Offbeat | PokerStars borrows from fantasy games to attract more players

The world’s largest online poker company is seeing whether a new version of the game will attract players who like a little bit of magic with their cards.

PokerStars has been testing Power Up, which disrupts the traditional game of poker by giving players a wide range of abilities to see or choose specific cards. The hybrid version is the latest attempt by PokerStars owner The Stars Group Inc. to revive growth in its core business, and the new game will be followed by other variations, according to Chief Executive Officer Rafi Ashkenazi. A full commercial push is planned for next year.

“We’re trying to tap into new audiences that are not playing poker today but are playing other strategy card games,” Ashkenazi said in a telephone interview Thursday. That includes Hearthstone, a fantasy card game with a loyal base of followers who use spells and minions to attack opponents, he said.

Stars Group reported quarterly earnings that beat analysts’ estimates as a new loyalty program helped boost poker revenue, while the casino and sports betting units continue to drive growth. Keeping an active pool of poker players is the easiest and cheapest way for the company to attract customers to its newer businesses.

New prospects also opened last month, when Pennsylvania became the fourth U.S. state to legalize online gambling. The Stars Group plans to get into the state and has eyes set on Michigan and New York, which have pending bills, Ashkenazi said.

“If these two states will open up to regulation, say, in 2018 at some point, then I think there will be some sort of knock on effect in the U.S,” Ashkenazi said.

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