In the past several months, giant of the online gambling world, PokerStars has been announcing change after change to the way it does business. Some of the changes appear to be changes of necessity, while others seem to be driven by a profit based motive. Today’s announcement that the site will be offering new products in the form of a PokerStars Sportsbook and Casino is a big departure from the ethos that we have come to expect from PokerStars, but one we were expecting following the change of ownership of the company, and the other recent changes made to the operation of the site.
The announcement follows on from Full Tilt’s offering of an online casino in January, and the launch of the Spanish online casinos earlier this year. According the press release from PokerStars, 30% of the Spanish customers of PokerStars are monthly users of the online casino, while 50% of the casino players on Full Tilt say it’s the only casino site they play on.
The initial offering is going to be comprised of Roulette and blackjack, both staples of the online gambling world, as well as the more traditional bricks and mortar casino industry.
“We thoroughly researched the opportunity and spent a lot of time talking to players and analysing the behavior of our customers on PokerStars.ES and Full Tilt,” said Rational Group Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser said. “Those launches have been successful in reactivating dormant customers and extending the value of our existing poker customers. The experience on our poker platforms to-date also shows increases in net player deposits following the addition of casino games and a negligible impact on poker spend. We are confident these games will create more value to our PokerStars site and bolster the core poker offering.”
Reaction to this change has been fairly muted so far, with many of the well known names yet to make any comments about their thoughts on the world’s biggest poker site adding other games to their offerings. GPI head honcho, Alex Dreyfus, has tweeted his thoughts, and it seems he may be a little ambivalent.
Pokerstars launching Sportsbetting and Casino. Mixed feelings about that. Some Heroes and Ambassadors not keen anymore to promote the brand.
— Alexandre Dreyfus (@alex_dreyfus) November 21, 2014
From a look at the competition, PokerStars seems to be the last of the poker sites to introduce non poker gambling into their business model. Some companies have had sportsbooks and casinos attached to their poker clients for many years, but PokerStars has always resisted this particular avenue, until recently. The move away from a poker only business model started for the rational group with a Full Tilt announcement in August 2013, when blackjack and roulette were announced as future offering on a market by market basis. This happened under the original ownership of the site, before the transfer to Amaya. The PokerStars brand had only been associated with non poker gaming in markets where Full Tilt is unavailable due to licensing restrictions, with these sites again only offering blackjack and roulette.
This is the first time a sportsbook has been linked to a Rational Group poker product, and while we don’t yet have a date for the launch, this announcement indicates it’s likely to be sooner rather than later, most likely in the first financial quarter of 2015.
Hollreiser finished the press release with a statement about the future of the PokerStars brand:
“We are committed to extending our leadership in poker and will continue to serve the passionate online poker player, while expanding our reach into new audiences and new gaming opportunities,”
The stakes for the blackjack and roulette have been announced that they are being designed to be attractive to the poker players that are already playing on the PokerStars brand. The margins for the blackjack are meant to be the lowest currently available, but we will have to wait for the launch to confirm this.
The new casino games are also going to be offered over a range of stakes, starting as low as $0.10 for a hand of blackjack. It seems that PokerStars are aiming to replicate their micro stake poker offerings for other types of gambling. This could lead to players betting multiple hands of blackjack or spins of the roulette wheel in the same way that they offer multi-tabling options for their poker offerings.
This move seems likely to increase the hostility to the new ownership of the poker giant, but does have the potential to increase the profitability of the business. We’ll keep an eye on how the chips fall, and will keep you up to date with any major news.