On 1 August, 2014, the Amaya Gaming Group finalized the purchase of the Rational Group for $4.9 billion, which makes for a pretty good pay day for CEO Mark Scheinberg, who owned 75% of the Rational Group. With this purchase, Amaya acquired:
- Full Tilt
- Branded tournaments such as the European Poker Tour (EPT), Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT), PokerStar Caribbean Adventure (PCA), and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT)
Since the acquisition, Amaya (who already own the Ongame poker network) have implemented a series of unpopular changes, presumably in a cost-cutting effort to increase the speed at which they recoup the purchase price. The latest announcement of increased PokerStars rake has angered so many players that the reduction of cost may come with an even greater reduction in revenue as many players are looking elsewhere to play poker online.
Who is Affected by the PokerStars Rake Increase?
Many PokerStars real money players will be unaffected by the recent increase in PokerStars rake. However, those who are affected will be affected greatly. The following player types should definitely consider taking their business elsewhere:
- European players, especially the UK, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Germany
- Heads-Up Cash Game Players
- Sit & Go Poker Players
- Hyper-Turbo Players (SNGs & MTTs)
- Knockout Tournement Players (SNGs & MTTs)
Other players who will be affected, but may not wish to change poker sites include:
- High Stakes Cash Game Players ($25/$50 and up)
- Spin & Go Players
In each of the sections below, we will highlight the specific changes impacting each of these players, and also give recommendations on the best alternative online poker rooms.
PokerStars Rake Increase for Rebuy Tournaments
One of the biggest advantages of playing rebuy tournaments is that you only pay the fee on the initial buy-in. If you make an average of 2 rebuys/add-ons each tournament, then you are essentially paying one third the fees that you would for a freezeout tournament with the same buy-in. That is, you could play a freezeout tournament for $30+$3, or take a rebuy and an add-on in a $10+$1 rebuy tournament and essentially be playing a $30+$1 tournament.
However, starting on 1 January, 2014, PokerStars will begin charging fees on rebuys and add-ons equal to the fee on the initial buy-in for any player subject to local taxes in the form of gambling duty and/or VAT. They have indicated that this will definitely apply to players in the UK, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Germany, with more countries to be announced in January. PokerStars have indicated that Italy, France, and Spain can expect similar changes
This change is in addition to the already implemented reduced VPP multipliers, stellar rewards, and milestones for players from countries with applicable taxes.
If you live in Europe and do not want to pay additional fees on rebuys and add-ons, then check out the following online poker sites:
Download William Hill poker for access to plenty of rebuy tournaments with buy-ins ranging from €0.10 to €75.
Download True Poker if you enjoy playing smaller field rebuy satellites.
If you are from any of the affected countries, then you should probably change online poker sites even if you do not play rebuy tournaments. Since you are earning reduced VPP multipliers, stellar rewards, and milestones at PokerStars, then you can easily find a better online poker site using our online poker rankings. In the event that the top recommended site in the most applicable table for you is PokerStars, then select the 2nd ranked site (since our calculations do not account for your reduced earnings at PokerStars).
PokerStars Rake for Heads-Up Cash Game Players
Prior to 1 Nov 2014, PokerStars capped the rake at $0.50 for all No Limit and Pot Limit heads-up online poker cash games. This was one of the best rake structures available online. However, as of 1 Nov 2014, the capped rake for heads-up at PokerStars has increased to $1 for all stakes up to $10/$20, and $2 for all stakes of $25/$50 and above. This is far worse than the industry average.
Players wishing to play heads-up No Limit or Pot Limit poker should instead play on the following sites:
|Stakes||Player Category||Best Poker Site|
|1¢/2¢ - 5¢/10¢||All||True Poker|
|5¢/10¢ and up||Casual to Professional||Winner Poker|
|5¢/10¢ and up||Hardcore Professional||Carbon Poker|
These sites offer the best combination of rake & rakeback online of any site we have reviewed for the stakes and player categories listed. PokerStars no longer rank in the top 5 for the majority of stake and player category combinations!
PokerStars Professional Sit & Go Players
In addition to increasing the rake and tournament fees, PokerStars have also cancelled the Battle of the Planets Sit & Go Leaderboards, which paid out $2.7 million every year! For professional SNG grinders, this represents a significant loss of income.
If you primarily play Sit & Go poker, check out our sit & go poker rankings to find the best site for the stakes and frequency you play!
PokerStars Rake Increase for Hyper-Turbo SNGs & MTTs
If you were grinding your leaderboard standing by playing Hyper-Turbo SNGs, then you are getting hit with a double whammy. Not only are there no more SNG leaderboards, but the rake for Hyper-Turbo SNGs is being increased starting 1 January 2014.
- more than doubling for buy-ins under $7 (119% to 176% higher fees)
- increasing by more than 50% for buy-ins from $7 to $200 (51% to 81% higher fees)
- increasing by more than 20% for buy-ins from $300 to $500 (21% to 36%)
- increasing by 5% for buy-ins of $1,000
If you enjoy playing Hyper-Turbo tournaments, check out these other sites:
William Hill poker offers Super Turbo MTTs up to €15, as well as heads-up and six-handed sit & go’s with buy-ins from €0.10 to €5,000!
Download Full Tilt poker for plenty of Super Turbo satellite tournaments every day, as well as plenty of Super Turbo sit and go’s ranging from heads-up to full table play.
PokerStars Rake Increase for Knockout Tournaments
PokerStars are also increasing the rake for knockout sit and go’s and MTT poker tournaments.
As you can see from the table above, the fee is increasing anywhere from 25% to a whopping 150%. While these increases are simply bringing the fees in line with other tournaments with a similar buy-in, the reality is that many players relied on these reduced fees in order to show a profit.
If you enjoy playing knockout tournaments, and wish to continue to pay lower fees, then we recommend that you download bwin poker to have access to a 6-handed bounty tournament with a fee of just 3% ($1.50 with $33.50 going towards the prize pool and a $15 bounty).
Win Cake poker offers bounty tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $1 to $15.
PokerStars Rake Increase for High Stakes Cash Games
No Limit and Pot Limit Cash games at stakes of $25/$50 and above have had their maximum rake increased from $3 to $5, which is an increase of 67%! However, this only brings PokerStars in line with their competitors, most of whom offer similar rake.
However, if you play high stakes cash games, the best site to play on right now is Full Tilt. Although Full Tilt was included in the purchase by the Amaya group, as of yet their rake has not been increased. Full Tilt still only charges a maximum rake of $3 on any games from $0.25/$0.50 and up.
Spin & Go Rake Increase
The introduction of the Spin & Go SNG format at PokerStars was already incredibly controversial. The first major problem with this format is that it injects your variance with steroids. That is, you can go so long without a major cash, that you need an incredibly deep poker bankroll before you even consider playing them. While the format may offer a greater ROI, the fact that you can invest so little of your bankroll per tournament means that you will be earning a larger ROI on a much smaller investment. As such, winning players are far better off playing regular sit & go poker tournaments.
The second major problem is that fish love this format. Since most fish are less concerned with bankroll management, and more interested in a lottery for a big win (regardless of how small their chances), this format tends to pull these players out of regular SNGs. As a result, not only are the SNGs at PokerStars suffering from a massive drop in traffic, but it tends to be the weaker players that left.
Frustrated SNG players who decided to follow the fish to the Spin & Go tournaments just got yet another kick in the teeth as PokerStars have just increased the rake from Spin & Go tournaments! Not only that, but they also massively increased the top prize, making the variance even more ridiculous than before!
Unpopular Recent Changes at PokerStars
In addition to these very unpopular increases in PokerStars rake, the Amaya Gaming Group have been making other, equally unpopular changes since the acquistion:
- Players who earn 1 million VPPs will no longer earn $5,200 in free WCOOP, TCOOP, and SCOOP tournament tickets, starting in 2015.
- PokerStars will begin charging currency exchange surcharges on deposits and withdrawals.
- PokerStars closed accounts in Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and several other countries. There was no announcement prior to these accounts being closed. Although the players were able to withdraw their funds, they were no longer able to cash in the FPPs they had rightfully earned.
Prior to the purchase, PokerStars also significantly culled their list of Team PokerStars Pros, including Joe Cada, Marcel Luske, Alex Kravchenko, and Naco Barbero.
What do you think? Are these changes an acceptable cost of doing business due to increased regulation and taxes, or are the Amaya Gaming Group running the world’s largest online poker site into the ground?