VIP Program Changes At PokerStars
I know many of you have been waiting for me to post a blog about the controversial changes to the VIP program. Before I share my thoughts on all of it, I’d like to start from the very beginning and explain how this all took place and then how it was messaged from there on out.
In October of 2014 PokerStars released a newsletter that said something to the effect of, “PokerStars is considering substantial changes to the VIP program in 2016.” I’m going to share some facts with you that have likely never been made public, but they are facts and can be backed up by several people. Prior to that newsletter, significant VIP changes were scheduled to take place January 1, 2015! These had been agreed to by the previous owners and management. The reason that didn’t happen was because of CEO David Baazov. Those inside the company were adamant that these changes needed to happen years ago and that it was imperative that they were made immediately. David was presented with plenty of internal data that showed quite clearly how the ecosystem was broken and that changes were inevitable considering both the escalated rate in which depositers were losing and the effect it had on the retention of these players.
Personally, I have said for many years changes were necessary. I said so during the previous management, and I knew that the current system was unsustainable long term and changes were inevitable. I think most people who had access to the internal data agreed unanimously that if no changes were made, the player pool would continue to shrink. I’m not going to spend time debating or explaining this, but what I do want share is why these changes were delayed a full year until January 1st, 2016: David Baazov.
It was David Baazov’s decision to delay the changes a full year, because he felt it was the right thing to do. He felt as though it hadn’t been communicated to players early enough, so despite understanding the necessity of the changes, he chose to give players an additional year of full benefits before making the cuts.
Fast forward to November of 2015. It was decided that the highest tier of the VIP program, SuperNova Elite, be cut from 63% rakeback down to 30%. The SNE players are obviously the highest volume customers that contribute a substantial amount of rake to the company. It was discussed internally, and PRM (Poker Room Managment) stood firm that SNE players should get a bump from 30% to 45% for 2016.
I’ve spent the last month having internal discussions in the hopes of delaying the changes until January 1st, 2017. We also discussed several other possibilities and I did my absolute best to find the best compromise possible for the players.
The company has acknowledged that the communication of the changes was too vague, and we should have done a far better job being clear in the messaging. In the end, the result of my discussions with the company is that I can announce that PokerStars has agreed to put $4 million into the ecosystem in 2016 by holding quarterly $1 million free roll tournaments open to all players. Obviously the professional players will benefit most from these free rolls as they are most likely to cash, but it also offers the entire player base some value.
I realize many of you will be disappointed that we couldn’t delay the changes a full year. I’m also disappointed, but I promise you I did the absolute best I could to make sure the players voices were heard, and they were.
On that note, I want to take full responsibility for my role in the communications breakdown between PokerStars and the players. I didn’t write the messaging, but there was more I could have done to help avoid this that I failed to do. I had the opportunity to ask the right questions in October 2014 about when these changes would take effect, but I failed to do that. Had I been more involved at the time, I could have addressed this issue prior to January 1st, 2015 and make sure that the messaging to the players was crystal clear that cuts to the VIP program were going to be implemented in 2016. I could have also made sure that the website didn’t have any language referencing specifics as to what players should expect in 2016 if they reached SNE in 2015.
The fixes were quite simple, and I apologize for not being more up on this. I would have encouraged the messaging to be more clear, and for the website to have “to be determined” on the page that covers what benefits SNE players should expect rather than specific numbers.
What we knew as a company on January 1, 2015 is that there would be cuts to the VIP program in 2016. However, they were still collecting data and weren’t sure what exactly the changes would look like until the second half of 2015. It did say in the October 2014 newsletter that the details of the changes would be released in the second half of 2015. Despite that, I’m not at all OK with the way in which this information was relayed to the players.
I was also able to ensure that players would have the opportunity to meet with the higher ups from here on out to discuss important issues in regards to the relationship between the company and the players. That has always been something PokerStars has done effectively, and it will continue to happen. I spoke with Dani Stern and Isaac Haxton as well as many other top online pros about joining me and the upper management in regularly scheduled meetings. I think this is extremely important. Communication the last 12-18 months between the players and the company has not been good enough and I think this will go a long way towards improving it.
As far as my role with the company, what I’m committed to is making sure that nothing like this ever happens again. I’m extremely embarrassed by this communications blunder and I’m committed to making sure that from now on I am fully up to date and briefed on any and all new promotions and potential changes to any policies.
As for the future, while this rightfully upset many players and was handled poorly, I am genuinely excited about the future. I do think there will be more players on PokerStars in 2016 than there was in 2015. I do believe that PokerStars is still the best place to to play online poker and will be going forward. I still believe they offer the best promotions, and I believe some of what’s in store for 2016 and beyond will excite both professional and recreational players alike.