PokerStars Rake Increase Ups the Ante in Player Wrath

October 31st, 2014 | by Brian Corlisse
PokerStars rake increase backlash

A virtual headstone on the TwoPlusTwo forum site is indicative of the level of player wrath towards PokerStars, following several rake increases this week. (Image: forumserver.twoplustwo.com)

PokerStars rake increases may be a penny-wise, pound-foolish move on the part of the online site, as the company has now announced sweeping changes to the rake structure of its cash games, tournaments and even Spin and Go’s.

These increased rake structures have prompted an outcry from players who fear they may no longer be able to beat the games. The changes will come into effect in two phases, on November 3, 2014 and on January 1, 2015. It looks like they will hit high-stakes cash-game players, heads-up cash game players, and Sit & Go players the hardest.

High stakes players will face an increase on rake at $25/$50 and higher at games five-handed and above, with the rake cap rising from $3 to $5.

Meanwhile, high-stakes heads-up up players will face an even greater increase, with the cap jumping from 50c to $2 for $25/$50 players and above. In fact, heads-up cash players across the board will also feel the pinch players, as they see the rake cap increase from $.50 to $1.

The fees for heads-up hyper Sit & Go players and nine-handed knockout Sit & Go players, meanwhile, will be affected at all stakes; while the buy-in fees remain the same, the amount going into the prize pool will be marginally lower. Also bad news for Sit & Go Players is that the Battle of the Planets promotion, a leader board competition that awarded $2.5 million annually to Sit & Go grinders, will bite the dust.

Grinding Small Margins

Even more surprisingly, perhaps, is the rake increase for the controversial, but highly popular, Spin & Go tournaments, which face an increase of one and two percent, depending on stakes.

For a lot of poker players, profit lies in grinding rakeback, in pushing small margins, and for many, these changes will be devastating. Just three minutes after the announcement appeared on poker forum TwoPlusTwo, the vitriol towards the world’s biggest online poker site, and new parent Amaya Gaming in particular, started building. A sit-out protest is already being organized.

“Omg,” said the very first respondent. “Another update from PokerStars and I was genuinely shocked to find that the changes are bad. BTW your changes now have made my poker aspirations literally impossible and I show statistically significant data to back that up. I don’t mean probably I mean literally I’m finally done on PokerStars, goodbye.”

“Spend years branding poker as a ‘skill game,’ ” scoffed Mike ‘Timex’ McDonald on Twitter. “Analyze win-rates of top players. Set rake to be slightly more. Our job is now a carnival game.”

Amaya to Blame?

PokerStars will argue that the changes bring its rake structure in line with much of the rest of the online poker industry, and that it even remains competitive. However, it comes on the back of other deeply unpopular announcements, such as the introduction of Spin & Go’s, the dropping of sponsored pros, and most recently, the decision to up the currency exchange rates. The site also announced this week that it would be adding extra charges for tournament rebuys and add-ons in certain countries in Europe where it is subject to “significant local taxes,” including the UK, Germany and Denmark.

Player perception is that new owner Amaya is eager to show its shareholders that its $4.9 billion acquisition of PokerStars was not merely a rush of blood to the head, and the subsequent debt can be turned into profit. But as player anger builds, PokerStars could be hit by a huge backlash for which it is not entirely prepared.

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