PokerStars Launches UK Sports Betting Product

 download 1   The latest PokerStars UK client update has delivered its long-awaited sports betting offering, with Amaya's online poker colossus finally making its tentative first steps into a daunting market. Will it be a success and can customers expect a competitive product?

The UK sports betting industry is devilishly hard for new players to crack. With recent flops like DafaBet, 666Bet and McBookie, this graveyard is already so full that rotting limbs are poking out above the topsoil. Established high street chain bookmakers like Coral, Ladbrokes, BetVictor, William Hill and StanJames have the sort of untouchable status that kills off most new competitors before they even begin trading. Only huge entities like bet365 and PaddyPower have truly breached the clique in recent history, with their UK success built on years of growth in other European countries. 

PokerStars' strategists need a cunning plan of attack to truly crack the UK. The obvious starting point would be massive investment in television advertising and sponsorships, but even that is hardly a golden ticket to prominence. New boys BetBright and BetWay have invested heavily in horse racing, snooker and other sports sponsorships recently, but are still lightyears behind the elite. Some enterprises have even been crippled by overinvestment in advertising, with 666Bet running aground shortly after a primetime TV ad campaign featuring high-profile football manager Harry Redknapp. Of course, financial clout is not a worry for the enormous Amaya/PokerStars, whose sound management was backed by the recent DoJ investigations. 

Given the negligible impact of TV advertising up against the trusted giants, PokerStars may be better served in maximising what it already has: namely a giant pool of registered UK customers. With its acquisition of FullTilt and the decline of PartyPoker, PokerStars almost monopolises the UK's online poker industry. Its mission must be to synergise the poker product with the sports betting product. Can they become a 'one-stop shop' for regular PokerStars players who currently bet on sports elsewhere? Can they also turn their 'poker only' players into lucrative cash cows?

Their answer to the second question may be the key to their success. After their controversial recent rake increase, the more savvy players and number-crunchers on poker forums were angered. Some games on PokerStars are now so highly-raked that even solid winning players are making pitiful hourly rates. Less popular UK poker sites may also be less trustworthy, but rake is more reasonable and games are often juicy for regs. With this in mind, PokerStars is often not the choice of the discerning grinder nowadays. What I am hinting is that devotees of the PokerStars client are probably not critical thinkers with a willingness to shop around for the best value. If marketed attractively to existing poker customers, PokerStars could exploit their naivety quite profitably.

Instead of chasing new customers with attractive acquisition offers or by undercutting the big firms on high profile events, I predict that PokerStars could get greedy. What is to stop them spreading markets with stingy overrounds when there is a captive audience on hand? 

An early example may be their line on this Saturday's Champions League Final:

Betfair - Juventus win: 6.0, Draw: 4.2, Barcelona win: 1.61
Pokerstars - Juventus win: 5.75, Draw: 4.0, Barcelona win: 1.60

Despite there being such a major sporting event immediately after the launch of the sports betting product, Betfair have chosen to overcut the leading betting exchange on every result. This must be a sign of things to come. 

The answer seems to be that PokerStars have no plans to challenge the major powers on the UK scene. They simply want to squeeze their existing customers and shepherd them towards a product that offers very poor value. 

Looking further ahead, any success for PokerStars as a sports betting option will then draw jealous glances from the major bookmakers and betting exchanges. Owing to the recent tax hike on FOBT operators, the the big players will be predators ready to attack PokerStars. William Hill, Paddy Power, Coral, Ladbrokes, VictorChandler, Stan James and Betfair all operate their own iPoker skins. In truth, they are poorly marketed and run as low-key offshoots to the business. William Hill is perhaps the most active in promoting its poker platform with regular guaranteed tournaments and satellites to live events, but their poker traffic is typically 2%-8% of the PokerStars UK client. There is considerable scope for the big bookies to market their poker platforms more aggressively and filch customers from PokerStars. With recent disenchantment at Amaya's rake increases and security lapses, this would be an opportune time for a counter-strike from the big firms.

As a writer for a site that urges its readers to get the best value from their poker site, I am cynical about Amaya's sports betting product. Maybe I am beyond cynical and actively hope that it will flop. Poker players should not be taken for a ride and deserve competitive prices from their sports betting product, just as they deserve to play in poker room with fair rates of rake. The early signs are that PokerStars will not deliver this. One hopes that the proliferation of comparison websites and the Oddschecker service will also work against PokerStars. Ideally, savvy customers will shop around and force Amaya to either make bold trading decisions with attractive prices or retreat back to their speciality in running a high-quality online poker room. 



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