The shutdown of the Nanjing Millions poker tournament has become national news in China, and appears to be headed towards a criminal investigation after reports in Chinese media that hosting the tournament was a “criminal event.”
According to a report by the World Gaming Group, Chinese media have heavily reported on the event, including reporting that several Chinese celebrities were involved in the tournament.
Two Olympic gold medalists were among those at the event, including 2008 shooting champion Qiu Jian and 2004 table tennis gold medal winner Chen Qi.
The local organizers of the event, the Star Poker Club, appears to have been the immediate target of the investigation. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the club was “currently under police control…for alleged gambling and criminal activity.”
It is unclear what actions might be taken against PokerStars or the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, which sponsored the event and were heavily involved in promoting the tournament series.
One of the main issues at play appears to be a question over who exactly approved the event, and how high those approvals actually went.
According to PokerStars, the Jiangsu Provincial Chess Sports Association had sanctioned the Nanjing Millions.
However, that seemed to have been disputed by Guo Yujun, director of the Chess Sports Management Center, who says that the association never approved any Texas Hold’em tournaments, noting that the game was on the “list of crimes” drawn up by the Ministry of Public Security in 2012.
The World Gaming Group (WGG) report noted that this has been an ongoing issue in China when it comes to poker. Both the APPT and World Poker Tour have previously run successful events in China.
However, while it is clear that these groups had permission from local authorities, it is less certain if the State General Sports Administration, which oversees sports and similar activities throughout China, was on board.
According to the WGG, they had the opportunity to run a tournament in Beijing recently, but pulled back after approvals from the national Chinese government never materialized.
The Asian Poker Tour reportedly cancelled an event for similar reasons last year, as local partners could not produce paperwork from provincial or national governments.
There are also questions as to just how involved PokerStars really was in the event, as they seem to consider themselves more a sponsor than an organizer.
“After three very successful days of tournament poker, the organizers of the Nanjing Millions decided to postpone the event in order to address questions from local authorities,” PokerStars said in a statement.
“The tournament was sanctioned by the local government through the Jiangsu Provincial Chess Sports Association and held at the Jiangsu Wutaishan Sports Centre, an official Olympic venue. The event itself was organized and operated by a local poker operator, Star Poker Club, and sponsored by APPT China. We are in contact with Star Poker Club and are seeking additional details.”
It also seems as though initial claims of a raid against the tournament may have been a bit hyperbolic.
According to a report from Poker Asia Pacific, which had a reporter at the event, there was a police presence at the event throughout the series, and the tournament was cancelled when police would not let people into the building before Day 2 of the Main Event.