Yesterday The Stars Group, the ownership behind the monolithic PokerStars in the online poker world, announced some of the changes in their 2020 PokerStars Players’ Championship (PSPC) that will come up next August in Barcelona. Buried in the depths of that interview, PokerStars has announced that, after a 15-year run, that the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure will not be contested in 2020 and, effectively, is done as a tournament stop.
End of an Era – And of the “Golden Age” of Poker
In an interview with Lance Bradley of PocketFives that concentrated on the PSPC, The Stars Group spokesman Eric Hollreiser’s real announcement was buried at the end. In that story, Hollreiser is quoted as saying “It’s no secret that after 15 successful years, the PCA has been losing momentum and there’s been increasing player criticism of the location,” Hollreiser said. “As such, we will not be returning to Paradise Island in 2020.”
“PokerStars and our players have had some great success at the Atlantis Resort & Casino in the Bahamas over a strong 13-year run, and we have very many fond memories of ringing in the New Year with our PCA,” Hollreiser continued. “Our research, alongside player feedback, has shown, however, that it is time for a change to keep things fresh and give our players what they are asking for.”
The decision from The Stars Group is stunning in that the PCA has, essentially since the inception of PokerStars itself, been THE tournament that the company was known for. Originally contested aboard a cruise ship in 2004 and a part of the World Poker Tour, in 2005 the PCA found its home at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The January play date for the tournament provided the poker world – and we do mean the WORLD – with a way for people from around the globe to trek to the Bahamas to “get away” from the winter doldrums for the first major poker tournament to kick off the year.
Over more than a decade, the PCA gained notoriety for large prize pools and challenging tournaments. In many peoples’ views, it was a part of the “Grand Slam” of tournament poker, consisting of the PCA and the World Series of Poker Championship Event, the World Poker Tour’s World Championship (now a defunct tournament), the European Poker Tour’s Grand Final (ditto) and the Aussie Millions. The buy in for the tournament would fluctuate over the years, vacillating between a $5000 and a $10,000 buy in for its history.
While the poker community loved the PCA, the tournament was affected by the realities of the political world. The 2006 passing of the UIGEA, and the decision by PokerStars to continue to serve the U. S. market, saw the PCA become even more popular. But the 2011 indictment of the founders and executives of PokerStars and the resulting pullout from the U. S. market had a significant impact on field sizes in subsequent years. After peaking at 1560 players in January 2011, the 2019 version of the tournament “only” saw 835 entries.
To be honest, the demise of the PCA has been rumored for years. It actually did end in 2017 as, looking to promote their “PokerStars Championships” circuit (their “replacement” for the EPT), the tournament was rebranded as the “PokerStars Championship Bahamas.” Neither that move, nor the decision to end the EPT (which came back in 2018), was received well by the poker community and the PCA came back in 2018 also.
With the demise of online poker in the U. S., however, the justifications for The Stars Group to continue to promote an event in the North American arena were difficult to find. Even though they were able to return to the New Jersey online poker market in 2016, The Stars Group has never been able to reestablish a foothold in the U. S., making marketing big time tournaments to U. S. customers a waste of time. Even with the potential to expand into Pennsylvania – The Stars Group is licensed to offer online poker in Pennsylvania but hasn’t opened up shop yet – there’s just not enough reason for The Stars Group to continue with the PCA.
There’s also the “new kid in town” that is the shiny new toy of The Stars Group and it is something they – not the original owners in Isai Scheinberg and his family – have created. The PSPC, after a stunning debut in 2019 at the PCA, seems to be the vehicle that The Stars Group wants to ride in the future. With a remarkable 1039 players taking part in a $25,000 buy in tournament – the largest $25K tournament in the history of poker – The Stars Group sees the potential in the new tournament and, with the dwindling numbers of the PCA, needs to cut some weight somewhere and put the marketing and promotional monies toward the PSPC.
The move of the PSPC to the EPT stop in Barcelona in 2020 was perhaps the first “bell toll” for the death of the PCA. The success of the 2019 tournament schedule at the Casino Barcelona made it an easy decision for the execs at The Stars Group. With online gaming still a burgeoning market in Europe, Asia and Africa, it made it an easy choice to leave the Western Hemisphere and go back to the Old Continent.
It is often said that good times never last, but the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure had a helluva run! Perhaps another tournament will be set in the climes of the Atlantis (oddly enough, the only time of the year that poker was offered in the Atlantis’ casino was during the PCA), but it would have to be a major tour such as the World Poker Tour or another circuit looking to make a name. For now, all we will have is the memories of those luxurious January days – and nights – and the warm Caribbean breezes as we bid farewell to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.