The Venetian

Macau Poker Scene Shrinks in Wake of China App Ban

Despite reports from Macau news outlets to the contrary, the Macau poker scene has suffered a sharp contraction in the wake of the ban on “Texas Hold’em” (poker) apps, chat threads and related technologies as announced by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Culture roughly two weeks ago.

Among the latest developments are the official ending of the partnership between PokerStars and its home in Macau for the past five years, the City of Dreams Casino in Cotai. Also new is the cancellation of the upcoming International Poker Tour (IPT) Macau series. That IPT event, sponsored by AliSports, was slated to be held May 16-20 at the Venetian Macau Resort & Hotel Macau.

The Stars Group, Melco Part Ways

PokerStars parent The Stars Group has been forced out of Macau for the near future following the cancellation of its deal with City of Dreams parent Melco Resorts & Entertainment. According to an Inside Asian Gaming update, Melco officials terminated the deal, in what was casually described as Melco choosing not to renew the contract.

Whether such phrasing was a euphemism for Melco actually terminating the existing one wasn’t belabored, yet IAG also offered this, which indicates more cancellation and less a lack of renewal:

“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.”

IAG noted that City of Dreams is amid an ongoing “reimagining” of its floor layout, yet the timing indicates that more was involved: The table breakdown would have occurred on April 24, just a couple of days after news of the Chinese poker-app ban was announced. City of Dreams has closed the entire PokerStarsLIVE room, which was used for cash-game play the entire year but also served as the hub, along with additional floor space, for the frequent Stars-branded series brought to Macau in recent years.

The Stars Group’s vice president of communications, confirmed Stars departure from City of Dreams. “We  can confirm that the PokerStars partnership with City of Dreams Macau has come to an end,” Hollreiser told Flushdraw. “We are working on ensuring that we can continue to bring high quality live events to Asia.”

Events in Macau, sadly, do not seem to be part of the near-term equation. IAG also reported that PokerStars approached another Cotai casino, MGM Cotai, but a possible deal there was not of interest to that property.

Future PokerStars-branded series planned for Macau have been excised from online tournament-poker schedules. Among them was the Macau Poker Cup 29 series, A couple of seats into that series were advertised as prizes for a separate Stars-branded event for the Japan Open Poker Tour. Those promised prizes were likely replaced with seats into other Pacific Rim events.

IPT Future Unknown After Macau Postponement

It’s safe to say that global online-poker market PokerStars will find a way to trudge on despite the pressured closing of its Macau operation. Less certain is the future of the International Poker Tour (IPT), the effort announced by Alibaba Sports Group (AliSports) in late 2016. The IPT has been forced to indefinitely postpone — read that as cancelled — the IPT Macau series scheduled to run at Venetian Macau May 16-20.

Alibaba, the wholesale marketing giant, envisioned poker as a natural complement to its existing mindsport competitions and promotions for pastimes such as chess and bridge. However, the Chinese ban also removes poker from the nation’s list of approved competitive sports, thus hindering such crossover marketing efforts.

Worse, Alibaba also marketed a poker app which was a recruitment tool and satellite feeder into the now-cancelled IPT event, leaving the whole Macau series a marketing orphan. In its debut announcement, series organizers also promised future IPT series in Europe and North America, but those haven’t firmed up in the year and a half since the tour’s creation.

The combination may well finish off the IPT before it’s ever had a real chance to find its legs. Initially, the IPT promised HDK 7,000,000 (about $900,000) in guaranteed prize money spread over several promised stops, but those ongoing guarantees will likely disappear in the wake of the Macau cancellation.

Other poker series appear to have been shelved as well. A check of the Hendon Mob’s listing of future poker series scheduled in Macau for the remainder of 2018 shows only one series after May. When compared against series played in Macau last year, that’s a sharp difference. A general resumption of such events won’t occur until Macau’s casinos themselves receive specific confirmation from Chinese authorities that live poker events are once again a solid go.

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