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Chinese Authorities Intervene, APPT Nanjing Millions Cancelled

Friday’s unexpected and forced cancellation of the 2015 APPT Nanjing Millions event in mainland China following a shutdown of activities by local authorities demonstrates again that bringing big-time poker to emerging global markets can be a harrowing and costly endeavor.

APPT LogoFor those who missed it, local Chinese police stepped in and stopped the APPT Nanjing event on the fourth day of playing, asserting in various statements that “illegal gambling” was taking place at the host venue, the Wutaishan Sports Center in Nanjing.

First to break the news to the English-speaking portion of the global poker world was World Global Magazine, which also translated into English a Chinese-language closure statement the Nanjing authorities posted on the Wutaishan’s doors.  According to the translated statement:

“Due to the APPT Nanjing Millions tournament being suspected of illegal gambling, the police are now investigating and the event is being ceased. All related staff should go and register at the designated location and co-operate with the police for the investigation.”

Exactly what the nature of the “illegal gambling” was alleged to be remains highly uncertain, and there’s as much of a chance that this was another example of corrupt local and regional law enforcement seeking bribe money — and shutting down the proceedings when none (or not enough) was forthcoming — as it is that any illegal game, separate from that already contracted and licensed for by the event’s organizers, was taking place.

The APPT (Asia Pacific Poker Tour) is one of several PokerStars-sponsored tours around the globe that is now the property of Canada’s Amaya Gaming, having been acquired by Amaya last year.  A statement attributed to Amaya’s Eric Hollreiser and published in various outlets reads as follows:

After three very successful days of tournament poker, the organizers of the Nanjing Millions decided to postpone the event in order to address questions from local authorities. The tournament was sanctioned by the local government through the Jiangsu Provincial Chess Sports Association and held at the Jiangsu Wutaishan Sports Centre, an official Olympic venue. The event itself was organized and operated by a local poker operator, Star Poker Club, and sponsored by APPT China. We are in contact with Star Poker Club and are seeking additional details. The organizers have issued a statement apologizing for the inconvenience and plan to resume the tournament in the near future.

There’s no reason to believe anything other than what Hollreiser and Amaya are asserting in their brief statement.  Despite breaking the news, the World Global Magazine quickly descended into stupidity, asking such questions as:

  • This of course leaves more questions than answers. Questions like, “when was the decision to ‘postpone the event’ made”? Maybe once the police turned up?

  • If the event was organized and operated by a local poker operator, why is it splashed all over Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT)’s site as if it is theirs? (see http://www.appt.com/tournaments/nanjing/)

To which the answers are:

  • Yes. (Duh.)

  • Because that is almost certainly how the licensing structure demanded that it be operated, regardless of who might be promoting the event separately.  The fact that the event was being run by a local poker operator is an additional indicator that Amaya, PokerStars and the APPT attempted to obtain all proper licensing for the event.

Sometimes people can’t think.  Whether or not this is related to the larger-scale generalized crackdown on various gambling forms in mainland China is also a possibility, but then again, and without even coming close to Amaya-apologist territory, that could hardly be deemed Amaya’s fault.

One need only look back to the local-government shakedown carried out against a different Stars-sponsored event seven years ago to see the likeliest answer.  That was in 2008, at the first-ever (and likely last-ever) Latin American Poker Tour stop in Mexico.  The 2008 LAPT Nuevo Vallarta was cancelled under similar official proclamations of “illegal gambling,” but instead it just turned out to be corrupt local officials trying to coerce more money under the table.

Logic dictates the same thing just happened in China.  From Amaya’s standpoint, it would be absolutely foolish for the company to become involved in a major bribery operation to run a Chinese event.  China might have a billion people and it might be a huge market at some point in the distant future, but right now the money Amaya can make from a Chinese presence is relatively small.  Amaya also has no need for the bad press, and the way it could affect its potential licensing in other and more important markets, such as the US.

The local operator in China, who hasn’t been named, could have done something untoward, even though official corruption is still the odds-on favorite.  But it’s unlikely that Amaya did something wrong in Nanjing, and people who think otherwise just aren’t thinking deep enough.

 

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