Fans of the video game sensation Red Dead Redemption 2 received a nice surprise last week, when developer Rockstar Games added player-vs-player poker games to the Red Dead Online platform.
Red Dead Online officially emerged from beta testing on May 14, with Rockstar Games adding an array of updates – including the ability to play Texas Hold’em poker against human opponents. Red Dead Redemption 2 included several gambling-themed “mini-games,” one of which was poker, but players competed against the game’s AI in preprogrammed matches.
The new Red Dead Online update, on the other hand, enabled players to set up private games against friends, or to join public tables to take on strangers.
Here’s how Rockstar Games described the poker feature in a press release announcing Red Dead Online’s new updates:
“Visit poker tables at towns and outposts across the map to challenge your friends to a private, invite-only game of Hold ’Em. Or, raise the stakes and take a seat at a public table, where the buy-ins and rewards are even higher. All poker tables seat up to 6 players, available in 5 locations: Blackwater, Saint Denis, Tumbleweed, Valentine and Flatneck Station.”
While players can use real money to purchase “gold” for in-game use, poker tables in Red Dead Online only utilize the platform’s “cash” currency, which can’t be obtained in exchange for real money.
But in spite of this setup – ostensibly devised by Rockstar Games to restrict its poker product to play-money status – players residing in several countries with strict gambling laws have reported being blocked from the games altogether.
As reported by video game industry news outlet Kotaku, the first complaints about Red Dead Online blocking certain players from participating in poker surfaced on the online forum Reddit.
Posting to the RDO subreddit, a user identified as “Insydedan” sounded the first alarm on May 16 under the heading “Online Poker IS Region Restricted.”
That post included a letter, purportedly sent by a representative from Rockstar Games Support, explaining why some players are being blocked from poker:
“We certainly understand your concern regarding not being able to play poker. We appreciate your interest in using this feature in the game. We are sorry to let you know that the availability of Poker in Red Dead Online is dependent on regional laws and regulations and may not be available to all players. In short, poker won’t be available in countries where online gambling is restricted or illegal. We apologize if this had caused any inconvenience. For any new updates, we recommend staying tuned to @RockstarGames on Twitter and Rockstargames.com/newswire.”
That post was soon followed by several replies confirming that players accessing the game from countries where gambling is otherwise illegal aren’t eligible to play.
One player identifying themselves as living in Argentina mentioned that his nation’s laws allow him to play for real money on the PokerStars platform, but not virtual “cash” via Red Dead Online.
Rockstar’s customer service page also posted the following response to a player inquiring about their poker feature showing a “not available” message:
“Certain features are not available at all times or for all players. This can occur for a number of reasons including regional restrictions, game design, or the incompatibility between features you are interacting with.”
So far, Reddit users identifying themselves as “Middle Eastern” and “Asian” have had their access restricted.
Countries where Islamic law is enforced strictly ban all forms of gambling. China, meanwhile, is currently cracking down on the online casino industry, which its hardline government views as a threat to its lucrative brick and mortar gambling industry based in Macau.