When the U.S. Department of Justice seized domain names of the three major online poker rooms on April 15, 2011, the future of sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker was left hanging. Industry leaders were accused of deceiving banks so that they processed billions of dollars in online poker transactions, and 11 men were indicted for their alleged involvement in the illegal activity.
What we learned in the ensuing months was that PokerStars had a game plan for any roadblock. Unlike its main competitors, PokerStars survived Black Friday while keeping its stellar reputation intact. And, based on the recent records set by the poker site during its 10th Anniversary celebration, you could even argue that PokerStars is bigger and better than ever.
Before anything else, the world's leading online poker room worked diligently to make sure all of its U.S. players were able to recoup their funds. Less than a month after striking a deal with the Department of Justice, PokerStars announced that it had returned more than $100 million to players in the United States. Meanwhile, in December, players at Full Tilt Poker and the CEREUS Network were still left wondering whether they'd ever see their funds.
Since then, it has been business as usual at PokerStars. Naturally, the poker room has seen a decline in traffic with the loss of its big U.S. market, but PokerStars also took control over the worldwide market. As of Dec. 19, PokerStars (including PokerStars.fr and PokerStars.it) accounted for nearly 50 percent of real-money cash-game traffic, according to PokerScout.com.
Possibly the best evidence of PokerStars' sturdiness came during the 2011 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). PokerStars stamped more than $30 million in guarantees across 62 events in September. That mark was shattered as more than $47 million was handed out during the month, including a $1.2 million payday to Danish pro Thomas "Kallllle" Pedersen for his victory in the WCOOP Main Event. In 2009, when online poker was alive and well in the U.S., PokerStars awarded $52 million during the WCOOP. The prize pools increased to $63 million in 2010, but the drop was barely noticeable in 2011.
In December, PokerStars not only set a record for the biggest Sunday Million in its 10-year history, but it trampled its own Guinness World Record for players in a single tournament. On Dec. 4, an amazing 200,000 people took part in a $1 buy-in, no-limit hold’em tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of $250,000. Gaz Deaves, Guinness World Record Adjudicator, certified the record, and many Team PokerStars Pros were celebrating the event at the Hilton Hotel before the PokerStars European Poker Tour stop in Prague.
In addition to achieving impressive tournament records since Black Friday, PokerStars implemented a new Player Protection Plan to ensure that the Full Tilt Poker and UB mismanagement never happens again. In December, PokerStars engaged a third-party independent trustee to oversee player accounts in France, and said it was working closely with regulators in other European markets such as Spain, Italy and Belgium.
“The security of player accounts and the integrity of online poker play are fundamental to the ongoing and future success of the industry,” said PokerStars CEO Gabi Campos. “We are pleased to partner with the thought-leaders in European regulation to establish an industry-wide standard for ensuring player funds are protected.”
When it comes to professionalism in the online poker industry, PokerStars is in a class of its own. For the way it handled adversity surrounding Black Friday and its ability to continue growing since, there's no question that PokerStars deserves to be mentioned as one of the biggest stories of 2011.
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