China to Impose Online Poker Ban Starting June 1st

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China to Impose Online Poker Ban Starting June 1st

Poker players in China look set to experience their own Black-Friday scenario on June 1st after the country’s Ministry of Culture said that poker will no longer be recognized as a competitive sport. Furthermore, social poker apps will also be banned, together with the promotion of such games, with the whole development dealing a massive blow to a game which has become increasing popularity in China over the past few years.

The bad news doesn’t end there, though, as the poker scene is likely to be severely impacted throughout the whole of Asia, too, and as Stephen Lai, Hong Kong Poker Players Association managing director, explains:

“It was growing very fast, now it is going to be more difficult for operators in Asia to organize poker events because Chinese players make up over half of the field. If you can’t promote those events on social media, Chinese players won’t know they are on so they won’t go.”

Social-Casino Game Concerns

Social poker apps have helped the game become incredibly popular in China, with players able to compete with one another across play money platforms run by such operators as Tencent, Alisports (Alibaba), Ourgame and Boyaa Interactive.

Nevertheless, social-casino games have been subjected to increasing scrutiny from authorities around he world in recent times, as despite offering free play they often allow players to purchase an extension of their services at a charge. The industry subsequently had more negative publicity shone upon it recently after Washington State moved to ban social games within its borders, with the state arguing that the virtual chips offered by these so-called free to play sites in actual fact represented a “thing of value”.

China now appears to have reached a similar conclusion, with an expose on China’s CCTV News referring to the Washington State case, with some of its harshest criticism reserved for Texas Hold’em games, which have been labeled “gambling tools”.

June 1st Deadline

There are currently numerous social apps available in China that allow residents to compete with one another at poker, or alternatively to access and play at a variety of different casino games. On June 1st, however, apps for all these games will no longer be permitted, while businesses will be forbidden from promoting such products on social media.

As a result, app stores such as Google Play and Apple App Store have started reviewing their poker related apps ahead of the June 1st deadline, while WeChat, which is the main WSOP brand promoter in China, has already removed its WSOP app from its product list.

Operators Most Affected

Although the companies mentioned will all be affected by the ban, others will find themselves even more severely impacted. For instance, Hong Kong based Boyaa Interactive, a major online game operator in China, generates more than two-thirds of its revenue from poker-related social-games, with the company stating last year that Texas Hold’em games helped increase its “average revenue per paying user” by a huge 73% compared to the previous year.

Following the latest news, however, Boyaa Interactive International Ltd saw its share price fall by 12%, while other giants in the social media space, including Tencent, Alisports, and Ourgame, will now also be facing a hit to their bottom lines.

Major Consequences

Poker has managed to attract such a strong Chinese following due in large part to the games availability via social media apps, with online promotions also helping to draw more attention towards the live tournaments taking place in special designated zones in the country, or elsewhere around Asia.

Last year, for example, the Boyaa Poker Tour successfully launched a third season, with the company mentioning in its 2017 financial report that the specially organized competition was instrumental in increasing its brand awareness and player loyalty, and enabling it to continue on its path to becoming a globally recognized poker competition brand. Needless to say, a lack of promotion and advertising will now leave many Chinese players in the dark as to where any such competitions will subsequently be taking place.

In addition, Chinese players will no longer be able to qualify for live tournaments via social poker games, or even hone their poker skills on such sites in order to give themselves a better edge when looking to compete either at home or abroad. Highlighting the implications further, Stephen Lai explained:

“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.”

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