Social poker apps could soon become illegal in China after rumors surfaced that the government is looking to implement a ban on the free play platforms.
Although the government has yet to make an official statement, Inside Asian Gaming is reporting that all social poker apps will become illegal after June 1. Already Chinese e-commerce site Tencent has removed the World Series of Poker play-money app from its marketplace.
Shutting Down Poker Media, Free Play
As well as removing the WSOP app and other social poker products, Tencent’s WeChat messaging service will also be forbidden from allowing anything that is perceived as promoting the game.
“It is a blow for the Asian poker community because Chinese social media can no longer cover poker,” Hong Kong Poker Players Association Managing Director Stephen Lai said to the South China Morning Post. “If you can’t promote those events on social media, Chinese players won’t know they are on, so they won’t go.”
With the government calling free play poker apps a “route to gambling,” the implication is that full poker regulation may never happen in China. In Lai’s view, the country has “gone back to square one” with regards to poker after seeing a number of positive changes in recent years.
In addition to social poker apps giving Chinese residents to practice poker for free and gain access to real money events across Asia, international brands had started to use them as a route to market. As an example, the World Poker Tour (WPT) held its first live event on the Chinese mainland in 2017.
Impact Felt Across Asia
Operating under the WPT National banner, the tournament saw 400 players take to the felt in Beijing to create a prizepool worth $1,393,324. When the betting was over, Macau’s Pete Yanhan Chen took home the trophy and $299,485 ahead of Chen Ke ($199,278).
The inaugural WPT on Chinese soil was expected to be the catalyst for more poker events across the country, but the latest government intervention could put a stop to that.
Although China has long been touted as the next growth area for the industry, a ban on free play apps will come as a blow to business across Asia.
“We have been very happy that China has 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,” Lai continued.
As it stands, the future of poker in China looks bleak. If the government follows through on the alleged move to ban poker on social media platforms, operators in the area will struggle to grow the game at the grassroots level.