China Poker Crackdown: Government Shutting Down Online Poker Apps On June 1

Martin Derbyshire April 24, 2018 1224 Reads
China Poker

The Chinese government is reportedly shutting the door to poker’s final frontier.

According to Macau-based publication Inside Asian Gaming, China will launch a sweeping crackdown on online poker applications and stop recognizing the game as a competitive sport beginning June 1.

Beijing and the Chinese government have yet to announce the ban. However, all poker apps will be shut down and removed from app stores, according to Inside Asian Gaming. Plus, promoting poker and social poker apps on social media channels, like the popular WeChat and Weibo, will also be banned.

Poker in China

Poker in China exists almost exclusively on these social poker apps. As a result, the ban will have a major impact on the industry. Particularly, in a country of 1.4 billion people long believed to offer the greatest opportunity for future growth.

Real-money online and live poker is basically illegal in China, outside of special administrative regions like Macau that allow gambling.

However, live tournament poker has seen rapid growth in the country since Chinese authorities raided and shut down the PokerStars APPT Nanjing Millions event, co-hosted by PokerStars and Beijing’s Star Poker Club in April 2015.

Social poker app satellites have fueled much of the growth on the live tournament scene.

Social poker apps run by companies like Boyaa, Tencent, Alisports (Alibaba), and Ourgame, owners of the World Poker Tour, are used to qualify players for live events in China.

Industry reaction

According to Inside Asian Gaming, Boyaa stock dropped 12 percent immediately following news of the ban. Boyaa had just filed its 2017 Annual Report. It claimed its third Boyaa Poker Tour event at the end of 2017 was a success. Results included increased brand awareness and player loyalty.

The report also indicated Boyaa’s revenue is on the rise, mostly through poker.

Additionally, Ourgame, which bought the WPT for $35 million in 2015, immediately announced it will adjust its poker-related activities in Mainland China to respect the ban.

A statement on the company’s website says Ourgame will “continue to introduce and hold more top-level intellectual sports events and promote the global spread of chess and card culture,” in China, with no mention of poker at all.

Plus, Tencent removed its World Series of Poker app from app stores. Tencent just signed a multi-year agreement with Caesars Interactive Entertainment and the WSOP to spread the brand throughout Asia in July 2017. The deal involved poker staff training, WSOP merchandise rights, and media content distribution and production rights. Plus, the Tencent Poker free-to-play social poker app added a WSOP branded game.

Poker could suffer across Asia

Chinese players have also been partly responsible for the growth of poker across Asia. In fact, fields are quite often 50 percent Chinese players in major tournaments across the region.

Events outside of China draw Chinese players almost exclusively through social media promotion. Therefore, the social media promotion ban could have a disastrous effect on tournament field sizes across Asia.

Hong Kong Poker Players Association managing director Stephen Lai told the South China Morning Post newspaper the news is a huge blow to Chinese poker and poker all over Asia:

“We have been very happy that China have been allowing social gaming, not for money, so that people from China have a chance to practice and travel around Asia and beyond to play poker, where it is legal to do so. Now, with the alleged policy change, there will be no play money poker in China, and you can’t talk about poker on social media. Chinese players won’t have a chance to practice, and they won’t get to know about legal poker events around Asia. Poker has gone back to square one in China.”