In a shocking and confusing move that has left players across the country scratching their heads or fearing the worst, PokerStars is no longer branding the Montreal Festival just a few weeks away.
The series, now being called the Playground Poker Club Montreal Festival, is slated to run 16 events including a $1,000,000-guaranteed Main Event with a buy-in of $1,100. All of this remains the same. The schedule is unchanged, the guarantee still stands, and the tournament will run as it would have before, but without PokerStars branding.
This first came to our attention when the link to the event information page on the PokerStars website disappeared, and searching for any details from PokerStars became fruitless. Then we heard that the satellites on PokerStars had disappeared. Sure enough, there are no longer any satellites being offered by PokerStars for Montreal Festival. However, the PokerNews Canada freeroll to a Main Event seat, a promotion courtesy of PokerStars, is still running. This Wednesday is the last chance to earn your seat to the final freeroll where eight players will receive $55 in their account (not a $55 satellite ticket as before), and the winner will receive the $1,100 Main Event seat.
Then, soon after confirming a deal for PokerNews Canada to provide coverage and live reporting for Montreal Festival, we received word that PokerStars "no longer require our services" for the event, without any explanation given.
At about the same time, Playground switched the Montreal Festival banner on their website to one that does not mention PokerStars, but simply replaces the red spade with the Playground Poker Club name.
Our efforts to get answers from our contacts at PokerStars have been unsuccessful, and no explanation or reasoning has been given. Two different spokespersons from Playground have said simply, "due to unforeseen circumstances, PokerStars has withdrawn their branding from the event."
The tight-lipped lack of response has many people in the country wondering what is going on. This sudden decision to drop branding from Montreal Festival occurred on the very same day that Amaya Gaming announced the completion of their purchase of Oldford Group Ltd in a press release. Montreal-based and publicly-traded Amaya Gaming purchased 100% of Oldford Group's shares for $4.9 billion. Of course, Oldford Group owns Rational Group, which owns PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
We aren't the only ones being kept in the dark. Victoria, BC's Brendon Williams, a member of Supernova Elite on PokerStars, had this to say:
Rumours and conjecture have been swirling for the last few months since this purchase was first announced, with many Canadians wondering if PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker coming under Canadian ownership would be forced to stop operating in our grey market. While there is not yet anything concrete that suggests this is the case, players immediately assumed that the dropping of Montreal Festival had something to do with the Amaya Gaming takeover, and it is hard to imagine there isn't a line to be drawn between the two developments.
Edit (8/5/14): Hours after this article was posted, Lee Jones used the 2+2 forum to issue this statement:
Hi folks -
Due to unforeseen circumstances, PokerStars will not be continuing its participation in the upcoming festival. However the tournament will continue as planned as the "Playground Festival of Poker" and we will, of course, honor our previous commitment to players and satellite winners. No other PokerStars services in Canada are affected.
PokerStars Head of Poker Communications
Unfortunately, no further details are being released. But we'll be the first to keep you informed if we learn anything further.