Natural8's reprise of the Online Asia Poker League emphasizes grey markets

Jon Pill
Posted on: June 15, 2021 12:40 PDT

The online edition of the Asia Poker League is back again for its second round. The success of the previous series in February 2021 has prompted the reprise just in time for the Dragon Boat Festival.

The tour's gimmick is that each event is nominally tied to a location, creating a feeling of international travel from the comfort of your own gaming chair. The series sports 20 events, all with names like Da Nang River's Bounty and Jeju Jade Dragon. As the series moves through the Asia-Pacific, the currencies change for each event.

Winners of each event get cash prizes and a Jade trophy. The trophy will certainly stand out alongside poker's other laurels. Most other tournament bling comes in metal or glass-work.

"Play the Asia Poker League and stand a chance to win an exclusive Jade Trophy," Natural8 tweeted about the upcoming events. The series began on June 11th with the ¥550 Dragon Boat Tip-Off — ¥888,000 GTD, and will end Jun 27th with the second day of the ¥1,888 Main Event and an ¥8,000 Super Stars Challenge — ¥8 million GTD.

However, the choice of currencies and locations give away some of Natural8's game. In most cases, they put an enormous emphasis on grey (and outright black) markets.

Skirting the law

There are twenty events. Of these twenty, twelve are denominated in Chinese yuan. There are also three events in Vietnamese dong, two in South Korean won, and one each in Philippine pesos, Japanese yen, and New Taiwan dollars.

China has outlawed online poker completely. The PRC's government views online gambling as a significant risk to the integrity of the renminbi. Online gambling is also illegal in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. In fact, poker is so illegal in South Korea that Korean citizens can be prosecuted for gambling while outside of the country.

Online poker is also illegal in Taiwan, but the ROC tends not to enforce its online gambling rules against players. It does take a firmer stance against website operators though.

Only the Vietnamese and the Philippine legs of the event are set in countries where online poker is legal. And even then, in Vietnam, poker is subject to rigid strictures.

It should be noted that players do not need to be in Taiwan or Macau to play the Taiwanese or Macanese legs of the series. But that fact smells more of plausible deniability than genuine best practice.

Good game, GGNetwork

The clear overall emphasis then is on markets where Natural8 cannot operate legally.

This is on-brand. As the GGNetwork has grown, Natural8 has changed roles. Natural8 used to be the GGNetwork's primary China-facing skin, with GGPoker dealing more widely with the Asia-Pacific area. With the WSOP deal, GG is aimed squarely at the U.S.

As GG has started building its business in the West, it has shifted more and more of its grey market business to Natural8. All of this shift has been extremely soft. It centers around which sites push which marketing materials. Players can still play the APL through their GGPoker account. But GGPoker's advertising for this APL has been much lower key than it was back in February. Natural8 has been all out.

The APL looks like a fun series, and an excellent opportunity to promote the game across the western edge of the Pacific rim. But it comes at a cost to the game's reputation in regulatory circles.

Featured image source: Twitter