PokerStars Partners with International Entertainment To Grow Brand In Asia

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PokerStars Partners with International Entertainment To Grow Brand In Asia

The Stars Group, which owns the world’s biggest poker site PokerStars, has entered into a partnership deal with Hong-Kong-listed company International Entertainment Corp (IEC) to run PokerStars-branded land-based poker tournaments at its numerous hotels across Asia. Commenting upon the development, a statement from IEC explained that the agreement would help the company to expand the range of entertainment products it offers, stating:

“Since it launched in 2001, PokerStars has become the first choice of players all over the world, with more daily tournaments than anywhere else and with the best online security. The deal will help us diversify whilst maintaining the group’s core businesses of hotel operations and leasing of properties for casino and ancillary leisure and entertainment operations.”

PokerStars Asian Expansion

PokerStars has a roughly 70% share of the global online poker market, and currently has operations in numerous jurisdictions across the world. Asia, however, represents a particularly attractive draw for the operator and in recent years it has forged close relationships with several Asian companies as it seeks to make further inroads into the world’s most populated continent.

In 2013, for instance, PokerStars partnered with Melco Crown Entertainment to set up the PokerStars LIVE City of Dreams poker room in Macau, which is also one of the stops on the popular Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT). In 2017, the recently launched PokerStars Festival then headed to the Paradise City Hotel & Resort in South Korea, while this year the operator launched on the Indian sub-continent.

China Crisis

Nevertheless, China has always been the jewel in the crown as far as Asian poker is concerned, but last month poker operators received a body blow after the country’s Ministry of Culture banned social poker apps and the promotion of live poker tournaments on social media. As Stephen Lai, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Poker Players Association, explained at the time:

“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.”

Needless to say, the development has badly impacted China’s budding poker industry, and this month PokerStars felt compelled to terminate its partnership with Melco and close its poker room in City of Dreams. According to the Lawrence Ho, CEO of Melco Resorts & Entertainment, the arrangement was no longer profitable and the area once taken up by PokerStars inside the casino would now be used for more profitable table games.

IEC Opportunities

International Entertainment Corp is a publicly-listed firm whose primary activity involves the operation of hotel businesses, and the leasing of investment properties equipped with leisure and entertainment equipment. Its subsidiaries currently include Maxprofit International Limited, Fortune Growth Overseas Limited, CTF Hotel and Lucky Genius Limited, with the latter having entered into the aforementioned partnership agreement with The Stars Group.

The company’s flagship property is the AG New World Manila Bay Hotel and Casino situated in the capital city of the Philippines, but it also owns and leases properties to casino firms all across Asia. Last year, the family of the late Hong Kong billionaire Cheng Yu Tung sold IEC to Stanley Choi; a Chinese entrepreneur and high rolling poker player with
around $7.5 million in live tournament winnings, of which $6.46 million of that amount is accounted for by his victory in 2012 at the HK$ 2M (US$250k) Macau High Stakes Challenge Super High Roller.

While China’s decision to no longer recognize poker as a competitive sport is likely to arrest the game’s development in the country, Asia is still seen as growth region as a whole, with the deal agreed between PokerStars and IEC having the potential to turn the brand into the biggest poker brand throughout the vast continent of 4.4 billion people.

IEC Buys Wigan Athletic

On Monday, IEC also completed its negotiation to purchase the English football club Wigan Athletic and its DW Stadium, which has been majority owned by the Whelan family since 1995. Nevertheless, the deal said to be worth around £22 million ($30m) must still receive approval from the English Football League and Hong Kong Stock Exchange before being finalized.

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