Last weekend, the world's largest real-money online gaming room, PokerStars, unveiled news about a plan to revamp VIP clubs program set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
Players almost unanimously spoke out against the new rewards program, especially the high-volume players who will feel a pinch in their wallets starting next year. However, there is a minority of players that understand why PokerStars is making the change, and some low-stakes players are pleased with the additional rewards and higher-value freerolls.
Among those players expressing discontent on Twitter were Tom Marchese and Justin Bonomo. Marchese believes that this is a flat out money grab by PokerStars.
Bonomo proclaims that PokerStars no longer cares about its customers and that "riots" will commence.
Nov 1st, 2015 - The day PokerStars formally announced they no longer care about their customers. https://t.co/zCHTtJR7G9 There will be riots— Justin Bonomo (@JustinBonomo)
Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu spoke out in support of these changes. While Negreanu originally responded to Bonomo, stating that these changes will benefit the vast majority of players, while only the top two percent will face any significant reductions, he did ask people sit tight and wait for a more detailed response as he was working on things.
Dani Stern, who earned SNE status last year, penned a long response to the changes on TwoPlusTwo that has generated a lot of attention within the industry.
"Last year when Stars increased the rake, I didn't speak up at all," Stern wrote, posting regularly under the name "Ansky." "I thought the changes, while seemingly random and unexplainable, were not exactly disgraceful. It was simply a price change from the industry leader, one which justifiably caused outrage by their customer base. This new announcement however, has crossed the line into outright deception, and as far as I can tell is extremely unethical."
Stern added: "For the record, I am aware that Stars announced that there would be changes to the 2016 VIP program. Simply saying that months ago while tacitly watching all the SNE players grind away does not give them carte blanche to royally screw their most loyal customers. Regardless of your position on the current climate of SNE super grinders, you have to acknowledge that PokerStars had an agreement with them, which they are now breaking. This is completely outrageous from the biggest poker site in the world."
He then went on to break down the various changes and present his views on the situation, all of which he believes are "a complete revenue grab" by PokerStars. You can read Stern's complete post by clicking here.
Summary of the Changes
The new VIP program includes VIP Steps, which were already introduced to select markets on Sept. 1 on a test basis. In summary, the new program will reduce rewards for the sites' biggest grinders while increasing rewards for small-volume players.
On Saturday, PokerStars mistakenly published a draft VIP program on its Russian site. The leak had the poker community buzzing on the TwoPlusTwo poker forum and over social media, with many players wondering how this information would affect them if correct. Head of VIP Program and Poker Promotions at PokerStars Matthew Hilger explained on TwoPlusTwo that this information has been removed and that some of it was incorrect.
Vice President of Corporate Communications for Amaya Inc. and PokerStars Eric Hollreiser outlined the changes on the PokerStars Blog in a post titled Comprehensive Plan for Enhanced PokerStars Experience. Almost simultaneously, Hilger explained the changes to the poker community in a TwoPlusTwo thread titled 2016 PokerStars VIP Club.
Hollreiser explained that a new strategy to promote the fun of social aspects of poker is important to attracting more players to online poker.
"PokerStars today unveiled a comprehensive plan to enhance the playing experience and to re-emphasize the fun and social aspects of online poker while attracting and retaining more players to the game," stated Hollreiser.
Gone are FPPs, Stellar Rebates, and Milestone Rewards. Those will be replaced by a system using StarsCoin that aims to be more simplified. According to Hilger, StarsCoin will be valued at 1.2 FPPs and will have a value for all items in the VIP Store at $0.01 per coin.
Players with less volume will have the ability to redeem more rewards from the VIP scheme than from what is currently in place.
"Most players between BronzeStar and GoldStar statuses will be able to earn a similar level of rewards with VIP Steps as they currently do," it was explained. "In some cases, players will receive less; in some cases, players will receive more."
On the flip side, the site's most serious grinders will be rewarded less rewards when compared to the current VIP program, and Supernova Elite (SNE) will be fully removed. However, players that achieved Supernova Elite status will still maintain the status, albeit with less rewards, for the entire 2016 calendar year.
"However, for those who are high-volume players, there are significant changes that will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2016," Hilger posted. "Rewards for players who earn >200,000 VPPs will be capped at 30%. Players who earn SNE in 2015 will receive a specific level of rewards of 45% rakeback in 2016. By Jan. 1, 2017, Supernova Elite VIP status will be discontinued."
In addition, players who achieve PlatinumStar status beginning next year will receive up to a 10-percent reduction in their overall rewards, while players who achieve Supernova status can expect to receive a 0 to 27-percent decrease in rewards.
These aren't the only changes, as PokerStars will no longer be offering the quarterly $1 million freeroll for players that achieved Supernova status and above. There are also some other minor changes to the VIP freerolls, some of which add more value to lower-volume players.
Higher-stakes players will also feel a pinch, as many of the games starting next year will no longer reward VPPs. These games are to include "pot-limit and no-limit games with blinds of $5/$10 or higher, 8-game $10/$20 or higher, and other limit games with blinds of $10/$15 or higher (limit hold’em of stakes $15/$30 and higher)."
What side are you on with the new changes — do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.