The international fallout from Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine continues to have impacts far and wide, even reaching into the poker world. In addition to PokerStars’ full cancellation, announced earlier today, Russia’s online players are rapidly finding it difficult to play normally on most online sites.
The situation regarding Russians’ continuing play on international online sites was created by back-to-back developments in recent days. First, many major Russian banks have been suspended from participating in the international SWIFT banking network. SWIFT, which stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is the electronic framework through which businesses and individuals alike most frequently transfer funds to and from banking accounts in other countries.
The seven major Russian banks removed from SWIFT on Wednesday include VTB Bank, Bank Rossiya, Bank Otkritie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank PJSC, Sovcombank PJSC and VEB.RF. The SWIFT blockade was put into place by a large collective of countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the entirety of the European Union.
The SWIFT blockade adds to previous economic sanctions and blocks put into place that had already prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to retaliate by ordering a block on Forex (foreign exchange) transfers between Russia and other countries. The SWIFT ban, though, is the most impactful development regarding online poker. Since most international business transactions involve banking accounts linked upstream to SWIFT, deposits and withdrawals to and from sites by Russian players have no channel through which to transact. The situation impacts both internationally-regulated and so-called “grey market” poker sites. Only sites that operate via cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum are likely to be available to Russia’s online players for the foreseeable future.
PokerStarsinSochi.com players unable to deposit or withdraw at present time
The SWIFT blockade is having immediate impacts on Russia’s online poker players. Currently, players on the PokerStarsinSochi.com site have found their deposit and withdrawal options to be disabled.
This disabling comes despite the PokerStarsinSochi site already been Russia-only, having been spun off from PokerStars’ global platform last fall. In October, the site was moved under the control of Casino Sochi (where the ill-fated EPT Sochi stop was also to be held) to comply with Russia’s current gambling laws. However, the technical operations side of the site remained under PokerStars’ oversight, including, by all indications, the site’s deposit and withdrawal capabilities, which would then encounter the SWIFT blockade.
One of the first signs of trouble appeared in a post on Russia’s most prominent poker forum, GipsyTeam.ru. Yesterday, a veteran poster named “plastidoAces” reported, “Pokerstars has blocked all cashout methods.” A follow-up poster reported that a Russia-based e-wallet, QIWI, remained available, though that option may have since been curtailed as well.
Hours later, a third GipsyTeam.ru poster offered the text of a letter he’d received from PokerStars Sochi confirming the difficulties. The letter (which appears authentic but has not, as yet, been independently verified) also states that the site remains operational for those with existing balances onboard. As translated from the original Russian text:
Due to increasing restrictions, we are unable at present to offer most deposit and refund methods on PokerStars Sochi. If you previously used a deposit method which is currently not available, we are temporarily unable to process your refund.
However, we would like to assure you that in line with our customer protection standards and regulatory obligations, your balances remain safe. All funds and balances are kept in segregated accounts and are never used for operational expenses. They remain ready to be refunded when the situation changes.
You can continue to use such funds at PokerStars Sochi but this may be subject to change, at short notice, if further restrictions are introduced.
PokerStars Sochi continues to closely monitor the situation and we will communicate any important information regarding deposit and refund methods, and your play at PokerStars Sochi, as soon as we are able to.
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Featured image source: Rational Intellectual Holding CO. / Manuel Kovska