Amaya Changes Name to The Stars Group & Relocates to Toronto as Part of PokerStars-Focused Shift

In the wake of a tumultuous two years, PokerStars parent company Amaya Inc. has announced several significant shifts designed to rebuild its ailing brand.

According to a press release issued on May 12, Amaya will change its corporate name to The Stars Group Inc., while relocating from Montreal to new headquarters in Toronto.

Those changes aren’t final as of yet, but pending shareholder approval via a vote scheduled for the summer, Amaya intends to seek a continuance through the Ontario Business Corporations Act to effect the move.

In a conference call held on May 12, Amaya’s chief executive officer Rafi Ashkenazi told reporters that further emphasizing PokerStars was a prime motivation for the name change:

“As we undergo this transformation, we look to embrace the future of our business while also recognizing the incredible consumer goodwill and loyalty associated with our primary brand.”

Shareholder approval is expected to be a formality, given the widely-reported pressure applied by investors, many of whom have become increasingly concerned by Amaya’s connection to founder and former chief executive officer David Baazov.

After being charged with insider trading by Quebec authorities in March of last year, Baazov – who built Amaya into one of the world’s leading online gambling companies since its founding in 2004 – officially resigned all positions in August.

In December, Baazov spearheaded an acquisition bid valued at more than $4 billion, attempting to reclaim his former company and take it private. That effort, like most of Baazov’s recent financial dealings, eventually fell apart amidst concerns over viability, investor confidence, and even allegedly falsified links to wealthy backers.

Since assuming the mantle of CEO in November of last year, Ashkenazi has implemented an ambitious pivot, one predicated on maintaining the prestigious PokerStars brand – while simultaneously shifting from a poker- to casino-focused business model.

To that end, Ashkenazi directed a rollback of PokerStars’ player rewards program, prioritizing recreational players rather than high-volume professionals for the first time.

To expand the company’s non-poker offerings, Amaya added a daily fantasy sports (DFS) platform known as DraftStars in September of last year, followed by an online sportsbook component called BetStars three months later.

The PokerStars platform itself was also adapted to provide additional casino offerings, including the lottery-style Spin and Go tournaments, and a player rewards program based on random distribution rather than accumulated points.

The name change and move were made public amidst a series of sweeping adjustments to Amaya’s corporate hierarchy.

Robin Chhabra was poached from rival William Hill to take on the recently created role of chief corporate development officer, a hiring which was announced on May 3.

As a former director of strategy and corporate development for William Hill, Chhabra will be tasked with overseeing mergers and acquisition for The Stars Group beginning in September of this year.

On May 16, Amaya appointed Brian Kyle – former chief financial officer of Pivot Technology Solutions – to the same position. Former CFO Daniel Sebag – a staunch Baazov ally – resigned in January of this year, stepping down alongside his friend and confidant after 10 years at the post.

Kyle has extensive history working within the Canadian and American financial markets, and per a press release announcing his hiring he is expected to work from The Stars Group’s new Toronto headquarters.

Per the first quarter financials included with the announcement, Amaya posted overall revenue of $317.3 million in Q1 – good for a year-on-year increase of 10 percent. The company’s net earnings came in at $65.75 million, up 18.5 percent on the year.

In terms of poker-specific revenue, even with the widened scope of Amaya’s casino and sports product line, the company grew its poker take to $218.7 million for a slight 1.1 percent uptick.

The alternatives to poker are gaining steam though, as Amaya grew its share of casino players from 470,000 to 660,000 in Q1, while the sportsbook grew from 170,000 bettors to 280,000.