Will Idiotic US Laws Make Asia Poker's Epicenter?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/13/2009 06:15:00 AM
The United States, that erstwhile promoter of free trade, has long been criticized by the international community for its senseless and unwarranted clampdown on Internet gaming on specious "moral" grounds. In its Jerry Falwell-esque crusade to protect the public interest, it has applied significant hurt to small trading partners hosting Internet gambling sites like Antigua and Barbuda (for a brief history of this quarrel, see a previous post). To make a long story short, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) has not been found to pass muster in WTO ruling after WTO ruling. This leaves the US vulnerable to countries seeking financial redress for these legislative monstrosities.

Current US House Financial Services chairperson Barney Frank has long championed a repeal of UIGEA. Indeed, it is reported that he uttered the famous line "Shuffle up and deal" at a recent World Series of Poker (WSOP) event prior to discussing with industry figures his plans for getting rid of UIGEA. Still, anti-UIGEA legislation has been delayed by congressmen dealing with the more immediate problem of a full-blown economic downturn. Chances remain good that UIGEA will have a well-deserved demise.

In the meantime, TIME writes that poker's major sponsors are not sitting idly by waiting for if and when UIGEA is repealed. With recession already hitting gaming revenues, especially in Las Vegas, they are setting their sights on promoting the game of poker in Asia. At the moment, baccarat rules the roost among player's favorite games in Asia--go ask PRC officials. However, a big marketing push should see to it that poker becomes more of a fixture in the region. Who knows--in time, poker revenues in Asia may outstrip those in the US, especially if online gaming starts to catch on. Remember too that legendary Asian players who have made a name Stateside like Men "The Master" Nguyen and the "Orient Express" Johnny Chan can serve as ambassadors of the game:
Baccarat, a 15th century Italian table game, contributed 86% of Macau's $14.1 billion in gambling revenue last year...Despite baccarat's dominance, a 2006 ban on Internet gambling in the U.S. is prompting poker promoters to take their card game across the Pacific in hopes of setting down roots in Asia's Las Vegas. Since the Macau government approved Texas Hold'em cash games and tournaments in January 2008, three casinos have opened designated poker rooms. In its first year in Macau, Texas Hold'em brought in less than $7 million, but that number is set to rise: in the first quarter of 2009 alone, the game took in more than $4 million. "Poker has exploded in Macau," says Celina Lin, 26, an Australian poker player who competes in Macau. "The skill level of the players here has increased dramatically just in the last year..."

Still, there are challenges to cultivating a poker following in this part of the world. The WSOP is taking place right now, but most Asians won't have a chance to watch it. Unlike in the U.S., where the WSOP and celebrity poker tournaments have developed a sports following enabled by ESPN and Bravo coverage, poker is frowned upon — along with other forms of gambling — in some parts of Asia, and many markets ban televised tournaments and any mention of gambling in traditional advertising. In 2007, mainland Chinese censors banned a television commercial for the Altira Macau hotel and casino (formerly known as the Crown Macau) that featured Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-Fat flipping hotel key cards and ice cubes in an allusion to gambling.

To get around these marketing challenges, promoters across Asia are sponsoring rising talents and relying on word of mouth to popularize the game. In South Korea, gaming company AsianLogic is hoping poker will take off among the legions of video gamers in that country. "We're converting Korean [World of ] WarCraft players into poker players," says Tom Hall, AsianLogic's CEO. "If we dangle $5,000 in front of them, they'll blog about it."

Asia might be new to the game, but some of the most famous American poker players are of Asian descent. That includes five of the top 20 World Series of Poker players: Men (The Master) Nguyen, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, David Chiu and Johnny (Orient Express) Chan, who holds two WSOP main event titles. Still, without media exposure, these names remain unknown in Macau, leaving organizers to develop local heroes who can inspire the masses to take up the game.
And remember, IPE followers: If you can't tell who globalization's sucker is, then it's probably you ;-)