1. Full Tilt Poker is Just PokerStars in Disguise
After acquiring Full Tilt poker in August, 2012, the Rational Group (the previous owners of PokerStars) relaunched the Full Tilt poker site. However, Full Tilt poker is essentially just a PokerStars skin. The two sites share the same player base, with players playing on the same tables. The Rational Group also scrapped all of Full Tilt's promotions, replacing them with the promotions offered on PokerStars. Even the site's interface was modified to resemble PokerStars.
This is a shame because Full Tilt were one of the few brands that provided competition to PokerStars. They innovated new concepts (like Rush poker), and provided their players with excellent promotions.
2. PokerStars have been Killing off the Full Tilt Brand
Anyone loyal to the old Full Tilt brand should not pledge that loyalty to PokerStars for saving the site they grew to know and love. Instead, they should resent PokerStars for killing it! The innovative Full Tilt of the past is gone. In its place is a PokerStars clone whose sole intention is to gobble up all the Full Tilt players.
Not only did PokerStars scrap every Full Tilt promotion, but they also rebranded Rush poker to Zoom poker, which is especially insulting since Full Tilt were the pioneers of this style of game. PokerStars are systematically trying to erase their greatest competitor from everyone's memory! At first PokerStars allowed you to transfer your money from Full Tilt to PokerStars, and then later introduced a shared cashier. They also do not advertise the Full Tilt brand. Every action taken by Full Tilt's new owners is basically saying, "don't bother playing on Full Tilt - just come to PokerStars instead". It's only a matter of time before PokerStars announce they are no longer maintaining the Full Tilt brand.
3. Market Dominance is Bad for Online Poker
It's a fairly well known opinion that monopolies are bad and that competition in the marketplace is good. With competitors, a company is forced to offer a high quality products for a lower price. Without competitors, a company can focus on increasing profits by charging more and reducing costs, even at the expense of quality. While PokerStars and Full Tilt do not have an official monopoly, they do have a stranglehold on the market ever since Absolute Poker went out of business and PokerStars absorbed Full Tilt as a result of Black Friday.
It's not a coincidence that all of the unpopular changes mentioned in the next point happened after the demise of their two biggest competitors! The Stars Group will likely continue to increase rake and fees while reducing rewards as long as players continue to play there. If you want The Stars Group to stop implementing changes that negatively impact their players, your only option is to stop playing on PokerStars and Full Tilt. Give your business to a different site and eventually the Stars Group will either be forced to improve or they'll go out of business.
4. The Stars Group have Repeatedly Increased Rake and Decreased Rewards
The Stars Group (then called Amaya Gaming) purchased PokerStars and Full Tilt in June, 2014. In November of that same year, PokerStars (and Full Tilt) introduced their first of several rake increases:
- added rebuy and add-on fees for rebuy tournaments
- increased the rake cap on heads-up cash games from 50¢ to $1 for games up to $10/$20
- increased the rake cap on heads-up cash games from 50¢ to $2 for games larger than $10/$20
- increased the rake cap on high stakes cash games from $3 to $5
- increased the fees on heads-up Hyper-Turbo SNGs by 17 - 21%
- increased the fees on 6-max Hyper-Turbo SNGs by 5 - 176%
- increased the fees on Knockout tournaments by 25 - 150%
- increased the fees on Spin & Go SNGs
At the same time, Full Tilt also cancelled/reduced several promotions:
- eliminated the Battle of the Planets SNG Leaderboards, which paid out $2.7M every year
- removed free WCOOP, TCOOP and SCOOP tournament tickets from players who earned 1M VPPs/year
- started charging currency exchange fees on deposits & withdrawals
These were just the first round of profit-driven changes implemented by Full Tilt, and as bad as they were, they weren't even the worst!
- 2016: Full Tilt reduced Supernova rewards
- March 2018: Full Tilt once again increased rake
- May 2018: Full Tilt replaced the Supernova program with Stars Rewards, with rakeback for top players dropping from 69% to just 5%
- 15 February, 2019: Full Tilt slashed Stars Rewards by 55% for MTT players
- April 2019: Full Tilt "simplified" the Stars Rewards program...and also reduced the rewards even further
There have been so many rake increases and rewards decreases that I don't even think I've managed to capture them all!
This is what happens when companies essentially have a monopoly in their industry. Full Tilt seem to be pushing their customers as far as possible and will continue to do so as long as players foolishly continue to give them their business!
5. The Stars Group are not Innovators
Even before being purchased by Amaya Gaming, PokerStars were not known for their innovation. Rather than develop their own ideas, they instead copied good ideas implemented on other online poker sites. The best example of this being Zoom poker, a direct copy of Full Tilt's Rush poker. PokerStars didn't even come up with an original name!
About the only area where The Stars Group show original thought is coming up with methods to increase profits at the expense of their players!
6. Full Tilt have a History of Criminal Behavior
When Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker were shut down on the infamous Black Friday, it initially made no sense. Sure, online gambling is illegal in the US, but companies that are not based in the US should not be subject to US laws unless they are doing business within the US. An online poker site that allows US-based players to break US laws should be no more culpable than a hash bar in Amsterdam serving drugs to US tourists.
However, it later became clear how the US Department of Justice were able to prosecute these online poker sites. They weren't just accepting players from the US; Full Tilt were actively circumventing US laws. Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York expressed this view on the indictment:
As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits. Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud. Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don't like simply because they can't bear to be parted from their profits.
Money laundering and bank fraud are not exactly petty crimes! These are serious allegations that most poker players seem unaware of. Most online poker players seem to think these sites were shut down simply because they allowed players in the US to play there. But that's not the case at all - Full Tilt et al. were shut down because they defrauded and colluded with US banks to circumvent US laws!
However, it should be noted that Amaya Gaming did not own Full Tilt at this time. Black Friday was in 2011, and Amaya Gaming did not buy PokerStars and Full Tilt until June 2014. So maybe this sort of criminal behavior is a thing of the past...
7. The Stars Group were Previously Called Amaya Gaming
There are plenty of reasons for a company to re-brand themselves and it is entirely possible that Amaya Gaming did so simply because they were restructuring their business and wanted a new name to reflect their new acquistion: PokerStars. However, name changes are more commonly associated with companies trying to fool the public into forgetting their shady past.
- Blackwater, the private military company convicted of killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians, changed their name to XE Services in 2009, and then to Academi in 2011
- After Worldcom was caught inflating revenues to artificially keep stock prices high, they changed their name to MCI
- After being accused of making products that led to the death of a customer, Philip Morris changed their name to The Altria Group
Amaya Gaming purchased PokerStars and Full Tilt in June 2014. If the name change was meant to coincide with the new business model, then why did it not occur until August 2017? The most likely reason they re-branded at this time was because in August 2016 Amaya CEO David Baazov resigned after he was charged with multiple instances of securities fraud. Prior to his resignation, Amaya stocks plummeted 21% resulting in a loss of $524M CDN in value.
I wonder if there are any other reasons The Stars Group would want to distance themselves from Amaya Gaming's reputation...
8. Amaya Gaming Ran the Ongame Network into the Ground
In October 2012, prior to purchasing PokerStars and Full Tilt, Amaya Gaming bought the Ongame Poker Network from Bwin. However, they did not seem to have any interest in the network and made no attempt to stop it's steadily declining player base.
In November 2014 (5 months after buying PokerStars and Full Tilt), Amaya sold the Ongame Poker Network to NYX Gaming. In the two years that Amaya Gaming owned the Ongame Poker Network, they did not make a single improvement. NYX Gaming provided capital and management to the failing network, but the damage was already done. They attempted to sell the network in April 2016 and eventually closed it in October of the same year.
9. The Stars Group seem more Interested in Sportsbetting & Casino than Poker
Online poker has been a steadily decreasing asset for The Stars Group. In the 2nd quarter financial report for 2019, online poker accounted for just 30 percent of The Stars Group's revenue (down from 53% in the 2nd quarter and 62.6% in the first quarter of 2018).
The primary source of revenue for The Stars Group is now sportsbetting thanks to their July 2018 acquisition of Sky Betting & Gaming. In May, The Stars Group announced a betting partnership with Fox Sports to create Fox Bet and also signed a deal with the NBA.
And things aren't about to get any better either. In October 2019, The Stars Group was purchased by Flutter Entertainment PLC, who own the Irish gambling firm Paddy Power, as well as the fantasy sports brand FanDuel. Since most of the reasons not to download Full Tilt poker have to do with its previous owners, we could be optimistic that the site will be re-invigorated under new ownership. However, poker will account for even less of Flutter's revenue (around 20%), and it's rarely even mentioned in the various press releases about the acquisition - the entire focus seems to be on sportsbetting as the company prepares to capitlize on newly legalized sportsbetting in the US.
Just as Amaya Gaming already owned a poker network that they didn't care about when they bought Full Tilt, Flutter also already owns several poker skins on the struggling iPoker network, and also own the minnow Adjarabet network. If these brands represent their interest in improving online poker, then the future of Full Tilt looks bleak indeed!
10. The Stars Group Sold off their Indian Players
In April 2018, The Stars Group decided to exit the Indian market. This is not uncommon as online poker sites have to navigate the complex legalities of their business in various countries. However, they did not simply prevent Indian-based players from playing on their site, but instead launched a new PokerStars India product.
Many players were fooled into thinking that they were still playing on PokerStars, but with a player pool restricted to residents of India (just like PokerStars Europe). Except it's actually nothing like that at all! PokerStars do not own PokerStars India - they sold their players to Sachiko Gaming, and allow them to use their software. The first thing Sachiko Gaming did was massively increase the rake!
11. High Traffic is not Necessarily a Good Thing
In our article on variance in MTTs, we mathematically showed how winning poker players with a 23.9% ROI playing MTTs with 7,800 entrants will experience an average maximum downward swing of up to 286 buy-ins! That is, a winning poker player who plays $10 tournaments could easily lose as much as $2,860 in a single stretch over a 1,000 tournament period! And that's just the average maximum downswing - 5% of players will actually suffer a downward swing of $4,730 or more! This isn't the result of poor play either - it's just normal statistical variation!
To protect yourself against these insane swings in results, you would need to maintain a bankroll of $5,000...to play $10 tournaments! That means you are investing just 0.2% of your bankroll each tournament. However, if you play against smaller fields, your variance decreases dramatically. With a 21% ROI in a 45-player tournament, you need just 83 buy-ins to have the same 95% chance to avoid going broke. By playing smaller field tournaments you can risk a larger percentage of your bankroll. Even with a smaller ROI, you will have higher net profits. The smaller the field, the closer your actual ROI will be to your expected ROI. In the same article mentioned above, we showed that winning players could play the Sunday Million at Full Tilt every week for 19 years, and 40% of them would still be losing despite having an expected ROI of almost 24%!
Obviously, high traffic will not impact your cash game results, so surely having more tables to choose from is a good thing? Well, that all depends on how many tables you plan to play simultaneously. If you only play a handful of tables at a time, what advantage do you gain from the site offering dozens of tables for your chosen stakes? You will definitely get seated faster, but do you know who else likes a site with dozens of tables at the same stakes? Multi-table grinding professionals rely on volume of play to be able to profit from very small profit margins. They want to play 20+ tables simultaneously, which they cannot do on smaller poker sites. As a result, these sorts of players tend to play only on sites with huge amounts of traffic (like Full Tilt).
Imagine there are 20 short-handed cash game tables and just 10% of the players seated there are professional grinders who play an average of 18 tables at a time. The rest of the players are casual players who play an average of 2 tables each. Even though only 10% of the players are professional grinders, they would occupy 50% of the seats, making the games essentially unbeatable! The high number of online professionals plying their trade on Full Tilt, combined with the increasing rake and horrible rewards is the biggest reason we do not recommend downloading the Full Tilt poker software!