Macau’s poker industry has taken a series of devastating blows this month with the closure of two poker rooms and the cancellation of a new tournament series in the wake of a recent crackdown on online poker applications by the Chinese government.
And there could be more pain on the way with the World Series of Poker – which held the very first WSOP China in Sanya late last year – seeking clarification amid rumors that the 2018 event could be cancelled.
In what is undoubtedly the biggest setback Macau poker has suffered in years, the popular PokerStars LIVE Macau poker room at City of Dreams – host of the Macau Poker Cup, APPT Macau and the Asian Championships of Poker – is currently looking for a new home after Melco Resorts & Entertainment chose not to renew its contract. Despite the recent Macau Millions main event attracting a record field of 2,499 players, staff were seen breaking down and removing poker tables just a day after the event finished – bringing to an end PokerStars’ five-year tenure at City of Dreams after first moving there in 2013.
Neither PokerStars nor Melco Resorts replied to requests for comment, however it is believed that a re-imagining of the main gaming floors ahead of City of Dreams’ upcoming Phase II launch is behind the decision. Melco Resorts recently relocated former Studio City Property President David Sisk to City of Dreams to overhaul mass and premium mass.
Inside Asian Gaming has been told that PokerStars spoke briefly with neighbouring MGM COTAI about a possible partnership but that prospect was quickly scuppered.
Meanwhile, Galaxy Macau has also shut down its poker room. The modest eight table room – used exclusively for cash games rather than tournaments – was refurbished and re-launched just over a year ago but failed to gain any real traction with the broader poker community.
Meanwhile, a new event scheduled for the week of 16 to 20 May, the International Poker Tour Macau, has been cancelled as a direct result of China’s poker crackdown.
Organizer Alisports released a statement last week informing players that the event had been postponed “after careful consideration.” IPT Macau’s business model was largely centered around Chinese players qualifying for the tournament via the Alibaba poker app.
In April, Chinese authorities announced that poker would no longer be recognized as a competitive sport and simultaneously banned the promotion of Texas Hold’em via social media applications.
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 was always expected to be a devastating blow for players and the companies that enable them. Among the companies likely to be hit hardest are Ourgame – owners of the World Poker Tour – and Boyaa Interactive, whose Boyaa Poker Tour relies heavily on players qualifying via its app.
Boyaa’s 2017 Annual Report 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.
Likewise, Tencent was quick to remove its Tencent Poker app from app stores after the announcement last month, however rumors circulating on Chinese social media this week that WSOP China has also been cancelled are wide of the mark.
The WSOP signed a historic 10-year partnership agreement with Tencent in 2017 that saw them host the inaugural WSOP China at the Shangri-La in Sanya in December – a series of 12 “free to play” events in which all players qualified via the Tencent app.
A WSOP spokesman confirmed to IAG on Monday that there had been no announcement made on the future of WSOP events in China but added, “We’re all waiting for clarity from the Chinese government to see what the impact may be.”
The WSOP and Tencent had announced last year their intention to host similar events to the inaugural WSOP China in major cities around the country.
In the meantime, Macau is currently left with just one regular tournament poker venue – the Macau Billionaire Poker Room – which last week hosted the APT Macau Championships 2018 at Babylon Casino.