Poker Professional Isaac Haxton Turns Down Renewal of PokerStars Sponsorship

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In further backlash against policies implemented last year, poker professional Isaac Haxton has decided to turn down the renewal of his PokerStars sponsorship for 2016, citing the company’s treatment of players as the reason.

Haxton, who was a part of Team PokerStars Online, was offered the same deal for the upcoming year that he had enjoyed in the past as a member of the organization. Upon the expiration of the deal on New Year’s Eve, however, Haxton believed that he had reached a point where he could make a statement regarding some of the issues in the online game today. As a result, Haxton turned down the renewal of his contract, even though it will probably cost him several hundred thousand dollars in tournament buy-ins and potentially that much from his online play.

As many know, PokerStars – before falling under the ownership of Amaya Gaming (although industry insiders say that movements such as these were already in the works) – ran some of the most beneficial player incentive programs in the online gaming industry. After Amaya Gaming took over, however, the company decided to make some changes. One of the most notable changes has been the elimination of benefits for Supernova and Supernova Elite players for 2016 (even though a player had to earn a certain number of PokerStars points in 2015 to maintain membership in that group), a move that has raised the ire of many online pros.

In a post on the Two Plus Two forum, Haxton detailed out his reasoning for leaving PokerStars and it was a direct result of the changes instituted by Amaya Gaming. “I believe that PokerStars is behaving unethically,” Haxton writes before delving into the meat of his reasoning. “Announcing in November that players who earned Supernova and Supernova Elite status in 2015 will not receive the benefits they had expected in 2016 strikes me as dishonest and unfair.”

“As a four time SNE, I know what it takes to rake 1M VPP in a year,” Haxton continued. “It’s a tough grind. For most of the players who do it, it is an all-consuming commitment more intense than most full-time jobs. Many of them have relocated far from their homes and families to pursue it. Finding out, just as you approach the finish line, that your efforts will not be rewarded as you expected them to be is brutal. I cannot in good conscience continue to endorse a poker site that treats its players this way.”

Much like when Vicky Coren left PokerStars over its decision in 2014 to offer online casino gaming, Haxton said that the decision was a difficult one. “This is a difficult day for me and I am truly sad to be parting ways like this with a company that I once held in such high regard,” Haxton wrote on Two Plus Two. “In 2012, when I signed with PokerStars, it was one of my proudest moment in my career as a professional poker player.” Haxton would go on to comment about the people he met as a result of his time with PokerStars – “both other sponsored pros and PokerStars employees” – whom he said he was “proud to call…my friends and it hurts to know that I won’t have the chance to work with them in the same way again.”

This is the first serious defection from the PokerStars stable over their decisions regarding player incentives. There was a protest at the beginning of December that was organized by online player Dani Stern, but instead of drawing players away from PokerStars over a three-day strike, the site actually saw MORE players flock to their virtual baize. Reasons for this have ranged from a well-timed “milestone hand” promotion to the general “lone wolf” mentality of online poker players to go where the game is the softest.

Stern has made his statement on the situation and main PokerStars front man Daniel Negreanu has made some statements in disagreement with PokerStars regarding their moves, but neither has actually put their sponsorship or actual time playing on the site on the line. Kudos to Haxton for standing up for what he believes in; even though it might hurt him from a financial standpoint, it does allow him to bring attention to the subject and allows him to open up fully as to what goes on behind the doors of a major poker sponsorship.

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