Beginning June 1, 2018, all apps that offer any type of poker will be banned in China. Playing and promoting poker on all forms of social media channels will be banned. Therefore, it is expected that the number of Chinese players at legal regional games will drop dramatically.
The poker game has been nothing but popular in mainland China and other parts of Asia. Even if the Chinese weren't allowed to play with real money, that didn't stop them from playing as they were allowed to play with play money. The game's popularity increased even more thanks to it being offered through social apps in which players can play the game against other players with the use of virtual currencies. Even Western high roller poker players have become increasingly interested in playing the Asian poker apps too - regularly playing on several smartphones or iPads, simultaneously playing multiple tables. Depositing and cashing out with these Asian poker apps are managed by ‘agents', a system not practiced by Western-faced poker websites such as 888poker, partypoker, and PokerStars.
According to Hong Kong Poker Players Association managing director Stephen Lai, "It was growing very fast, now it is going to be more difficult for operators in Asia to organise 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. It is also a blow for the Asian poker community because Chinese social media can no longer cover poker."
The purpose of being able to play poker online is one of the best ways aspiring players can qualify to compete in the live tournaments, and even if the Chinese players know that they are only paying for coins to be able to play, most of them are already satisfied just to achieve "the honor of winning".
Lai continued, "It is a shame that the government won't allow people talking about the game. We have been very happy that China have been allowing social gaming, not for money, so that people from China have a chance to practise and travel around Asia and beyond to play poker, where it is legal to do so. 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 practise, and they won't get to know about legal poker events around Asia. Poker has gone back to square one in China."
The news comes a few weeks after it was announced that China will allow horse racing and other new types of sports lotteries on its southern island of Hainan.
E-commerce giant Tencent, which actually signed an agreement with WSOP a year ago, is one of the companies to be most affected by the ban, and it has already taken off its poker app from the app store. Other gaming companies such as Alisports (Alibaba), Boyaa Interactive, and Ourgame will also have to follow suit.
The promotion of poker on social media using WeChat or Weibo will no longer be possible.
The news comes after three years (April 16, 2015) since a Chinese police task force shut down the Asian-Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) Nanjing Millions event in Nanjing, China, because the tournament was being suspected of illegal gambling. In December 2017, poker player Zhou Yun Peng won the very first WSOP China for CNY 2,414,000 (or $367,000).
This is very much like China's "Black Friday" version. The Chinese government has been attempting to remove poker rooms for years, by imposing high penalties and restrictions. Now, it looks like they have won the battle.
After the ban was announced, the stocks of Boyaa Interactive International Limited dropped down by 12%. On the other hand, Beijing-based company Ourgame, the owner of World Poker Tour (they bought WPT for $35 million in 2015), said that they will adjust to the new legal situation. The ban has no effect on tournaments organized outside China.