This morning The Stars Group have revealed one of the worst kept secrets in the poker industry, namely that they are the majority owners of iBus Media – better known to you and me as PokerNews.
Although it has never before been officially confirmed, the rumours in the industry regarding the influence of the PokerStars owner over PokerNews.com’s output have been rife to say the least, with few doubting that The Stars Group had at least some ‘vested interested’ in the company.
The news was revealed by iBus Media during a a company-wide conference call this morning as bosses announced that due to significant increases in both revenue and personnel count over the past few years that they were now, “In a position where we want to increase the speed of that growth and are therefore actively considering an acquisition strategy.” and that, “as a result of the new strategy we felt it was the appropriate time to ensure there was clarity around the ownership of our business.”
PokerNews.com was founded by Lithuanian/Australian poker player/businessman/MEP Antanas Guoga (more commonly known in the poker world as Tony G) back in 2002 after he bought the domain name for $6,000. It turns out that he has steadily sold his equity to Stars in stages since 2010 and has now exited the business entirely.
Above: It would appear that PokerNews founder Tong G has now exited the business after selling the vast majority of the company to The Stars Group over the past seven years
According to iBus Media, the conference call and subsequent inter-company announcements were the first time PokerNews employees had been told of the ownership situation. This was confirmed on twitter after PocketFives President Lance Bradley questioned the timing of the transparency”
Not at all surprised by this news. Wonder why the sudden need for "transparency" after telling employees for years the rumors were BS. https://t.co/uCMwsZJi5G
— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley) October 30, 2017
Some commentators, however, haven’t been quite as diplomatic as Bradley. High stakes pro Jason Mo has been a long time outspoken critic of PokerNews and reacted to the ‘news’ with his typical panache and eloquence:
— Jason Mo (@cuntycakes123) October 31, 2017
iBus Media are keen to point out that PokerStars and its associated brands account for less than 5% of iBus’s affiliate revenues and that “iBus has always maintained its independence and will continue to do so. PokerNews will continue to be the voice of players and a promoter of online poker.”
However, to say that the ownership of PokerNews has no influence whatsoever on their output stretches the realms of reality a little. Their live reporting, for example, has always been PokerStars heavy, be it reporting more on events associated with the brand or highlighting the success of their players. As Lee Davy at CalvinAyre.com, a journalist with intimate knowledge of PokerNews live reporting process was quick to point out;
“For a very long time, it was clear to all and sundry that PokerNews was placing heavy emphasis on PokerStars and their ambassadors. Their relationship with the European Poker Tour (EPT) skewed this bias where, as a live reporter, I was told to place particular emphasis on PokerStars players. As well as being instructed to focus on PokerStars players, I was also told to put less focus on the competition.”
As long as PokerNews continue to deliver good live reporting it’s probably not the end of the world if they show a little bias towards PokerStars, but it certainly would have been a little more ethical had The Stars Group acknowledged before now their position with regards ownership of the site.
It will be interesting to see the reactions oof others in the industry in the wake of this rather significant revelation…