Poker Is a Favorite with Younger Hong Kong Gamblers
Steven Lai, managing director of Hong Kong Poker Players Association, says poker has become a favored game among certain Hong Kong gamblers over the past decade. Lai hopes that the HKPPA can convinced the Hong Kong government to legalize poker gambling in the near future.
In recent years, Hong Kong’s youth have gravitated towards poker. Millennial Hong Kong card players say horse racing and mahjong is for the older generation, according to Hong Kong Poker Players Association.
Lai says, “The younger generation feel like horse racing is for old people, same with mahjong, so they look for newer games that will include more people.”
Among casino gamblers, baccarat is the most popular Chinese game. The popularity of poker in the western culture has bled over into the Hong Kong scene, mainly because of gaming apps. Lai said, “A lot of kids got into board games and iPhone games – phone games have introduced poker to a lot of young people.”
Hong Kong Horse Racing
Horse racing is still a popular pass time in Hong Kong, more so than it has ever been. Horse racing is one of the few sports or games Chinese authorities traditionally for allowed legal betting. In Hong Kong, horse racing is a holdover from the time the British Empire governed the city.
Lai believes that poker will soon equal racing in popularity among the general population, as Hong Kong’s population ages. Generational preferences should win out over time.
Growth of Poker in Hong Kong
Ten years ago, Hong Kong saw roughly 200 poker players. Now, that number has grown by a factor of 25, with more than 5,000 players in the active scene. The Hong Kong Poker Players Association now has more than 2,000 members.
Macau, just 50 miles from Hong Kong across the South China Sea, is the gambling capital of Asia (and the world). Though Lai believes Hong Kong has something to offer when it comes to its poker, the fact poker gambling is illegal in Hong Kong is holding back a widespread embrace of the game.
The head of the HKPPA said, “We look forward to having some kind of dialogue with the government about poker being a legal thing in Hong Kong. The biggest case for it is the popularity of the game in mainland China. They call it stationary golf, the game rich people can play without having to move.”
“It’s like a status symbol. Jack Ma of Alibaba is obsessed with the game and plays all the time. If Hong Kong had poker, they would come to Hong Kong. It has so much to offer as a tourist destination.”
Free Poker Tournaments
While waiting for legal changes, the HKPPA hosts regular free tournaments and clinics creating a great training ground for star players in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s own Sparrow Cheung set a Guinness World Record in 2017 for the most money finishes in one year. Cheung earned winnings from 67 live tournaments.
Elton Tsang (pictured above) won the 2016 One Drop Extravaganza in Monte Carlo, which brought with it a $12 million prize. Another Hong Kong national, Alan Lau, is the reigning Asia Player of the Year.
Macau has helped to create many opportunities for aspiring Hong Kong poker players, because it gives potential poker pros nearby legal venues to hone their skills. While online poker brings many players into the sport, there is no substitute for live play when preparing for organized land-based events.
Over time, more players have traveled to other poker hot spots, such as the Philippines, South Korea, Las Vegas, Australia, and even Europe.
Mr. Lai said, “I think our current mode of working is grooming a lot of good players who travel to play for big money. Hong Kong is a good training ground for them to move forward.”
Hong Kong Poker Tournaments
Though playing poker for money legally in Hong Kong may not happen anytime soon, the city would be a sought-after site for poker tournaments and competitions, if legalization ever happened. However, city officials are not quite open yet to the welcoming the world of poker in.
Stephen Lai tries to point out to officials the indirect tourist money that would be generated from legalized poker. He said, “We talk to so many operators around the world who want to do exhibition matches in Hong Kong, because the backdrop of Victoria Harbour is so stunning.”
“They want to have a table at the Intercontinental [hotel] or something with the backdrop of Hong Kong. They all have a dream of doing something in Hong Kong. But even though it could be 100 percent legal as an exhibition match, because there is no money changing hands, we still don’t want to ruffle too many feathers, because we haven’t engaged the government on this yet.”
The HKPPA is playing a long game, not wanting to alarm officials by sponsoring live events, even if it could draw local interest in the game.
Hong Kong Underground Poker
Despite that decision, underground Poker has become popular in Hong Kong. An invitation is required for underground games, but there is always risk of a police raid though. For most westerners, the punishment usually ends up being just a slap on the wrist – so long as you are not the organizer of an illegal game.
Most clubs you will find now charge a “room rental” fee or a minimum bar tab in order to steer clear of the ban on taking straight rake of the action. This seems to be working for the clubs, as the police raids have become quite scarce.
Despite the allure of the underground poker clubs, many players still prefer to visit Macau to get their poker fix. They also use it as a place to meet people, so they might receive an invitation to the underground Hong Kong games.