PokerStars and Full Tilt Retreat from Gray Market Countries

October 1st, 2014 | by Brian Corlisse
PokerStars and Full Tilt out of gray markets

PokerStars and Full Tilt have abruptly stopped offering real money games in gray market nations, including many in Africa and the Middle East. (Image:

PokerStars and Full Tilt have announced that they will no longer be offering real money poker games in a number of gray market jurisdictions, including many countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The move comes at a time when many online gambling firms are tightening their regulatory decisions in an effort to ensure they can receive licenses from the United Kingdom.

The sudden withdrawal came on Tuesday, as players from around the world began reporting that they were receiving messages when logging into their PokerStars and Full Tilt accounts, telling them that they could no longer play real money poker on the sites.

“Our management team regularly reviews our operation along with independent 3rd party professionals to assess the business risk and opportunities for our brand on a market-by-market basis,” the messages reportedly said. “Following our most recent review, it was determined that we would no longer offer real money games in your country.”

Move Affects Numerous Nations

The affected areas include a host of nations from around the world. Countries where such messages were received reportedly include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Palestine and Vatican City, among others.

The announcement came just one day before October 1, which was the originally planned date for the implementation of the UK Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act. While that legislation will now be delayed until November due to a legal challenge, it does require poker room operators to provide legal justifications for operating in “gray markets” that make up at least three percent of their revenues.

These gray market jurisdictions consist of nations where online poker is not expressly illegal, but in which there is no framework for licensing or regulation of such activity, either. In these cases, such activity may or may not be considered legal by government officials, and Internet gambling companies often allow players to play in these areas unless forcefully told not to do so.

Move Creates Questions About US, Canada

But with many of the gray markets that PokerStars and Full Tilt have pulled out with likely falling below the three percent threshold in the UK regulatory rules, some are speculating that the move may have more to do with the future goals for the poker sites.

Amaya Gaming, the parent company of both poker sites, is attempting to return the PokerStars brand to New Jersey in the very near future. While talks with regulators in the state appear to be going well, it certainly couldn’t hurt to clean up the company’s regulatory standards, both for current and future licensing efforts, and some believe this may be the true motive behind the gray market withdrawal.

There is, however, one major gray market that PokerStars hasn’t pulled away from. That would be Canada, the nation that is also the home of Amaya Gaming. Given the act that there are regulatory frameworks in several provinces, many speculated that Amaya’s takeover of the Rational Group could mean that the company would pull out of Canada. So far, Amaya has said that they are committed to the Canadian market, and the company appears to be working on a deal to gain a license in Quebec.


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