PokerStars Signs Deal with IEC for Asia Poker Events
PokerStars signed a deal with the Hong Kong-based International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) to organize live poker events throughout Asia. IEC and Stars Group filed a statement with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to announce the partnership.
International Entertainment Corporation owns a network of hotels and resorts throughout Asia, so it is a natural choice for hosting live poker events. How PokerStars and IEC plan to select the locations or market the events remains to be seen, but seeing a map of IEC’s hotels, one can make educated guesses.
Stars Group, parent company of PokerStars, recently lost its Asian partner, Melco Resorts & Entertainment, which hosted PokerStars events at its City of Dreams Macau since 2013. Melco pulled out of its contract with PokerStars after the Chinese mainland government began a crackdown on poker.
Chinese Ban of Free-Play Poker Apps
The Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which was formed in March 2018, announced last month a ban on free-play poker apps on Chinese social media. In fact, the Ministry of Culture also banned references to poker, including terms like “Texas Hold’em”.
The ban caused several Macau casinos to close their poker rooms. City of Dreams Macau was one of those casinos. While the ban is not direct, the ban on poker references makes it impossible to advertise Macau poker rooms in mainland China. Over time, that will have a withering effect on the Chinese poker community.
Undeterred by the setback, PokerStars found a new partner to host its tournaments. It is unlikely Macau will be a host site, but the world’s largest poker site plans to divert to other card playing hot spots in the Asia-Pacific region.
New World Hotels in Asia
IEC’s hotels are found in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China. The New World hotel brand is IEC’s main line of resorts. The New World list includes hotels in Beijing, Dailian, Shanghai, Wuhan, Shunde, Guiyang, and Hong Kong. These presumably would be off-limits to PokerStars tournaments.
In Indonesia, the company owns the upcoming New World Grand Bali Resort (2019). In Malaysia, IEC owns New World Petaling Jaya Hotel and the soon-to-be New World Kota Kinabalu Hotel (2020). In Thailand, the company is building New World Grand Rama 9, a Bangkok resort planned for 2020.
PokerStars at AG New World: Manila Bay Hotel?
In the Philippines, IEC owns AG New World: Manila Bay Hotel and New World Makati Hotel. From the company’s website, AG New World Manila Bay Hotel appears to be the flagship resort for the company, so players can expect at least one tournament held in the Manila property.
Manila is a hub of gambling activity in the Asia-Pacific region. While Resorts World Manila and Kazuo Okada’s various resorts get more attention, hosting an event at one of the New World properties in the Philippines would be good publicity for the brand, due to the direct marketing, television broadcasts, and Internet media coverage.
PokerStars at New World Saigon Hotel?
In Vietnam, IEC owns New World Saigon Hotel. Given Vietnam’s recent embrace of gambling revenues, the New World Saigon Hotel is another resort likely to host a PokerStars tournament. At this early point, it is speculation to discuss which IEC properties will host poker tournaments. Still, several of the countries (like Malaysia) have bans on live poker, so Vietnam appears to be a good guess by process of elimination.
Will Poker Survive in Asia?
When the Chinese Culture Ministry banned poker apps and advertisements from the country’s social media, many poker pundits said it would be the end of poker as a popular hobby in China. In fact, some argued the ban would harm poker play throughout Asia — or at least East Asia.
It appears PokerStars is not willing to give up. Japan soon will have land-based casinos that presumably will have poker rooms. Singapore and the Philippines remain major hubs for international gamblers, while Vietnam also appears to be opening up its gaming industry. Slowly but surely, India also is liberalizing its attitudes towards gambling in general — and one Indian state has a deal with PokerStars.
What the equilibrium will be is still unsure. Losing the world’s second-largest economy is a big blow to the poker industry, any way it is sliced. Losing access to Macau is a huge setback. But PokerStars survived (and thrived) after losing access to the United States. While US players could still read about poker and watch it on television — so the comparison is not 100% sound — PokerStars has enough roots in Asis that its should continue to have a robust set of Asia poker tournaments each year.
At least International Entertainment Company believes so.