PokerStars, based in Onchan, is one of the largest egaming companies and operates the two largest online poker sites in the world: PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
The firm, which boasts more than 85 million registered players, recently passed the milestone of dealing their one hundred billionth hand of online poker.
Head of corporate communications Eric Hollreiser reveals why the Isle of Man is a great place to do business and why the company is pleased to be sponsoring the award for Volunteer of the Year at this year’s Isle of Man Newspapers’ Awards for Excellence at the Villa Marina on November 21.
‘Volunteerism, and the responsibility that comes with the idea of being a volunteer, is really part of the fabric and culture of this company, from the founders and senior executives on down.
‘It’s something we believe in strongly and encourage among our employees because we recognise that the gift of time to a charity or a community cause can be just as valuable as a gift of money.’
He cites the example of the day last winter when the snow fell and a call went out to help farmers rescue sheep buried in drifts.
‘Our Head of Corporate Giving went round the office, looking for volunteers: by lunchtime we had 60 people – including our CEO – out with wellies and shovels, helping in the search,’ recalls Eric.
PokerStars’ presence in the island began seven years ago with just six people. Since then, they have grown into an organisation which now employs 1,600 people around the world.
The Isle of Man is home to their corporate headquarters and all their senior executives are based here, among more than 200 staff.
It’s no accident that PokerStars has thrived in the island: it was carefully chosen for a number of reasons, as Eric explains.
‘A number of years ago, the Isle of Man created a very sound, smart, forward-looking set of regulations around egaming, building on the strengths the island already had in finance, insurance and regulating complex global businesses. We found that their regulatory scheme was very consistent with the way we look at the business: that is, being very responsive and responsible to consumers, and focussing on the key elements of our business where it’s important that things are done right, such as security and IT protection and consumer fund protection.
‘That was first and foremost why we came. Second was the technical infrastructure here: existing businesses on the island with the knowledge to manage a complex-IT-driven business. ‘
To illustrate why the technical infrastructure is important, Eric goes on to explain that, at any given moment, around 400,000 people can be playing poker online, all at the same time:
‘We hold the Guinness Record for the largest ever single online tournament where we had 225,000 people playing in one tournament, with hands being dealt and chips put into the pot on thousands of tables simultaneously.’
As well as the online game, PokerStars is also one of the largest producers of live poker tournaments around the world and will soon to be sponsoring the first-ever visit of the UK and Ireland Poker Tour to the Isle of Man at the Villa at the end of October.
Poker, Eric says, is not just about luck: ‘Skill plays a very important role in the outcome of the game. It’s about understanding probability and numbers, as well as luck, but there is skill involved in what you do during the course of a hand or a game – each hand includes a number of skill-based decisions, which is why the best players keep on winning in poker.’
‘You also need a lot of stamina to play in tournaments: a lot of poker players have very rigorous exercise regimes and poker attracts a lot of former athletes like Boris Becker. Another more recent convert is Rafa Nadal who represents PokerStars around the world. He’s just learning poker and absolutely loving it - it really feeds his competitive spirit!’
Last year, PokerStars brought another bit of excitement to the island when they acquired the Irish online company, Full Tilt Poker. As well as moving their licence to the Isle of Man, the acquisition also entailed bringing the company’s enormous servers over from Dublin. This was such a major logistical undertaking that they had to hire a giant Hercules transport plane, more commonly used for carrying troops and military vehicles, to do the job.
Eric believes that the Isle of Man has proved to be a great place to do business because of the business-friendly environment the government has created: ‘You can establish a business here in a really efficient way that is competitive around the world,’ he says, adding:
‘We’ve been very happy with our experience here in the Isle of Man. I think we have been a very responsible, responsive and successful company here partly because of our belief in being part of the community and hiring in the community whilst also bringing in talent and experience to the island. I think we’ve grown into being a highly respected company where a lot of people want to work and that makes us all very happy and proud.’
Do you work tirelessly for your favourite charity, or your local community? Maybe you know someone else whose efforts you think should be recognised?
If so, you have until October 5 to submit your entry.
Isle of Man Newspapers’ Awards for Excellence offers awards in sixteen different categories, covering private sector businesses, public sector and charitable organisations and individual awards.
This year’s Awards Night will take place on November 21 at the Villa and will be compered by Hugh Dennis, the star of BBC television’s hit comedy, ‘Outnumbered’.
You can find entry forms for all the award categories at www.iomtoday.co.im/afe