The PokerStars-sponsored APPT Nanjing Millions event has been summarily shut down by Chinese police on Friday, four days into the main event.
Reports on the ground are thin, due to Chinese restrictions on live media and blogging streams traditionally found at poker tournaments, but it appears that poker players arrived to find police blocking doors to the Wutaishan Sports Center earlier today.
According to Macau-based siteÂ World Gaming Magazine (WGM), which broke the story, the tournament organizers’ office was raided and surrounded by police.
Attempts by WGM to contact the organizers, which included several members of PokerStars Macau staff and APPT President Danny McDonagh, were unsuccessful, although there have as yet been no reports of any arrests.
A note on the door to the venue read: “Due to the APPT Nanjing Millions tournament being suspected of illegal gambling, the police are now investigating and the event is being ceased. All related staff should go and register at the designated location and co-operate with the police for the investigation.”
Up until this unexpected raid, there had been high hopes for the inaugural Nanjing Millions. The APPT’s foray into mainland China got off to a spectacular start with the Beijing Cup, and then the much more ambitious Beijing Millions.
The latter tournament attracted 2,732 players, a record-breaking field for an APPT event, and Nanjing was not far behind, with more than 2,300. The appetite for poker tournaments in China is clearly enormous, and brand presence in the country is a big part of PokerStars Asia-oriented expansion.
“The growth of poker in China has been tremendous and we are committed to support this sport in the region” said APPT President Danny McDonagh when the Nanjing stop was first officially announced.
“Nanjing is a key location which allows players from all over the country to participate. The previous two events in Beijing last year were very successful and we are proud to be a part of this event supported by the government,”Â McDonagh added.
It would appear that the level of government support had been somewhat overestimated, however, and PokerStars’ inexorable March eastwards has encountered a blip.
Poker tournaments have enjoyed tolerance in China in recent years, despite all other forms of gambling outside the semi-autonomous areas of Macau and Hong Kong being strictly prohibited. Tournaments are promoted as “mind sports” and therefore have come under the jurisdiction of the sporting governing body.
But as the Chinese government launches an unprecedented crackdown on corruption, which has seen it tightening the screws on Macau and its VIP junkets, could it be that its tolerance towards poker tournaments is also dissipating? This latest action does not bode well in that department.