The Macau Millions Poker competition ended this week, awarding a prize pool of HKD6,136,317 to its winners. Twenty-seven-year-old Chinese player Alvan Zheng walked away with the title and HKD911,000, followed by his two compatriots, Quan Zhou and Guancheng Wu.
The poker tournament was the largest ever event of its kind held in Macau, serving as a reminder that the card game is becoming increasingly popular among Chinese gamers.
The Times spoke with Danny McDonagh, the president of the organizing body of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT), who claims that poker is on the rise in Macau despite the gaming slump.
Macau’s most popular game has always been baccarat. According to some estimates, it accounts for more than 90 percent of the MSAR’s profits. However, there are indications that an interest in poker has been increasing in recent years.
“Poker continues to gain popularity in countries such as China, Japan and India,” said McDonagh, adding that they had just set a new record for the tournament this year, having reached 2,343 players. This means that this year’s event broke the tournament’s previous record of 1,804 players two years ago.
This surge in popularity is being attributed by some to a heightened awareness of poker in the Chinese market, while others claim that Macau serves as a sensible poker destination for players coming from cultures that are already familiar with the game.
McDonagh thinks it is probably a bit of both.
“I feel that [poker] is in some ways a diversification from general gaming as it is a way to attract people from countries where poker is popular [and that have] traditionally only produced very small tourist numbers to Macau,” the APPT president told the Times.
But Chinese players are also on the rise, with the organization’s major events reporting that over 50 percent of their Asia-based tournament players herald from China. This has “progressively increased from around 10 percent five years ago.”
While the top three winners in this year’s tournament were from China, a further three in the top nine were from Hong Kong, and a fourth came from Taiwan. In fact, the only two of the champions in the top nine that were not from the Greater China region were Tatiana Barausova of Russia (7th) and Boon Heng Siong of Singapore (9th).
According to Cardschat, a gaming news agency, Macau’s gaming slump has threatened to jeopardize poker activity in Macau. Well-known poker players Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan have not made public comments on whether or not they intend to continue playing in Macau, but the agency has alluded to the fact that the continuation of the gaming downturn could prompt high-level players to look to other destinations.
“While the number of poker tables [in Macau] remains very small in total in comparison to total table numbers, it is pleasing to see actual numbers have been on the increase these past 12 months,” said McDonagh.
He added that at least two casinos have added poker tables in the last year while gross gaming revenue has been on the decline, indicating that the game has been relatively unaffected by the slump.
After being asked if gaming operators are interested in pursuing poker as an alternative gaming option, McDonagh replied: “With two new poker rooms opening here in the last 12 months, yes.”
“It is giving an opportunity
that not all casinos provide, something that sets them apart from other venues, and poker is a game that continues to gain interest here in Asia,” he added.
While the vast majority of the MSAR’s gaming tourists (and indeed other tourists) come from Mainland China, could a new focus on promoting the image of poker help to encourage visitors from further away, potentially tapping into new markets?
It would not do much to help diversify Macau’s economy away from gaming activities, but it could help relieve the MSAR’s dependence on high rollers from the mainland that are being squeezed by Xi’s anti-
“We run the biggest poker tournaments in Asia here in Macau,” McDonagh claimed, “however, we are in the early stages of putting on an event which will compete with some of the biggest events in the world and will attract many more players from Europe and the Americas to compete against our large Asia-Pacific following.”
“Poker is healthy here in Macau,” he added. Staff reporter