How China is changing the online poker arena

While gambling is frowned upon across much of the world, it has long been illegal in China. But how could recent crackdowns on gambling by the Chinese government impact the online poker arena? 

Gambling in China is illegal, except for in the administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

Yet, this hasn’t prevented the rapid rise of online poker in the country. The game has continued to gain popularity, despite the Chinese state banning playing with real money.

Chinese players have, until this point, only been permitted to exchange so-called ‘play money’. This typically takes the form of specialised in-app currencies.

Estimates suggest that the value of illegal gambling in China could be as much as ten times that of legal gambling activities worldwide, which in 2016 was close to $28 billion.

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Government crackdowns on social poker

As recently as June 2018, the Chinese government introduced plans to crack down on social poker games. This included banning all apps offering poker.

One of the more recent casualties was Chinese technology giant, Tencent. As a result of the ban, Tencent decided to pull its popular ‘Everyday Texas Hold’em’ game, which had been available on a free-to-play basis on the WeChat messaging app.

This comes just three years after the Asian-Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) was made to shut down the Nanjing Millions event by a Chinese police task force.

A ban on social media publicity

The effects of China’s latest gambling regulations aren’t only being felt in the country. Ripples are being felt throughout Asia as operators can’t promote online poker games to would-be players from China.

That said, some think China’s recent crackdown has done little to hinder the popularity of poker amongst its citizens. Gambling companies are now seeking out opportunities to bypass regulations with many continuing to trade in neighbouring regions.

Operations move to Macau and Manilla

In a bid to avoid government sanctions in China, many gambling companies have taken to operating overseas, particularly in Macau and Manila, the Filipino capital.

Macau is one of the only Chinese territories where gambling is legal, and has been since the 1850s, when the Portuguese government legalised the activity in the autonomous colony.

Currently, Macau generates three times the gambling revenue of Las Vegas, with an annual gross gaming revenue of $28 billion compared to the American gaming mecca’s yearly take of $6.3 billion.

The long-term effect

In reality, a Chinese crackdown on online poker is unlikely to deter seasoned players and enthusiasts. But exactly how these new laws will impact the larger gaming scene in the country is yet to be seen. Industry experts suggest Chinese policy could drive gamers deeper underground in the long term.

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