Since the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in the States of America, there has been one dominant online poker site in the world. Because of the departure of the then-called PartyPoker from the U. S., the title of “largest online poker site in the world” went to PokerStars. Over the past sixteen years, there have been no challengers to that crown, but a simple business decision has ended that run.
There’s a New Sheriff in Town
A look at the rankings by PokerScout.com, the recognized leader for online poker site information, shows that there is a “new sheriff in town” on the international leaderboard. GGPoker (which does not service U. S. customers) has taken over as the #1 site in the online poker world, knocking the Red Spade down to #2 for the first time in well over a decade and a half. It is not by just a few hundred players, either – GGPoker has seized the overall lead handily.
As of Sunday morning, GGPoker has a seven-day average of 6400 cash game players (the recognized standard because cash game players will stay on the site for extended periods of time) and their overall numbers total over 191,000 players. PokerStars has been knocked down to a distant second place, totaling 4600 players on the seven-day average while only having slightly more than 55,000 players active on the site on Sunday morning.
PokerStars also must watch their back lest they fall further. Sitting in third position is the Asian-centric IDNPoker, which has a solid hold with its 3000-player average over seven days and nearly 20,000 players. The position of IDNPoker seems to be unassailable as the rest of the pack, including Winamax.fr, iPoker, Bodog and PokerStars Europe (1100 players would do a great deal for their overall numbers) all massed around 1300 or so players per average over seven days.
So where are those rooms in the U. S.? They are hardly even denting the world rankings. The top U. S.-centric room is down in 22nd place, the three-state alliance (New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware) of WSOP/888. Over a seven-day average, WSOP/888 attracts 240 players per seven-day average, just barely beating out PokerStars PA’s operations as a “stand alone” entity (220 players).
Why the Change?
So, why has there been a change in something that has been a staple of the online poker industry? Business decisions, whether right or wrong, can have ramifications on the bottom line. In this case, the decisions of PokerStars’ ownership, Flutter Entertainment, had a monumental effect on the number of players that frequented the site.
After the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, there was a slew of economic sanctions put in place to punish the country. In addition to putting restrictions on the financial activities of some of the richest people in Russia (including Putin), there was also a restriction on trade with the country. This included such important industries to the Russian economy as their selling of natural gas and oil, agriculture, machinery construction – and online poker.
After vehement reactions from many in the poker world, PokerStars enacted a ban against the Russian market. The decision by Flutter only came after major companies like Coca-Cola, Netflix, General Motors, and Nissan suspended their business endeavors in the country. Sports organizations like FIA (Formula One), UEFA and FIFA (the European and international soccer federations) and the ITF (tennis) all suspended Russia from their organizations because of the invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation. Online poker was slow to react, however. Originally, PokerStars postponed their March stop in Sochi, Russia, but they would eventually cancel it after they announced their decision to ban Russian action.
The change atop the standings is a direct result of the actions taken by PokerStars against Russia. Because Russian players can no longer access the site (at least from inside its borders), that removes a sizeable chunk of players from the international player pool that PokerStars served. It is a “mini-Black Friday,” if you will, in that it took a large chunk of players out of international action in one swing.
How long can GGPoker’s reign atop the standings over PokerStars last? There seems to be no change in the actions by the Russian leadership, thus the sanctions placed by the rest of the world will remain in place. It could be some time before PokerStars can even challenge GGPoker for the top of the rock, but it might also “light a fire” under the former #1 to try to change some of their practices and offer a better product to its customers.