India, Japan and China: Emerging Poker Regions in 2018 Continued to Grab Market Share

December 31st, 2018 | by Jason Reynolds

Emerging poker markets online and on land received mixed fortunes in 2018 as political figures and law enforcers continued to blow hot and cold across India, Japan and China.

Shinzō Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was one of the figures helping to reshape poker in Asia this year. (Image: Tokyo Review)

One of the biggest announcements in the last 12 months was the launch of PokerStars India. Unlike Adda52 and its peers, PokerStars is a global brand and its entrance into the Indian online poker market signaled a new era for the country.

With the current laws excluding anyone from outside India accessing native sites, international brands have been skeptical about joining the market. However, with the economy growing, PokerStars made the move in April and subsequently became one of the leading platforms.

Growth Spurt

Inspired by the entrance of PokerStars, other operators across India moved to increase their market position. By October, 9Stacks became the first Indian poker start-up to receive Series A funding. Citing online gaming as one of the country’s growth markets, investment firm WaterBridge Ventures backed 9Stacks to the tune of $3.8 million.

“This is a great sign of confidence in the 9stacks team, the systems and processes we’ve put in place, in addition to the rapidly growing market itself,” 9Stacks CEO Sudhir Kamath said.

Although issues with live card rooms still persist, the market is one of the fast-growing in the world, alongside Japan. In fact, as 2018 played out, Japanese lawmakers showed a similar level of interest towards poker as India’s political figures did.

Decked Out

In January, the All Japan Poker Championship (AJPC) announced new stops in Taiwan and Macau.

As Asia’s appetite for poker increased, a second successful WPT Japan proved to be the final push Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe needed to support the game. After seeing a dramatic increase in poker’s popularity, a government U-turn means the game will now be featured in the country’s future casino resorts.

Despite previously saying poker wouldn’t be allowed, officials now believe it can help support its newly licensed casino industry.

In the wake of that decision, the WPT increased its presence in Japan, as did the Asian Poker Tour.

China’s Crackdown Continues

While players in one part of Asia were celebrating this year, those in China were left without a way to ante-up. As part of the government’s long-running campaign against online poker, free-play apps were outlawed.

Describing the game as “inappropriate,” officials forced all social media platforms to remove any poker-related content in May 2018. Arrests followed, prompting WeChat to remove any mentions of poker.

The WPT and WSOP made similar moves, removing their free-play apps before the government struck again in October. Not satisfied with just shutting down social poker products, officials took action against real-money apps as well, with Poker King and Poker Tribe.

Although expected, the move defined China’s current position as the least progressive of poker’s three emerging nations.


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