China has launched a sweeping crackdown on online poker applications after authorities announced that poker will no longer be recognized as a competitive sport.
The crackdown, which will ban the promotion of Texas Hold’em via social media applications, will have huge implications for the industry in China.
According to Chinese media reports, the ban will require all apps offering any form of social poker game to be shut down and removed from app stores by 1 June. Social media channels such as WeChat will also be banned from promoting any form of Texas Hold’em product.
Given that poker in China largely exists via these social media apps, the ban could prove to be a devastating blow for players and the companies that enable them.
Hong Kong-listed Boyaa Interactive, whose Boyaa Poker Tour sees players qualify via the company’s online app, saw its share price fall by 12% immediately following news of the ban.
Only hours earlier Boyaa had filed its 2017 Annual Report in which it stated that, “The third Boyaa Poker Tour, our specially organized competition, was successfully held in the fourth quarter of 2017, which increased our brand’s awareness and players’ loyalty, enabling us to continue our steady steps towards becoming an internationally recognized poker game competition brand.”
Boyaa’s 2017 Annual Report also indicated a 73% increase in “average revenue per paying user” via its mobile Texas Hold’em Games – the biggest jump across any of the company’s segments. It is understood that Texas Hold’em games account for up to 70% of Boyaa’s interactive revenue.
Inside Asian Gaming has been informed that Tencent, developer of WeChat, has already taken down its World Series of Poker app.
Ourgame, which owns and operates the World Poker Tour, posted a statement on its website in which it promised to examine and correct its poker offerings in order to satisfy the new regulations.
The company added that it had been responsible for providing hundreds of millions of players with “high-end intellectual tournaments and events.
“This not only plays an important role in the creation of social, cultural and economic values, it also acts as a bridge between China and the world’s intellectual sports,” it said. “Ourgame will continue to introduce and hold more top-level intellectual sports events and promote the global spread of chess and card culture.
“In the future, Ourgame will actively respond to the ‘National Fitness’ strategy, promote the popularization and development of intellectual sports, meet the leisure and entertainment needs of the masses and at the same time, we will consciously assume the responsibility of supervision and control and conduct real-time supervision on violations in the game. We will supervise and clean up, increase monitoring of problem accounts and user behaviors, ensure the healthy, fair and harmonious game environment and jointly promote the standardized and healthy online game market.”
The full legal framework of China’s social media poker ban is not yet known.
The crackdown comes almost three years to the day since Chinese authorities raided and shut down the PokerStars APPT Nanjing Millions – a high-profile live event co-hosted by PokerStars and Beijing’s Star Poker Club that had attracted 2,359 players in April 2015.