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PokerStars Answers Questions About Sale to Amaya Gaming

Late Thursday night, the poker world was rocked with a sonic boom in the form of Canada-based Amaya Gaming agreeing to purchase Isle of Man-based Oldford Group Ltd., parent of Rational Group, the company that owns PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, for $4.9 billion. Immediately, opinions on the matter started flooding internet message boards. Reactions ranged from excitement of the possibility of PokerStars returning to the United States market to fear that Canadian legal issues might result in its departure from Canada and everything in between. On Friday, PokerStars addressed the poker community, essentially saying that it will be business as usual for the world’s largest online poker room.

On Two Plus Two, PokerStars Director of Poker Room Operations Steve Day posted a lengthy statement to try to assuage concerns. “The short version,” he said, “ is that there will be no significant impact on the player experience. We still plan to serve all current markets, including Canada, and to work to grow the game of poker globally.”

He added, “We are also excited about the potential to be licensed in New Jersey and then begin serving players there quickly thereafter. I do not have a timeline to share, but can say that we believe that this purchase has a significant positive impact.”  Keep Calm and Carry On

That echoes the general thoughts of the poker community, as PokerStars had been previously rebuffed in its attempts to obtain an online gaming license in the Garden State, largely because its owners, Isai and Mark Scheinberg, were named in the Black Friday Department of Justice indictments (Mark eventually settled with the U.S. government, while Isai has done no such thing). Amaya Gaming was granted a license and New Jersey and because it will soon be the owner of PokerStars (the Scheinbergs will be selling 100 percent of their ownership in the company), it is thought that New Jersey regulators will look favorably upon Stars and at some point allow the poker room entry into the state.

Another big concern of PokerStars players is whether or not PokerStars’ gold-standard customer service will remain a priority. PokerStars is renowned for being quick to address customer concerns and having management that is extremely knowledgeable about poker. With a new owner that is known more for online casino games and its business-to-business operations, not to mention one that is publically traded and beholden to shareholders, people wondered about the future quality of PokerStars’ customer service. So far, Steve Day has said all the right things:

We will certainly miss Mark and Isai. As some of you have surmised, our founders established the culture and values that permeate every decision and every customer interaction. Though Mark and Isai are leaving, the culture and values remain, along with the nearly 2,000 staff who continue to turn our culture and values into action on a daily basis. Our entire leadership team is still in place, and I can assure you that we embrace these values whole heartedly.

While I only have responsibility for our PokerStars.com and shared liquidity poker rooms (.eu/.ee/.dk/.be), the continuity of leadership and staff extends to PokerStars.it, PokerStars.es, PokerStars.fr, and Full Tilt. To a person, we are all still here.

Will you see changes in your customer experience over time? Yes, of course! We have several projects already in progress and others that we are already in the process of completing, such as PokerStars 7. The people and values behind these two projects will also be behind our next improvements. A big part of our success over the years has been constant improvement of our product, and we plan to continue this tradition.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Mark Scheinberg in an e-mail sent to PokerStars employees last week. The e-mail was originally published by OnlinePokerReport.com and assures the staff that they shouldn’t see any significant changes:

Amaya Gaming and its Chief Executive David Baazov have a strong vision for the group’s future. Working together with Rational’s executive leadership team I am confident they will execute that vision, which is very much aligned with the course we have been on. Our culture is very strong and Amaya understands that it is our people, our values and our expertise that have made us so successful.

The executive leadership team Michael, Paul, Guy and Rafi will remain in their current roles, and all other reporting lines will remain unchanged. I have great confidence in our executive and broader management team, and their ability to drive the company forward.

One other big concern of some players stemmed from a conference call held by Amaya Gaming on Friday morning. During that call, a slide was presented which was interpreted by some to anticipate a PokerStars expansion into casino gambling, sports betting, and social gaming, something that scares customers who want PokerStars to remain the pure poker play that it is. Addressing this, Day said, “I do see some references here to casino and sportsbook. I can see why certain slides in the Amaya presentation linked earlier in the thread raise questions about our future plans relating to these products. Full Tilt has recently rolled out a wide variety of casino games, so it is not surprising to see such products referenced as areas of potential growth compared to the 2013 financial results.”

In his e-mail to employees, Scheinberg also noted, “Amaya is a business-to-business company, with its primary business in North America, where it holds numerous State and Provincial licenses in the U.S. and Canada. Amaya’s core business is complementary to ours, which means that there is very little overlap in our products and services.”

There are still questions to be answered about this enormous business deal and many in the poker world are understandably anxious about what is in store. But at least for now, it does seem like the powers that be are cognizant of player concerns and are working to be sure that things go smoothly from here on into the future.

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