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China to Ban Online Poker Apps on June 1; Poker Rooms & Tours in Macau Shut Down

When the calendar turns the page on May, online poker players in China will be subjected to their own version of “Black Friday.”

According to reporting from local poker industry news outlet SoMuchPoker, the Chinese government is preparing to enact a nationwide ban over all online poker applications on Friday, June 1.

Per the report, any app offering poker for online and/or mobile use will be rendered illegal. Individual operators will be responsible for shutting down their poker-related apps, while app stores will be required to purge their inventory.

As part of the ban’s implementation, users of social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo will be forbidden from “promoting” poker in any form.

Both play money and real money poker is said to be targeted in the crackdown, but according to SoMuchPoker, the government has yet to officially release details of their plan.

Hong Kong Poker Players Association managing director Stephen Lai spoke with South China Morning Post to offer a stark prediction on the ban’s wider consequences on poker in China:

“Poker has gone back to square one in China.

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.

If you can’t promote those events on social media, Chinese players won’t know they are on – so they won’t go.”

Indeed, shortly after the ban was announced, two major casinos located in the Chinese administrative district of Macau – City of Dreams and Galaxy Macau – announced that their poker rooms would be shuttered effective immediately.

PokerStars has hosted live tournament series at City of Dreams since 2013 – with the most recent 2018 Macau Millions taking place this past April – but that arrangement has been terminated with the room’s unexpected closure.

Per reporting from Inside Asian Gaming, the City of Dreams poker room was unceremoniously dismantled within 24 hours of the Macau Millions coming to an end:

“Despite the recent Macau Millions main event attracting a record field of 2,499 players, staff were seen breaking down and removing poker tables just a day after the event finished – bringing to an end PokerStars’ five-year tenure at City of Dreams after first moving there in 2013.”

Eric Hollreiser – who serves as vice president of corporate communications for The Stars Group – issued a statement:

“We can confirm that the PokerStars partnership with City of Dreams Macau has come to an end. We are working on ensuring that we can continue to bring high quality live events in Asia.”

Additionally, the International Poker Tour (IPT) Macau stop – planned for May 16-20 – has been cancelled by organizer Alisports, which issued the following statement:

“After careful consideration, the IPT Organizing Committee has decided to postpone their stop in Macao.

IPT 2018 matches will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”

Ourgame, the social gaming company that acquired the World Poker Tour (WPT) in 2015, pledged to “supervise, clean up and increase monitoring of problem accounts and user behaviours” to ensure a “healthy, fair and harmonious online game environment.”

The WPT parent company also vowed to “continue to introduce and hold more top-level intellectual sports events and promote the global spread of chess and card culture.”

The impetus for China’s ban on so-called “social” poker apps arose from the use of agents to turn play money poker into real money wagering. By signing up with an agent, and agreeing to forward all monies owed through them, Chinese players routinely use play money poker apps for real money cash games and tournaments.