Pokerstars Takes Multiple Hits To Its Brand in 2016

Published on January 2nd, 2017 7:43 pm EST

Pokerstars logo in black and white. Year is 2016.Back when Isai Scheinberg was still in charge of Pokerstars, the online poker giant had an absolutely sterling reputation. The company prided itself on taking care of its players, and it is no wonder that the site gained so much market share. After Pokerstars settled with the US government and made Full Tilt Poker's former customers whole, the company could seemingly do no wrong.

When Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker were sold to Amaya Inc., many people fretted that the company would now operate based on what was best for its bottom line, and not necessarily in the best interests of the players. The former owners of the company had managed to straddle the line between making money and taking care of its players - would Amaya follow suit?

The answer to that question ended up being a resounding no, as Amaya made a number of changes that ended up being unpopular with some of its highest profile players.

The biggest outcry came when Pokerstars announced changes to its Supernova and Supernova Elite VIP programs. While the company was certainly within its rights to make changes, many high profile players argued that they should have been given more notice, as rewards that were earned for the following year were suddenly taken away.

This change led to some of the company's highest profile sponsored players, including Isaac Haxton, cutting ties with the company.


While all of this was going on, Pokerstars' brand was also being tarnished via its parent company, Amaya Inc.

To start, the single largest shareholder of Amaya Inc. and its former CEO, David Baazov, was accused by authorities of Quebec, Canada of insider trading. Baazov would eventually step down from the company as a result, though he continues to fight the charges.

Then, a few months later, there were rumors that William Hill and Pokerstars were set to merge. Talks were progressing until one of William Hill's largest shareholders came out publicly against a combination, arguing that the combined company would have too much debt and that Pokerstars' core business was stagnating. Eventually the two sides called talks off, though Amaya Inc. was left to look pretty silly.

To close out the year, David Baazov attempted to organize a takeover of Amaya Inc. There were questions about his sources of funding, however, as one of the purported backers of the deal disavowed any knowledge of being involved. Eventually Baazov would pull out of the discussions, claiming that the asking price had gotten just too high.

On top of all of that, some argue that Pokerstars has lost its focus as it attempts to become a full-fledged online gaming company, as it has attempted forays into the sports betting and casino markets. An attempted inclusion into daily fantasy sports didn't last long, thanks to changes in the industry in the United States.


If you could describe Amaya in 2016, the proper word would probably be "messy".

It will be interesting to see how the company handles 2017. Will it end the year as an independent company? Will there be more unpopular changes?