PokerStars WCOOP Pays Out Record $90 Million, Tournaments Unaffected by Corporate Turmoil

October 2nd, 2017 | by Jason Reynolds

More than 100,000 players from 130 countries competed in PokerStars’ 2017 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP), which wrapped up last week.

Steven "SvZff" van Zadelhoff flexes his muscles at the poker table.

PokerStars WCOOP Main Event winner Steven “SvZff” van Zadelhoff flexes his muscles at the online poker tables. (Image: Twitter/@SvZff)

The large turnout resulted in a record $90.6 million in prize money, far surpassing the advertised guarantee of $60 million. The prize pool grew 16.5 percent year-over-year, up from $77.8 million in the 2016 WCOOP.

PokerStars offered 162 tournaments over a period of 25 days with buy-ins ranging from $11 to $25,000. Eighty-one of these events were considered high-stakes, and 81 were lower-stakes second-chance events, usually starting within 24 hours after the high-stakes tournament ended.

This was the first time PokerStars provided such a focus on these low-stakes versions of each event.

“We are executing on our plans to bring the excitement of live events online while rewarding players of all levels,” said Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi in a press release. “We’re very pleased to see the reaction at this year’s WCOOP with over 107,000 players taking part, of which over 10 percent were WCOOP first time players and have only had an online account with us for less than a year.”

Insider Trading

A year ago, PokerStars wasn’t feeling so celebratory. Ashkenazi’s predecessor was David Baazov, who would end up charged by Quebec’s securities regulator with insider trading, related to Amaya’s June 2014 acquisition of Full Tilt and PokerStars for $4.9 billion.

The deal saw Amaya Inc’s shares soar 42 percent the day of the announcement, and Quebec’s Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF) contends some unusual stock trades in the weeks prior to the PokerStars acquisition were highly suspect.

Baazov is set to stand trial Nov. 20. He has pled not guilty to each of the five securities fraud charges against him.

“These allegations are false and I intend to vigorously contest these accusations. While I am deeply disappointed with the AMF’s decision,” Baazov said in a statement. “I am highly confident I will be found innocent of all charges.”

A guilty verdict could carry up to five years in prison. Baazov still has time to avoid a trial if he comes to a deal with prosecutors before the November trial date.

His company, meanwhile, Amaya, has relocated to Toronto and changed its name to the Stars Group.

Takeover Bid

Just because Baazov is out of the boardroom, however, doesn’t mean he is done with the gaming company he founded. In December, he presented investors with a $4.1 billion private takeover bid to purchase back the the public company. But five weeks later, he was having second thoughts.

“The best course of action for me and Amaya would be for me to end my attempt to purchase the company,” Baazov said in a press release at the time.

Regardless of uncertainties in the corporate office, PokerStars’ WCOOP numbers continue to grow. The 2017 WCOOP set a record for the largest number of players in a single event, with nearly 20,000 registered for the $5,250 Main Event. First prize was $1.62 million, and won by Steven van Zadelhoff, a Dutch player who competes under the monicker “SvZff.”

The only prize pool larger than the one divvied up at September’s WCOOP was for this year’s Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) on PokerStars, which generated more than $93 million in prize money.

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