GGPoker Network Plans Formal Exit From a Dozen Grey-Market Jurisdictions
The growing online-poker GGPoker Network has begun a concerted shift toward white-market status by announcing its withdrawal from a dozen jurisdictions where the legality of its offerings are disputed by those nations’ authorities.
Earlier this month, players on GGNetwork site Natural8 were among the first to receive news that some countries’ players would be officially dropped. Eleven of the 12 jurisdictions where GGNetwork sites will no longer be available are European: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland. The 12th country is Colombia, on the north coast of South America.
Head of GGPoker Jean-Christophe Antoine, speaking to select outlets, declared that GGNetwork will be withdrawing from these nations “due to regulation and we are looking into either acquiring licenses or [partnering] with locally licensed operators.” Antoine has also made public the network’s plans to return to these jurisdictions once the legal situation becomes more clear, or if the network receives official approval.
However, the seriousness of GGNetwork’s plans to police its network remain, well, somewhat up for debate. Players from several of the above countries reported still being able to play on the network’s sites. With no formal withdrawal date announced, that makes for a fluid, open-ended situation. GGNetwork sites may perhaps decline to accept new customers from certain nations, a stance some other networks have tried in the past, but that tends not to be a long-term solution.
More concerning is that some GGNetwork sites may already be giving a nod and a wink to the situation. One poster on a prominent poker forum, claiming to be playing from Columbia, shared the customer-service response he got when he inquired about his site’s future availability:
If authentic (and there’s little reason to believe it’s not), then the last line seems to be an open invitation to players to obtain continued access to the site and network by using a VPN (virtual private network). Note both the statement that it is the “players” using the not-mentioned-as-VPN software, not the site, and that the jurisdiction-based lock will be based on the country an account appears to be connecting from, not where the account might even be listed as originating. If there’s a more blatant way to suggest to affected players how to keep playing without mentioning the letters V-P-N, it’s hard to imagine.
Yet ll this comes as the fast-growing network appears elsewhere to be attempting to clean up its reputational game. The GGPoker sites have been primarily Asia-facing, but the company has obtained a UK Gambling Commission license and has other European deals in place. That could be troublesome: the UKGC has been taking an ever-stronger stance against its licensed operators who are also participating in grey- or black-market jurisdictions. What that means is that if GGNetwork is trying the metaphorical snow job with regards to allowing VPN play, the network will end up in the UKGC’s crosshairs sooner rather than later. It might take a few months or a year or two, but it will happen.
The not-quite-withdrawal from questionable jurisdictions comes just as GGPoker signed one of poker’s biggest names, Daniel Negreanu, to a high-profile endorsement deal. Negreanu joins Bryn Kenney as prominent faces for GGPoker, but that could make for an interesting situation for both pros should GGPoker run afoul of prominent white-label regulators. Yes, we all know about Negreanu and Full Contact Poker, but this is a little bit different situation. There’s really a marked difference in recent years between online poker sites that are full-on white label around the globe… and those that aren’t. The days when a large online network could straddle the line are pretty much behind us, this GGPoker situation notwithstanding.
At the risk of being called a cynic and a pessimist — probably true at that — I’ve got to opine that this whole GG situation may not end well.
(The opinions offered here are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of the owners and publishers of Flushdraw.)