The Chinese Ministry of Culture & Tourism banned Texas Hold’em apps in the latest government move against online and mobile poker. The Poker King and Poker Tribe gaming platforms were among those targeted in the latest wave of blocked poker apps.
In March 2018, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism was created by the Beijing government. Combining the previous Chinese National Tourism Administration and the Ministry of Culture, the idea was to streamling administration of tourism to China and its special cities while also protecting China’s cultural standards.
A month later, the new Culture & Tourism Ministry announced a social media ban on poker references. Poker terms like “Texas Hold’em” were scrubbed from Chinese social media sites like WeChat, RenRen, and Weibo. The ban applied to mainland servers, as well as servers in Hong Kong and Macau. Even oblique references to Texas Hold’em terms and famous poker players were considered banned.
TenCent Ban on WSOP App
TenCent had to remove the World Series of Poker poker app, even though it used play money. The way the Culture Ministry’s new rules were written called for the removal of “all social poker apps”. Because the poker ban made it hard to advertise upcoming World Poker Tour and other cardplaying events, Macau casinos like City of Dreams closed down their poker rooms.
The Poker Tour Macau event at the Venetian was canceled in May. The Asian Poker Tour moved its year-end event to the Philippines. All other WPT events planned for Macau were canceled.
Macau casino operators at the time debated whether the end of mainstream China card gambling would have an impact on regional poker. The inability to advertise was pivotal and potential blowback from flouting Beijing laws was concerning, so events eventually were rescheduled for other parts of South Asia or East Asia. Whatever the case, the ban meant an effective end to professional poker tournaments in Macau.
Poker King’s Customer Fees
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the latest ban on Texas Hold’em apps represents the next step in tightening government controls over poker. SCMP wrote that Poker King requires a $144 (1000 yuan) fee to people who sign up for poker on their gaming platform.
Once play begins, Poker King charges a commission on every hand won on their poker app. While losing card players are not charged directly, the system encourages more play to win back what was lost.
$7.2 Million Wagered per Day on Chinese Poker
Chinese state tv outlet CCTV claimed in a broadcast that the Culture Ministry must protect Chinese residents from out of control gambling. CCTV reported that Chinese mobile users wager $7.2 million a day on the the Poker King, Poker Tribe, and other Holdem apps.
The game designers behind Poker King claim they are operating legally under licenses they receive from the government of the Philippines (PACGOR). Once banned, such operators have changed the name of their products in the past to skirt Chinese gaming laws. For instance, Poker King originally was named Poker Circle, while Poker Tribe became Grey Snow Poker.
Content for Underage Users Targeted
The government crackdown this time has focused on content which is inappropriate for underage mobile users. Tencent was ordered to remove content from WeChat that the Culture Ministry considered pornographic. The new rules have forced Tencent to remove apps which provide jokes by comedians or other humor-based content, because blue humor is considered vulgar, obscene, or pornographic.
Real money gambling content is considered inappropriate for underage users, as it would be in Europe, America, or Australia. Non-betting online gaming apps are banned sometimes, which is a departure from western nations. Chinese media reports did not specify if the online gaming bans involved games with loot boxes, which would be well within western regulations on gaming apps.
Whether the Culture Ministry’s ban will stop online and mobile poker in China is another matter. Prohibition of a popular activity generally leads to a black market. TenCent and WeChat have done their part, as the social media site and its ownership group have closed over 8,000 gambling-related groups since the ban went into effect in April.