This is a developing story and may be updated.
PokerStars has temporarily suspended access to its international site for players in Russia.
The company announced the decision this afternoon, in a brief tweet. It gave no reason for doing so, but it is presumably due to the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Many western companies have made similar decisions over the weeks since this latest incursion began on Feb. 24. As of yesterday, that includes the likes of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Starbucks and McDonald’s.
Online poker’s largest market
Suspending service in Russia is not a small decision for PokerStars. In recent years, it has been the single largest market for online poker in the world. Especially at lower stakes, it has been rare to find a table without at least one Russian player, usually more.
According to data from GameIntel (made available through PokerScout), PokerStars traffic has averaged 5200 cash game players, with peaks of over 8000. Those peak numbers tend to come at what is late evening Moscow time.
The impact of excluding Russian players should become apparent quite quickly. Online Poker Report will update with the new traffic numbers once they are available.
Poker’s problems in Russia predate the conflict
Even prior to the Ukraine conflict, poker’s status in Russia was in jeopardy. Officially, gambling is illegal in Russia except in four specific regions.
Due to its importance, however, poker operators have historically tended to treat Russia as a gray, rather than a black market. Recently, that has begun to change.
Entain recently pulled Partypoker out of the country, as part of its efforts to show a compliant image.
PokerStars operates on Russian soil
PokerStars took a different tack. It struck a deal with Casino Sochi, in one of those aforementioned designated gambling regions. By hosting its servers locally and forcing Russian players to use a dedicated Sochi client, it got itself on the right side of Russian law.
Unfortunately, that also means the conflict has put it in a more compromising position than other sites. It hasn’t just been doing business with Russian individuals, it has been operating on Russian soil, and therefore generating revenue for the Russian government.
Competitors like GGPoker and 888poker serve Russian players, but they have the same sort of business relationship in place. That may be why they haven’t yet made a similar announcement, at least not yet.