Stars Group reveals ownership of online poker super-affiliate media giant PokerNews, but for how long?
The online poker affiliate business can be a very lucrative one for those who put enough time and effort into it. Of the tens of thousands of affiliates in the world, only a rare few become “super-affiliates”. One of them is PokerNews, an online poker news website that’s been dishing up the latest on live and internet poker pros for well over a decade.
According to WhoIs.com, PokerNews was first registered back in December of 2001. It is owned by a company called iBus Media Ltd. This information is public record, and easy to find. What most of us had no clue about, aside from a select few insiders, is who owns iBus Media.
Most assumed it was poker pro Antanas “Tony G” Gouga. It’s common knowledge, after all, that he launched the new site way back when, and ran it for years. The truth came as a shock to many last week. During a company conference call, The Stars Group (TSG) disclosed ownership of the online media giant.
Rational Group Owns Online Poker Super-Affiliate
Rational Group is the parent company of PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker operator. TSG (formerly Amaya) is the parent company of Rational Group. TSG is responsible for the affiliate program that cuts checks to PokerStars affiliates, and super-affiliates (like PokerNews), for promoting their services.
When you connect all of the dots, you come up with a rather seedy picture. We see an online poker giant essentially paying itself – via iBus Media – to advertise its own brands. That alone sounds like seedy behavior, but it gets worse. It casts a voluminous shadow of doubt over the media coming from PokerNews. Seems an awful lot like a propaganda paradise for TSG, right?
How Did This Happen, and Why the Big Secret?
Publicly traded companies aren’t allowed to keep secrets. Everything they do must be made public knowledge for investors. That fact alone confirms that the acquisition of iBus Media / PokerNews had to have occurred before mid-2014, when Rational Group / PokerStars was acquired by Amaya (now TSG).
According to some indicative evidence dug up by FlushDraw, the sale probably occurred way back in 2011, following the events of Black Friday (April 15, 2011). At that time, Rational Group was owned by Isai Scheinberg, who escaped the wrath of the US Department of Justice during the crackdown by handing the company to his son, Mark, then disappearing into the woodwork.
That evidence comes from an old thread on the PFA Forum. Australian poker pro Gary “OzGary” Benson commented on rumors of Tony G selling majority ownership of PokerNews back in 2011.
In January 2016, Benson posted this:
“Tony G was at the Aussie Millions so I took the opportunity to ask him about this. He confirmed that he made the deal to sell PokerNews to the Rational Group (now Amaya) with Isai [Scheinberg] personally in the 2nd half of 2011 for $30m although the handover was done progressively over a period of time.”
Why It Makes Sense
When the US DoJ cracked down on illegal online poker in the United States, it wasn’t just the poker operators that felt the sting. Online poker affiliates were hit hard, too. It would make sense that Tony G would move to sell the super-affiliate website for an affable price if he expected its value to plummet.
As for the Scheinberg’s interest in the online poker news site, that makes sense too. Snagging an established super-affiliate and media/propaganda source at a cheap price—without need of disclosure—had to be tempting.
It’s also worth noting—to TSG’s discredit—that PokerNews never once touched the 2014 headline shocker of PokerStars severing its former owner’s promise to pay lifetime revenue streams to affiliates on player acquisitions. That was a horrendous scandal, although deemed “legal” in the eyes of justice.
Well played Stars Group… well played.