City of Dreams Macau Ends Its Partnership with PokerStars
A Chinese poker ban has caused City of Dreams Macau to end its partnership with PokerStars. City of Dreams closed its poker room on April 4, 2018, while Galaxy Macau closed its poker room around the same time. PokerStars has had poker tournaments in Macau for over a decade and moved its local events from the Casino Lisboa to the City of Dreams Macau in 2013.
PokerStars plans to cancel events in Macau for the foreseeable future, a sure sign that Chinese poker is entering a dark age. While the PokerStars Asia tournaments certainly will be planned for elsewhere, many believe the Chinese ban on poker is going to have a withering effect on Texas Hold’em throughout the Far East region.
Eric Hollreiser, VP of Corporate Communications for Stars Group (owner of PokerStars), said in a public statement, “We can confirm that the PokerStars partnership with City of Dreams Macau has come to an end. We are working on ensuring that we can continue to bring high quality live events in Asia.”
Chinese Social Media Poker Ban
Recently, the Chinese Culture Ministry banned poker apps and the discussion of the game of poker on China’s social media sites. The ban involved the most famous and lucrative Chinese online companies, including WeChat, Weibo, and Alibaba.
This proved to be key to the pivotal to the future of Macau’s poker industry, for promotional reasons and for the corporate sponsorships involved. The ability to promote poker tournaments became nonexistent. Poker-related terms like “Texas Hold’em” cannot be discussed on social media sites like WeChat, which is China’s answer to Facebook.
PokerStars’ City of Dreams Event Canceled
As recently as March 2018, PokerStarsLIVE Macau had a multifaceted corporate sponsorship deal with City of Dreams, owned by Melco Resorts & Entertainment, a Macau casino company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Top poker pros like David Kitai and John Juanda were featured competitors at PokerStars’ APPT Macau event.
Until recently, City of Dreams Macau touted their schedule of PokerStars-related events with promotional material that read, “Asia’s biggest & richest poker tournaments including the ACOP, Macau Poker Cup, Macau Millions, and APPT Macau.”
China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism
That was before The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China declared poker to be illegal. The new ministry was only formed on March 19, 2018, but it replaces two previous agencies, the power Ministry of Culture and the China National Tourism Administration. The previous Culture Ministry was formed in 1954 and was the arm of government charged with censorship of 9 types of artistic works. Later, the Culture Ministry had oversight of the digital and public domain works.
The Tourism Ministry had been charged with fostering tourism to China, also had been formed in 1954, and was subordinate to the State Council — China’s chief administrative authority. The new Culture & Tourism Minister is Luo Shugang, who sits on the 19th Central Committee that currently chooses members of the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, the Secretariat, the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and its Standing Committee. As such, Luo Shugang is one of the men elevated by President Xi Jinping in the last Party Congress in 2017.
International Poker Tour Macau 2018
PokerStars’ announcement was not the first such decision. SoMuchPoker.com canceled the International Poker Tour Macau (IPT) 2018, which was supposed to be hosted by AliSports (a division of Alibaba) on May 16 to May 20 at the Venetian Macau. The IPT 2018’s tournament would have ended with the HKD 5,000,000 GTD Main Event.
So Much Poker and the organizers of the IPT 2018 said in a press release, “After careful consideration, the IPT Organizing Committee has decided to postpone their stop in Macao. IPT 2018 matches will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”
Why Macau Poker Tournaments Were Canceled
While poker events should be legal in Macau for the time being, companies have decided it is best to cancel events, because the ban on online poker talk makes it hard to promote such events. Without promotion on Wechat and Weibo, organizers believe it would be economically unfeasible to hold a major poker tournament. Imagine trying to organize the World Series of Poker without advertising it on the Internet or television. While pros who make it their habit to attend such events would know it began in early June, amateurs and casual players who fill up the bulk of the field might not.
Another reason to cancel the events is the lack of corporate sponsorship. A major Chinese corporation like Alibaba is unlikely to sponsor a poker event, if the game is considered illegal in China. For instance, PokerNewsDaily noted that the IPT event “was planned largely as a promotional event for Alibaba’s recently launched poker app, and was also dependent on a large number of qualifiers via the Chinese app”.
Since the poker apps are illegal now, it made no sense to host a poker event to promote the downloadable poker app.