On April 17, 2015 the APPT Nanjing Millions held at Wutaishan Sports Centre in Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, China, was prematurely closed down by the Chinese National Police citing suspicion of illegal gambling, leaving the high number of attendees dumbfounded and confused right at the front steps. The poker festival had already surpassed its halfway point with Day 2 of the Main Event scheduled to begin that day.
Two representatives of Star Poker Club arrested
Two months have since passed and so far not much information has been disclosed to the public however in an update by World Gaming Magazine, it is learned that two representatives of the local organizing body, Star Poker Club, Jian Yang and Li Su, have been formally arrested. Players in the Asian Circuit may know Yang very well as he was named PokerStars Asia Player of the Year in 2013 after winning a series of events, most notably, the ACOP Platinum Series Main Event and the ACOP HK$25,000 Warm-Up. If found guilty, Yang could face up to 10 years in jail for opening a gambling house (which is a criminal offense in China) and for falsifying documents to obtain approval from the Jiangsu Provincial Chess Sports Association to run such an event.
According to WGM, Jian Yang Pokerstars Asia POY 2013 has been arrested (Photo Kenneth Lim / PokerStars Live Macau)
The legal status of poker in China in question
While this is still under investigation, one thing has been made very clear, China stands firm on its plight against global gambling as stressed by President Xi Jinpingy late last year. And China’s definition of gambling is certainly not up for debate. According to WGM, The CCTV "Focus Report" explained that for activity to be considered gambling, just ONE of the following three criteria must be satisfied:
• The activity is for the purpose of profit, and that is at least RMB 5,000,
• The total amount gambled was at least RMB 50,000
• The number of people involved was more than 20
The laws are etched in black and white, and despite arguments of poker tournaments being a game of skill, and that laws are different in the provinces, the lawful definition of gambling in China remains and it does not distinguish when it comes to poker or any game for that matter that violates those laws. Clearly this is a big shake-up for poker organizers especially that poker tournaments are still at its infancy stages in mainland China but it would definitely be a big surprise if it is drastically put to a big halt because of this. The APPT Beijing Millions last year proved to be a big success, hopefully this recent incident will be viewed by the Chinese government as just an isolated situation. In the unfortunate event that the industry will suffer a setback in China, then it begs the question of whether poker organizers are still willing to continue in China or give up on that market altogether? This of course is a wait-and-see. With many people upset and confused as to what happened, and with President Xi Jinpingy declaring war on global gambling, first thing’s first, to get to the bottom of what really went wrong at the APPT Nanjing Millions in order to avoid these problems in the future. As it is, poker organizers are well aware that this is not an easy game to promote, there will always be unforeseen difficulties and challenges that will arise, so when something rocks the boat pretty hard such as this incident, everyone’s hard work could be in jeopardy. How critical though is the big question mark. Within the past few years, poker organizers have been well at work, and visibly, the game has slowly been gaining ground in the region. Doors are slowly opening with poker festivals sprouting in different parts of Asia, China included. This is a great sign of development and growth. Evidence has shown there is a lot of interest in China that even if just a small fraction of the population engaged in poker, it would already be an astounding achievement for the game.
The next scheduled tournament in China is slated for late-October, the WPT Sanya. At this time, there are no reports of whether it has been affected, but with Ourgame International Holdings Ltd. recent acquisition of WPT, and being that Ourgame is a Hong Kong based company, this certainly gives a positive boost in the continued pursuit for poker in China. On June 21, WPT President & CEO Adam Pliska told PokerNews "We'll continue our events in Sanya"
Ultimately, poker tournaments/festivals are a business and if given the platform, and done in accordance with the law, it will be successful in China. For now, only time and the truth of what occurred at the APPT Nanjing Millions will give a clearer picture of poker’s status in China.