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Partypoker has shut down its operations in Russia and Moldova. Players in those markets were notified of the decision via email last week. The site confirmed the move on its customer support forum, citing “regulatory issues” in those locations as the reason.
“It’s correct we are removing services from various locations due to regulatory issues,” wrote Colette Stewart, Partypoker’s Twitch and Community Manager, on the site’s Discord server.
The withdrawal is just the latest in a series of Partypoker exits from other gray markets in recent years. In May of last year, Partypoker’s parent company, Entain, also removed the site from the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian markets.
While Entain isn’t issuing detailed explanations behind each withdrawal, the moves are clearly part of the company’s larger effort to exit all unregulated markets by 2023. Since rebranding to Entain from GVC, the company has set its sights on generating 100% of its revenue from regulated markets. This most recent withdrawal from Russia certainly gets them one step closer to that goal.
Considering Entain’s new business plan, the Russia exit may not be surprising. Still, it’s a notable shift that is sure to make waves in the industry, given Russia’s significant share of the global online poker market.
Partypoker may be the first major site to completely withdraw from Russia, but there are signs others may follow.
On the whole, the industry continues to distance itself from illegality and unregulated markets. Entain and Partypoker may be the most recent examples, but there are others, including PokerStars, that have been taking a stand.
In 2020, PokerStars ceased operations in the gray markets of China, Taiwan, the Asian gambling mecca of Macau, Serbia and Cyprus.
At the time, Russia was a notable omission from that list of departures. Many presumed PokerStars couldn’t afford to lose Russia, as it accounts for a substantial fraction of global online poker traffic.
However, more recent developments suggest PokerStars is looking to comply with Russia’s wishes. Just last year, the site struck a deal with Casino Sochi that moved its Russian player pool to a separate, localized and legal platform based in Sochi. For now, this means Russians can still access PokerStars through its Sochi-based client. However, if regulations in Russia change, PokerStars has at least shown it will take action to comply with regulations, even if that also means taking financial risk.
The number of US states with legal online poker is very limited. But we know Entain is looking to expand its footprint. In 2019, we saw Entain (then GVC) earn a two-year provisional gaming license in Nevada, setting the stage for Partypoker to potentially open there. With that license set to expire, Entain then secured a three-year extension last year.
But in looking at how the legal US online poker market has developed elsewhere, Entain likely has a different plan.
Instead of Partypoker, it’s more likely Entain is aiming to introduce a BetMGM Poker site in Nevada. This would make more sense, given the investments Entain and MGM Resorts International have made in their joint venture. In the Pennsylvania and Michigan markets, which opened after the BetMGM partnership formed, Entain has launched only that brand, foregoing Party-branded products.
Those states should eventually join the interstate poker compact, starting with Michigan this year. Perhaps this is what Entain has been waiting for. BetMGM is currently looking for a Senior Manager for Poker Marketing in Las Vegas, which lends some support to this theory.
Of course, Entain may also be waiting for Nevada to finally authorize online casinos before it makes its move. Online casinos are theoretically legal in the state, but haven’t received regulatory approval. Unsurprisingly, retail casino operators have done all they can to make that approval more difficult. Poker on its own might not be enough to tempt Entain. However, if BetMGM Poker could launch alongside an online casino, that would make the Nevada venture much more attractive.
Entain has yet to attain a permanent license in Nevada. However, it seems to be on course to do so, and seems interested in launching there. It may just be a question of when, and in what form.