Macau Poker Scene Contracts in Wake of Ban on Poker Apps

China First for Gambling?

The cancellation of a poker tournament and the ending of five-year poker partnership come hot on the heels of China’s ban on “Texas Hold’em” poker apps.

Macau’s live-poker scene is undergoing a contraction in the wake of The People’s Republic of China’s recent announcement of a ban on Texas Hold’em apps for smart devices. In the past few days, the International Poker Tour (IPT) has announced the indefinite postponement of this month’s IPT Macau series, while PokerStars and its Macau base, the City of Dreams Casino, have parted ways.

IPT Macau event iced

The IPT’s cancellation of its Macau event is one of several reverberations of the ban announced by China’s Ministry of Culture. It’s also one of the most direct, as indicated by China’s move as part of the upcoming June 1 ban to remove poker from the country’s list of approved competitive sports and pastimes.

IPT parent AliSports (Alibaba Sports Group, part of the Alibaba business empire), launched the IPT in November 2016 with such a competitive-sports crossover in mind. Alisports had already promoted major chess, bridge, and other “mind sports” in the region, with poker a seemingly natural add to the category. Alibaba also offered a smart-device poker app as a channel for recruiting players into its planned events.

The cancelled IPT Macau series was scheduled to run May 16-20, 2018 at ..theThe Venetian Macau Resort & Hotel. The series would have included nine separate events, with all of them using the game’s most popular format, no-limit hold’em. Among the series’ planned offerings were a main event with an HK$13,500 buy-in (roughly €1450 or US$1720), and a high-roller HK$75,000 buy-in event (about €8000 or US$9,500).

The effective cancellation of the IPT Macau series might end the Alibaba-backed tour altogether. When initially announced, tour officials also claimed events would be held in Europe and North America, yet those plans have yet to come to fruition.

PokerStars, City of Dreams part ways

Another part of the Macau market retraction in the wake of the China poker-app ban involves the closing of the PokerStarsLIVE poker room at Macau’s City of Dreams Casino. The room, a full-time cash-game room that was also used for major Stars-sponsored tournament series, was closed on April 24, following the end of the Macau Millions series. That series concluded just after the app ban was announced by Chinese authorities.

Inside Asian Gaming reported that the partnership ended when City of Dreams corporate parent Melco Resorts & Entertainment chose not to renew its contract with The Stars Group. “Despite the recent Macau Millions main event attracting a record field of 2,499 players,” the site reported, “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 also reported that a “reimagining” of the gaming floor at City of Dreams might have led to the decision by the casino to drop the partnership, but also noted that PokerStars contacted the nearby MGM Cotai casino about a possible deal, only to be brushed off.

PokerStars’ own schedule of Macau events now lists nothing beyond the just-completed Macau Millions event. Plans for future events, such as the Macao Poker Cup 29, have been put on hold. Seats into the Macao Poker Cup 29 were advertised as prizes for the Stars-sponsored Japan Poker Open event that ended on April 30. Though unconfirmed, those seats were likely replaced by equivalent-value offerings.

IAG also noted that the small eight-table poker room at Galaxy Macau has also closed. The room’s shuttering may not be directly attributable to the Chinese app, since it was reportedly a sparsely populated offering, yet amid the closures and cancellations elsewhere it adds another element to the quick pullback from poker in the China-administrated territory.