Like two ships passing in the night, online poker site PartyPoker dethroned rival PokerStars at the recent 2017 eGaming Review (EGR) Operator Awards.
In a ceremony held in London on October 26, PartyPoker received the coveted EGR “Poker Operator of the Year,” snapping PokerStars’ three-year reign in the process.
Along with PokerStars, PartyPoker beat out 888poker, Pokerdom, and Sky Betting & Gaming to take top honors.
The site’s managing director Tom Waters celebrated in a statement posted to the PartyPoker Blog one day later:
“We are delighted that PartyPoker was voted poker operator of the year at the EGR awards last night.
PartyPoker has been transformed from a declining brand to a poker site that is now delivering a real challenge to the global poker market.
It is testament to the hard work and dedication of the PartyPoker team over the last year and hopefully this is just the beginning.”
In winner’s comments posted to the EGR website, judges praised PartyPoker management for embracing the natural synergy between online operations and the live tournament circuit:
“PartyPoker recorded phenomenal growth rates in absolute terms but it was even more impressive given the perceived structural decline of poker market.
Management clearly focused on revamping product supported by live tours and strong brand push after a period of neglect.”
The live aspect of PartyPoker’s renaissance began in January of this year, when the site launched its new PartyPoker LIVE tour to compete with PokerStars’ Championship series of live events. One month later, the site poached John Duthie – a poker pro who founded the PokerStars-owned European Poker Tour (EPT) and served as its chief executive officer – to serve as president of PartyPoker Live.
At the time, Duthie outlined PartyPoker’s commitment to serving the poker community, while taking a veiled swipe at PokerStars for focusing on casino gaming and other ventures instead:
“I have been impressed with the progress of PartyPoker and in particular the number of trusted, experienced and well-respected individuals and organizations who have chosen to put their support behind the PartyPoker brand.
I believe there is a gap in the market for an operator whose primary focus is poker and who will listen to and work with the poker community, as this was something that was absolutely key to the growth and success of the EPT.”
Following its 2014 acquisition by Amaya Gaming, PokerStars initiated a companywide pivot from its poker operations, launching lottery-style poker games while expanding its casino and sportsbook platforms. This policy shift included a rollback of PokerStars’ popular “rakeback” program, which had previously been used to entice high-volume professional players to the site.
In March, PartyPoker hired former World Poker Tour (WPT) broadcaster and Poker Hall of Fame inductee Mike Sexton to serve as the site’s Chairman. Sexton, who was one of PartyPoker’s founders in 2001 before shifting to the WPT, immediately instituted a series of policies designed to replace PokerStars as the pros’ preferred platform.
Those policies appear to be working in spades, culminating in PartyPoker ending PokerStars’ three-year streak at the EGR Awards.
PartyPoker parent company GVC Holdings – which acquired Bwin.party Digital Entertainment in September of 2015 – was also named as EGR’s “Casino Operator of the Year,” giving the company a clean sweep in the two headlining honors.
In a press release, GVC chief operating officer Shay Segev expressed his pride at the unexpected double-up:
“We are very proud to be recognised with these two prestigious awards.
As we near the completion of our technology migration, this is a real tribute to the dedication and skills of our hard-working teams.
They have been able to create a best-in-class customer offer while at the same time completing a complex technology challenge.”