The debate over gambling-based features and their place in online poker has resurfaced following the launch of PokerStars Side Bets.
As innovations reshape the online poker industry, players are now asking if PokerStars’ new feature encourages more players to gamble unnecessarily.
Speculating on the dynamics of a hand has been common practice in live poker games for decades. Thanks to a recent update, this option is now available across all Hold’em games on PokerStars.com, dot.eu, dot.ruso, and dot.net.
Adding Another Wrinkle to Online Poker
The launch follows a testing period at the start of 2020, during which players gave their opinions on the feature. Alongside issues with stability, players suggested that hiding the Side Bets option box would be better.
Taking these comments on board, the developers have tweaked the software. As part of the full release, side bets are available automatically, but the option is hidden. Those that want to use it can open the Side Bets window within the chat box, and bet on outcome of the next hand.
In practice, PokerStars Side Bets are made against the house and operate as follows:
- Side Bets are available on all Hold’em tables, excluding Zoom
- Players can bet on pre-flop and flop outcomes for the next hand
- Players can speculate on a variety of outcomes, such as their hole cards being a pair of aces, and what type of hand the flop might bring (e.g., a flush, trips, etc.)
- Players can make single bets or use the auto function — automatic bets can be based on a set amount of hands, a maximum win, or the total amount wagered
Money for side bets is taken from a player’s main account balance and not funds on the table. Finally, the ability to make side bets will always be available, except under certain conditions:
“If bets are placed on the outcome of a flop, and the next hand ends before a flop is dealt, bets will be canceled and refunded.
If a table is broken before the outcome of the next hand has been determined, bets will be canceled and refunded.
If a player isn’t dealt into a hand they have bet on, as a result of sitting out or disconnection, bets will be canceled and refunded,” reads PokerStars’ official guide.
Side bets have been around for many years. Often an agreement between individuals, these off-the-table wagers are popular in high stakes games.
Side Bets Draw Split Opinions
For the public at large, side bets (aka props) became popular thanks to pros like Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Tom Dwan, and other regulars on shows like High Stakes Poker (see video below).
While side bets are entertaining, PokerStars’ update has split opinions among players. On one side, some are praising the site for bringing something fresh to the mix. Other players, however, believe the new feature is nothing more than another attempt to force more casino features into online poker.
“They’re literally becoming a casino,” Datesi tweeted.
“And they will be raked obv, so they will all be -EV, which is not poker. JokerStars. If online poker comes back to Australia, I know which site I won’t be playing on,” Eugene Portland wrote on Twitter.
The criticism is nothing new for PokerStars. Past innovations, including Split Hold’em, have raised the question of where the line between skill and gambling now sits. As a business, PokerStars needs to make money, and features such as Side Bets are another revenue stream.
Moreover, as all online poker operators have argued in recent years, the industry needs to attract more casual players. The challenge, however, is striking the right balance between satisfying pros and bringing new blood into the game.
PokerStars’ Side Bets is another attempt to find a happy medium and, in turn, make online poker more appealing. It’s now up to players to vote with their dollars and decide whether it’s a positive addition to the site or not.