Since 2001, PokerStars has been among the most prominent online poker brands. The company was one of the driving factors in the meteoric success of its young industry, and always offered strong security measures and customer support.
PokerStars had a strong reputation ten years ago, but that all began to change in late 2006 when the U.S. passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. This act made it illegal for PokerStars to accept US players and illegal for US banks to process payments related to online poker.
The biggest online poker site in the world at the time, PartyPoker, immediately accepted and followed this new US law, and left the USA market. PokerStars, however, disregarded the US government and continued to operate in the US. We feel this choice started PokerStars down a road of shadiness which leads us to our opinion today – that PokerStars is a scam.
PokerStars realized it was breaking US law by continuing to accept US players and eventually abandoned the US market. The company lost a lot of money and a significant portion of its customer base.
PokerStars has been in business for over 15 years. Although the company started as a play-money service only, the focus has been on real-money poker for more than a decade. After neglecting the USA UIEGEA law of 2006, the company reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012. This settlement allowed PokerStars to return to the U.S. – in Nevada and New Jersey – which had legalized online gambling.
On April 15, 2011, the Department of Justice seized the pokerstars.com domain name, along with fulltiltpoker.com and several others. On April 20, the pokerstars.com and fulltiltpoker.com domain names were returned for the purpose of helping to facilitate the withdrawal of US players’ funds.
PokerStars was forced to leave the US market at this time.
Prior to the seizure, PokerStars could not legally provide service to U.S. residents, but they continued to for a time because it was profitable and because that law was difficult to enforce with them operating entirely outside the United States. The company is located in the Isle of Man and acquired a European Union gambling license through Malta.
Is PokerStars Rigged?
The most concerning question about PokerStars is whether the service is rigged. Admittedly, there is some compelling video evidence on YouTube of sponsored PokerStars players beating the odds on multiple occasions during a number of big events. PokerStars spends a lot of money on its sponsorships, and it behooves the brand to have these professional players be successful. The nature of online play, however, is that it is more difficult for a pro player to be consistently successful. Therefore, PokerStars has motivation, and the company has chosen to ignore rather than dispute the video evidence.
Keep in mind that PokerStars has no incentive to rig poker games outside of sponsored play. The revenues that PokerStars earns is based on the total pot no matter who wins it. In addition, VIP rewards are earned based on the amount staked not the amount won or lost. For that reason, it is very difficult to believe that PokerStars would rig games on a regular basis, and there is no concrete proof to suggest that PokerStars has done so.
In the end, there are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding rigged games and rigged decks, but overall it’s difficult to believe that PokerStars would actually fix the deck or the dealing of cards… but you never know.
Data Analysis and Breach of Privacy
It is worth noting that there were at least two independent analyses of the PokerStars dealer mechanism that presented data outside the norm. For some, this data was evidence that PokerStars was rigging standard games or at least that the dealer mechanism was not random.
PokerStars did react to this story by providing these studies with more comprehensive data sets to work with. In doing so, PokerStars breached the privacy contract with its players. Although user names were stripped, hand logs are publicly available, and it is possible to associate individual players with the released data.
Does PokerStars Cheat Players?
A much bigger concern of whether PokerStars games are rigged is whether the company is actually cheating players out of winnings. A quick search online will reveal a sharp increase in the last several years of players making complaints about having their accounts seized, bankrolls reduced when making a withdrawal, withdrawals refused, bonuses voided for no reason and so forth.
PokerStars turns a profit on every real-money player no matter how much he or she wins. Nevertheless, there is incentive to be even more profitable in a highly competitive market, and PokerStars would not be the first online gambling service to increase profits by exploiting consumers.
PokerStars does not want money leaving the system, so players that earn profits and routinely withdraw cash from the site are not good for the site.
In fact, PokerStars purchased Full Tilt Poker and continues to manage and operate this brand – a brand that is synonymous with the term ponzi scheme. Full Tilt Poker had rampant cheating going – and this is a fact. Directors of the company took money directly from players’ accounts and purchased homes, cars, jewelry, and more.
To this day, countless players and business partners are owed money from Full Tilt. PokerStars did not fully satisfy these commitments even though they now own and are responsible for the Full Tilt brand.
Better Business Bureau
Another point of concern for poker players considering PokerStars is that the company has never received accreditation from the Better Business Bureau. This was true prior to the UIGEA, and it is true even now in the states where the brand has a legal presence.
The BBB does track international companies, however, and although it has not accredited or rated PokerStars, it does have a file for the company in nearly every state. There are a significant number of complaints on file, and we urge everyone to check with their local BBB to consider local experiences with the PokerStars brand.
Is PokerStars Trustworthy?
The most egregious act destroying any remaining goodwill PokerStars may have had came very recently. On May 1, 2015, PokerStars sent an email to its online marketing partners drastically changing the terms of their agreements, causing significant damage to all of their Internet partners for their own benefit.
Marketing partners of PokerStars had an agreement – that they would receive a certain percentage of the revenues that PokerStars earned off players referred by that partner. And that revenue share plan would persist for the life of the player.
On May 1, 2015, PokerStars unilaterally changed the terms to only compensate their marketing partners for only two years.
AND POKERSTARS MADE THIS RULING RETROACTIVE.
What this means is that marketing partners that have been supporting and promoting PokerStars for years and years will lose all revenues from those players. They will only get compensated for players from the past 2 years. For partners that have been sending PokerStars traffic for over a decade, built up a sizable database of players, and developed those players, will lose 90-95% of their marketing revenues.
Basically, this is a breach of contract and PokerStars is more than willing to completely screw their partners.
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