Inside of less than six months, the Amaya Gaming Group has managed to completely shake the foundation of online poker. While the poker sector of the online gambling industry wasn’t exactly thriving in a major way, recent changes by Amaya are guaranteed to change up the entire industry — for better or for worse.
A Brief Summary of the Changes
A short list of the more notable changes by Amaya include lowering player rewards, increasing the rake of their games, the addition of casino games and the announcement of the addition of sports betting in 2015.
One sponsored professional player Vicky Coren has quit from PokerStars because she didn’t agree with the addition of casino games.
There has also been a vocal minority of players who see these changes as being bad for the poker economy. I very much disagree with this, though I can understand why aspiring professional players would not be happy about the changes in the short term.
PokerStars is a Business
First thing’s first: PokerStars is a business. They are not in the business of giving professional players the best chances of making a living. One big point of confusion for many high-volume players is that, hopefully without sounding too harsh…
…they believe they are more important to PokerStars than they really are.
All these players see is the fact that they have raked X amount of money over Y amount of time and think that this is how the poker rooms make money.
Deposits are what generate money for the poker rooms. The rake will be taken from someone in some game regardless, but new deposits are what keep the poker ecosystem going. It’s hard for players to justify new deposits to PokerStars when they are consistently rated as the hardest place to move up through the stakes.
Can you guess why it’s so hard to move up in the stakes there? It’s not because of the rake. Even after they have increased in rake in most games, it’s still better than or on the same level as the vast majority of the competition. It’s so hard to move up in stakes because the player pool tends to be really good on average when compared to other poker rooms.
The Strength of the Player Pool
In an unrelated conversation, I’d asked an online poker player how 2014 had went for them. This is the majority of the response I was given (edited for grammar and spelling):
“I was barely able to beat 6-max 10nl ($0.05/$0.10) no-limit hold’em games on PokerStars. After about six months of really putting a lot of effort into my game without seeing a huge improvement in my winnings, I moved to Bovada. Within three months, I was beating 50nl ($0.25/0.50) on Zone Poker and had more than quadrupled my bankroll.”
The rake isn’t the problem here — the competition is.
Sports Betting and Casino Games
The big fear that a lot of players have is that the sports betting and casino games being offered will simply pull money out of the bankrolls of players who would otherwise lose that money to better competition in the poker games. The problem with this logic is that it doesn’t look at the whole picture. In the long run, the opposite effect could actually end up happening instead.
Do you know why sites like Bovada have such soft competition at the poker tables? It’s because they have a sportsbook and casino that bring in more recreational players.
Don’t think that Amaya is necessarily doing this because they think it will help the poker economy as a whole, because their motivation is long-term sustained profit. However, this motivation lines up with the building of the poker economy, so it’s not something that they’re just going to completely ignore.