PokerStars is becoming an international sports betting brand

Rational Group was for years a company dedicated to just poker with its PokerStars brand

Isai Scheinberg, a former senior programmer for IBM Canada, built Pokerstars from nothing to become the biggest and most famous online poker outlet in history. Since its inception in 2001, PokerStars has become synonymous with online poker for millions of players all around the world, both casual and professional. The brand has gathered around it a series of poker pros, like Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moneymaker, and celebrities like Rafael Nadal, Ronaldo and Boris Becker. But then something unexpected happened: Canadian online gambling group Amaya bought the whole company for $4 billion. And things have changed a lot.

PokerStars is a powerful brand, known for millions and millions in all corners of the world. Amaya has decided to expand its reach beyond the world of poker. The first step was the inclusion of a casino lobby into the poker room, offering random number generators at first, followed by live dealer casino games through its poker client. Lately the Canadian gaming group has gone one step further – it has launched the first PokerStars branded sports betting platform in the UK, and it has recently acquired a license to offer the same kind of services in Ireland, too. The goal is obvious: Amaya is trying to make as much cash off PokerStars as it can, by covering all bases when it comes to gambling.

Although the goal of Amaya to create a full-service, high quality, gaming brand with a high quality is laudable, maybe PokerStars was not the best choice for a brand – from poker’s point of view. For decades, poker enthusiasts have fought to change the perception people and authorities have about the game. One major breakthrough happened in 2010, when poker was officially included into the ranks of “mind sports”, joining other popular games like bridge and chess.

Poker is far from being a gambling game. While online casino games, like the latest mobile games at the Royal Vegas casino, are pure games of chance, poker is more a game of skill, officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee. Casinos like the Royal Vegas offer their players an incredible variety of casino games, and promotions and specials, and their goal is purely to entertain (with the wins accumulated by players being the icing on the cake). Poker rooms, in turn, attract players interested in the game itself, with the money they can win mostly being on the second plain.

Amaya, through the expansion of the online gambling activities under the PokerStars brand to include casino games, sports betting and – if the rumors are true – daily fantasy sports, may have a negative effect on the perception of poker as a game of skill. People, and worst of all, legislators, might once again perceive poker to be a game of chance, which might not be a good thing for the long term development of poker as a mind sport.

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