideal complement to our industry-leading poker platform.

“The ability to offer two low-cost acquisition channels of this magnitude provides The Stars Group with great growth potential and will significantly increase our ability to create winning moments for our customers.”

Stars Group Targets Growth in Sports Betting, Casino

For the last few years, the Stars Group successfully grew its sports betting and casino businesses. The company wanted to avoid being completely reliant on the main tenant of its business: online poker.

The Sky Betting acquisition seems to be another step in the Stars Group’s attempt to become a worldwide gaming brand rather than simply the world’s biggest online poker operator.

With the deal, the Stars Group get better access to regulated markets like the U.K. It also gets more exposure for sports betting.

Sky Betting is currently home to the largest U.K. player base. It is also a leader in the mobile space. Over 80 percent of its revenues coming from mobile.

The Stars Group already reduced its reliance on online poker to 67 percent based on recently released earnings for 2017. Poker represented 73 percent of the Stars Group’s earnings in 2016. The Sky Betting acquisition will likely drive that number down even further.

Furthermore, Sky Betting’s strong sports betting segment could conceivably represent customer acquisition for PokerStars. After all, crossover players might take a shot at playing cards.

PokerStars, Sky Poker Merge in the Cards?

The emphasis on the deal is on sports betting and casino. However, Sky Betting does have a poker component too. It’s unclear what will happen to the site long term.

For the time being, Ashkenazi mentioned that Sky Betting and PokerStars will remain separate entities. In a year or two, there seems to be a fair chance that the Stars Group will want to share liquidity between the brands, similar to the approach that was used with Full Tilt Poker.

If Sky Poker rolled into PokerStars, that would mean the largest pool of online poker players would get even bigger.

Regardless of how the Sky Betting acquisition plays out, there’s no doubt it comes at a huge cost to the Stars Group. Only time will tell if Ashkenazi’s big bet pays off in the long term.

PokerStars Officially Enters Indian Market with PokerStars.IN

older Indian man on laptop

There’s a new way to play PokerStars in India as of this week.

The Stars Group’s PokerStars.IN went live on Wednesday with a wealth of features for Indian players, including the ability to play special localized tournaments and use Indian Rupees on the site.

The site was launched in conjunction with the Sugal & Damani Group, which is the largest state government lottery operator in India.

Walled-off versions of the PokerStars software have existed for years and Pokerscout even monitors traffic separately for:

  • PokerStars.EU
  • PokerStars.IT
  • PokerStars.FR
  • PokerStars.ES
  • PokerStars.NJ

The vast majority of Indian players will be able to play on PokerStars.IN with support for both desktop and mobile devices.

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Tantalizing market for online poker operators

The launch of PokerStars.IN has been a long time coming with Indian poker going from a slow simmer to a rolling boil over the last few years.

It helps that Indian poker pros like PokerStars own Aditya Agarwal as well as Kunal Patni, Aditya Sushant, and Raghav Bansal have been blowing up on the international poker circuit.

Indian-American Nipun Java grabbed numerous headlines last summer when he managed to win not one but two gold bracelets at the 2017 WSOP.

For years online poker existed in a legal grey area in India but that era appears to be over. The very first online poker license was awarded back in 2016 and several more have been handed out since.

It also appears that poker is getting closer to being classified as a skill game like chess or rummy.

The market represents a potential goldmine for operators thanks to its massive 1.3+ billion-person population.

PokerStars CEO Rafi Ashkenazi has previously estimated the Indian market to be worth $150 million per year and growing.

Indian players locked out of global PokerStars

The downside to the new PokerStars.IN is that it appears Indian players will be losing access to the much larger PokerStars.com.

That’s common practice, as many of the jurisdictions where PokerStars operates restrict the player pool to that region only.

That means that players will likely miss out on flagship PokerStars like the Sunday Million.

On the bright side, PokerStars.IN will have its own exclusive tournaments and will be launching with a series of freerolls for players.

It didn’t take Agarwal long to take advantage of such tournaments as he took down the Hot 2500 earlier this week.

The majority of Indians will be able to play on PokerStars.IN but those who reside in states where online poker has been deemed illegal will not get access at this point in time.

PokerStars adds Indian Pro Muskan Sethi

 

It’s full speed ahead for PokerStars in India and the site also recently announced a new player acquisition.

New Delhi’s Muskan Sethi is the latest poker pro to don the trademark PokerStars red spade.

Sethi originally worked in the fashion industry but found the work unfulfilling and moved into social work.

As a social worker, Sethi found the time to play a little poker on the site and qualified for the 2014 PokerStars Shark Cage promotion where she finished runner-up to Mike Tindal.

After that Sethi picked up a poker sponsorship and even got a nod from President Ram Nath Kovind in an event honoring 100 Indian women who had achieved success in fields traditionally dominated by men.

On the poker side, Sethi has accumulated over $100,000 in online cashes in addition to another $44,000 in live tournament scores.

She will be joining the PokerStars team as an ambassador for the Indian market. Both Sethi and her teammate Agarwal will help promote poker as a skill game in India.