We’ve all heard that buzz that China is the next poker frontier, but due to strict regulations, it is not an easy market to penetrate. However, the numbers are definitely growing with more events slowly seeping in and players venturing out into the wild.
As an example, this year the World Poker Tour kicked off its sixteenth season in Beijing with a sold out 400 strong attendance. The WPT also hosted events in Sanya, Hainan Island, and will be returning again next month (Event will be covered by Somuchpoker). Another indication of the Chinese growth is sheer visibility. Within the past few years there are more and more Chinese players participating in the international circuit.
With the support of Mediarex, we have compiled data from The Hendon Mob to provide a clearer picture of what is happening in the country. Hendon Mob continues to be the most comprehensive database and the best source of information on global trends and comparison among countries in the industry. However, it doesn’t show data regarding cash games and online poker.
The graphs we have put together reflect live tournament earnings cumulated by Chinese players both inside and outside China.
It reflects only a small portion of the Chinese poker market but it’s the most reliable indicator available now.
Prior to 2011, poker was a dead duck in China but then 2012 came with the first edition of the WPT Sanya and turned everything around. By the end of that year, what was once a flatliner now had a fast beating pulse. There were over US$12M in live earnings cumulated by Chinese players in that year alone. The following year saw the numbers take a dip below US$10M but from 2013 onwards it was back on the rise reaching nearly US$40M at the end of 2015. With those numbers, yes folks, the sleeping giant is sleeping no more.
This graph clearly indicates how strong poker has become among the Chinese. China is currently dominating the Asian poker scene in total live earnings, dusting everyone by a very large margin. Another indication is the GPI Asia rankings. Currently, 3 out of the top 5 spots are players from China.
People often tend to compare both the China and India markets. Well, data shows that these two countries currently are nowhere near par. India seems to be stuck within the US$2M-US$3M range in cumulated earnings per year while China easily blew past that in early 2012. Given this graph, it is unlikely that India will be able to catch up and become comparable to China’s numbers any time soon.
Now against the poker giant USA, this is where China takes a huge back step. The Americans have long since enjoyed their saloons and poker dealings that China’s numbers now look more like chump change.
Sudden rise of the Chinese poker scene: behind the numbers
Now that you’ve read the graphs, there are several contributing factors to this sudden growth of poker among the Chinese.
For starters, it’s important to note that the Chinese are not completely new to the game. China has a long tradition of card games including its own form of Poker called Tractor Poker or Tuo La Ji (拖拉机).
Poker in China is also supported by three of the largest Chinese online giants now actively involved in the promotion of the game. In 2014, Ourgame, a leading online card and board game developer in China acquired the WPT; in March this year, Alibaba became the next big giant to join in focusing more on team-based poker; and this past July, China’s biggest internet company, Tencent, announced a partnership with the World Series of Poker brand.
Another one is professionalization. Top Chinese players are getting more and more support from private companies looking for exposure in the poker industry. Through sponsorship contracts and package prizes, players can travel the Asian and international circuits. This opens up new avenues and opportunities for those seriously looking to go pro.
Of course there is also the development of two key locations that are easily accessible from China and both with a safe legal environment: Macau and Sanya. While everyone knows that Macau is the gambling hub of Asia, Sanya is the opposite. It is a gorgeous beach city on the southern most part of Hainan Island. The government has been actively promoting this tourist destination. Other than the WPT, a couple of other poker brands have hosted an event at this location (China Poker Games and Tencent Poker).
In addition to all of these factors, Hendon Mob has also made great efforts to get more events in Mainland China integrated into their database.
Credit: Article by Triccia David; Infographics by Tableau & Willy Portier PhD Data Science