In November, PokerStars shook a segment of the poker world by announcing rake increases at certain games and stakes.
It was a decision met with disapproval from most in the mid- to high-stakes games but now, just two months later, PokerStars has decided to cancel the increases and go back to how things were before.
“The rake increase made less of a difference to me personally because I play relatively higher stakes,” said Team PokerStars Online Isaac Haxton. “But even for me, I think it was going to eat into my win rate significantly.”
“So that’s obviously a big deal. I was a little disappointed to see that.”
While Haxton said he didn’t look too closely at the numbers, others who play 25/50 PLO --Haxton’s most recent main game-- estimated that the proposed rake increases would eat up as much as 25-30 percent of their win rate.
But the tables have turned again.
This afternoon, as dozens of high-stakes players got ready to play the PCA $100K Super High Roller, Haxton included, PokerStars announced it would rollback to the pre-November numbers.
Negreanu: Rake Rollback "Good for the Players”
While the initial increases drew heated debate from both sides, today’s announcement was generally well received.
Even Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu, who had previously defended the increase, admitted it's a good thing for the poker community.
“Obviously I think that [today’s announcement is] good for the players,” Negreanu said. “Nobody likes rake going up, never really good for any players, you can’t argue that.
“I think overall that they looked at it and there was a lot of negative flack obviously about a rake change and they decided to revert back.”
Isaac Haxton agrees and added that the previous changes would’ve tipped some players into the red.
“I think it's great,” Haxton said. “It makes a big difference to a few people and a significant difference to a lot of people.
“I think the rake change was something that was going to push previously winning players across the line into no longer being able to beat the game.”
That belief was echoed by several players who were very vocal about their grievances. Much to their relief, PokerStars listened.
“I think [the rollback] helps to establish the commitment that PokerStars has to their players and shows they do listen to feedback, which is good to see,” Haxton said.
Rake Will Increase in Regulated Markets
While players rejoiced over the rake rollback, the increased taxes and regulatory issues that first inspired the rake hike still remain.
Are rake hikes an inevitable reality for online poker?
“It’s hard to say,” Haxton said. “At least in the short-to-midterm it’s going to tend to that direction if regulation keeps bringing increased costs.”
For now, PokerStars has decided to share those costs evenly with players who reside in countries where there is a tax. Players in countries with no tax will see no change.
For any player serious about their win rate, this would add country selection to the list of factors they have to consider when going pro.
Relocating Now Part of the Game
Haxton, who is currently based in Malta, says he has no reservations about leaving the Mediterranean island if he has to.
“If it were a significant fraction of my win rate, I would definitely consider relocating to maximize how much money I can make.” Haxton said.
Haxton relocated from the United States to Malta because of Black Friday and he says that relocating has become a part of the game.
“People moving around to react to changes in regulation and taxation has been a big deal in poker for a long time,” Haxton said.
“A lot of European players --especially since they can establish residence in another European country so easily-- have moved around in reaction to tax stuff especially.”
While players can relocate to increase their win rate under the proposed increases, Haxton says that across-the-board hikes might hurt sites as well as players.
“If players can’t beat the games anymore there are going to be a lot fewer people interested in playing, whether they’re professional or not,” Haxton said. “Playing poker with no chance to win is not very appealing.
“I think that it’s very important to the health of the game for a decent amount of players to be able to win and that at some point PokerStars would prefer to reduce their margins and keep a larger fraction of players winning.
“I think that the number of people that can beat the game being greatly reduced is a situation everyone would like to avoid.”
Haxton: Global Online Player Pool is the Future
The best way to increase the amount of players, Haxton says, would be to have a unified international player pool.
While governments around the world have implemented regulations to do the exact opposite, Haxton thinks that this mentality is going to change.
“One thing that I would hope to see happen in the next five years would be for the .fr and .es model to begin to go away and for markets to reintegrate,” Haxton said.
“I don’t think it’s really in anyone's interest to segregate markets and I think that there could be movement away from that in the next five years. I’d love to see that.”
What Haxton would like to see the most, though, is countrywide regulation in the United States, a market that is currently even more segregated than European sites.
“Regulation is still state by state [in the US],” Haxton said. “But I think interstate agreements in the US will almost certainly happen if a few states start to regulate it that way and it gets well established.”
A strong, unified marked in the United States could even bring big players home.
“An international Pokerstars player pool accessible from somewhere in the US would definitely have me strongly considering moving back to the US,” Haxton said.