Partypoker Sochi, the Russian-facing site launched by Entain plc in 2020 is dead. It lived to a ripe old age of six months. At the time of writing, the partpoker Sochi website is blank apart from an error message written in both Russian and English.
“Dear Customer,” the message says. “Due to system maintenance work our websites are unfortunately unavailable at present. We thank you for your understanding.”
It now seems unlikely that this maintenance will ever be completed.
When partypoker Sochi launched originally, the site’s main features were an exclusively Russian player pool and numerous ways of winning 2021 WPT Russia tickets. The client had all its non-poker gambling sections stripped out to comply with Russia’s internet censors.
The partypoker Sochi site was initially founded more to promote Party’s live poker offerings in Russia. At the time is was founded, Party’s partnership with the WPT was bringing the WPT to Sochi Casino with the WPT Russia leg of the series.
Partypoker Sochi would serve as a central space to run promo events and satellites. Now those duties will no doubt pass to Bestpoker and Optibet.
According to a recent report, Entain is planning to change direction in the Russian Federation, switching over to using their holdings in Enlabs as their Russian platform.
Entain put in their final offer on Enlabs in March 2020. For £250 million (~$353 million) they got a Baltic-based gambling company with several sites under its umbrella. Through Enlabs and its subsidiaries, Entain gained access to 27 new jurisdictions, mostly in Eastern Europe, and all the local expertise that comes with a bunch of established sites.
What next for Entain in Russia?
In the process of buying up Enlabs, Entain ended up with ownership of the Bestpoker and Optibet brands. Bestpoker and Optibet are the online poker sites that switched out of the GGNetwork and into the iPoker network in mid-2020. Entain will be using these two sites as their Russian-facing poker offerings going forward.
In March 2021 the iPoker Network knocked partypoker off the third-place pedestal for online poker traffic. This shift in the market may also be a factor in Entain’s shift in focus.
The problems with a Russian facing sites are manifold.
Firstly, there is the fact that Russians quite happily play in the international pool. In fact, Russian players have a reputation for highly aggressive but wildly inaccurate play that is a widespread stereotype among online poker players. Also, Russians have to opt to play in a smaller pool against each other to make a site like partypoker Sochi viable. Optibet and Bestpoker have access to the iPoker international pool, so this should not be an issue for them.
Then there is the fact that it’s difficult for a foreign company to engage with the bureaucracy of the Russian government. As Russian chess player Gary Kasparov put it, “Every country has its own mafia. Putin’s Russia is the first where the mafia has its own country.”
Having a brand that is already established in ex-Soviet states should help Entain interact with the quirks of the Russian system. It’s like having a made man in your pocket.
Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons by Stolbovsky