Online Poker Operators Are Turning To Different Rewards Program Models

Steve Ruddock March 10, 2016
online poker sites VIP schemes

After several online poker operators instituted sweeping changes to their rewards programs, it’s safe to say the era of grinding online poker rakeback appears to be coming to a close. But, as rakeback is being phased out, there doesn’t seem to be an industry-wide consensus when it comes to what model will replace it.

888, PokerStars, and TonyBet are among the online poker operators that have made radical changes to their rewards program in recent months, and the only thing these changes seem to have in common is their universal ability to raise the ire of high-volume online poker players, who are feeling squeezed by the poker sites.

All three companies have the same goal in mind, a shift to a “recreational” model that rewards loyalty and skill rather than volume, but they are going about it in vastly different ways.

Here is a look at each model.

PokerStars: Less of the same

Longtime industry leader, PokerStars, was the first to make significant changes to the way rewards are allotted to players, first announcing its new Rewards Program in early November of 2015, and dealing with a very vocal backlash ever since.

Of the three models that will be detailed in this column, the PokerStars approach is the most similar to the old system. In fact it’s basically the old system, a scaled-down version of it anyway.

What PokerStars has effectively done is changed the placement of the carrots players are chasing, in large part by drastically cutting the peak levels its reward program offers, and flattening the rewards levels throughout the VIP ladder. Stars has also eliminated rakeback altogether at higher stakes games and implemented several other policy changes designed to balance the playing field and create a better economy for all players.

The hope is players will multi-table less, as the company believes its new model makes it less lucrative to grind for volume, and without rewards augmenting their win-rates, grinders will be forced to move up in stakes to maintain their current win-rates. If this happens, the skill level of the players will better correlate with the stakes being played, as is the case in live poker.

TonyBet: The biggest loser

TonyBet, a European online poker site that focuses on open face Chinese poker games run by former professional poker player turned member of the Lithuanian parliament member Tony G (Antanas Guoga), is the smallest of the three companies detailed in this column, but its new rewards program is also the boldest in my opinion.

TonyBet decided to flip the current model on its head as the site has adopted a lossback system, where the more you lose over the course of a given day, the more money is returned to you as a percentage of rakeback.

The base rakeback at TonyBet is 25 percent for all players (win, lose, or draw). But, if you find yourself between -€100 and +€100 for the day, your rakeback is upped to 50 percent, and if you lose €100 or more you will receive 80 percent rakeback.

TonyBet isn’t the first site to try a lossback program (Golden Nugget’s online casino in New Jersey unveiled one last year), but TonyBet is the first (to my knowledge) online poker site to go all-in on it.

In the past, lossback programs have failed to gain traction due to the confusion they sow (people get how rakeback is allocated, but tiered lossback can be a bit confusing), particularly in new players. Another reason lossback hasn’t really caught on is the people who would most benefit from it tend to find the non-immediate payout of their lossback off-putting.

888: Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

888 is taking an altogether different approach to its loyalty program, as the second largest online poker site in the world is choosing to reward players based not on the amount of rake they contribute per se, but rather on their ability to reach specific milestones and achievements while they’re playing.

As OnlinePokerReport.com’s Robert DellaFave explained:

  • Some challenges may entail winning a cash game hand with a specific holding, such as a full house, or a pair of sixes as a starting hand.
  • Other may include playing a set number of cash game hands, sit & go’s or tournaments.
  • Others still may task players with finishing in the money of an MTT or sit & go X number of times.

In addition to shifting to a mission-style system, 888 is combining its rewards program across all of its verticals: poker, casino and sports betting.

Prior to the shift, 888 poker players were capable of earning up to 70 percent rakeback (which 888 will continue to dole out for the remainder of the year) grinding the company’s online poker tables exclusively, but now certain missions will require them to play in the 888 Casino or sports book in order to complete the challenge.

An 888 Poker spokesperson said of the new program’s intentions, “We want to reward players for other activities, including long term loyalty to 888poker, rather than only for grinding.”

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