Ourgame International Holdings Limited, the China-based parent company of the World Poker Tour (WPT) has confirmed via a statement that six of their employees were arrested by the Chinese authorities.
Rumors Turn Out To Be True
The rumors about the arrested Ourgame employees started to circulate on May 8, when Beijing News reporter Jia Shizhao revealed that three Ourgame executives were arrested by the China’s Ministry of Public Security. The arrests came shortly after 36 others were arrested by the Chinese government related to alleged gambling breaches back in April. The 36 arrests include Ourgame’s executive vice-president, head of the poker game unit, and the person-in-charge of the department of major clients.
These arrests were believed to be connected to the use of free-play poker apps like those offered by Ourgame to facilitate real money gambling, which is illegal in the country. According to the allegations, the in-game currency in Ourgame’s poker games were being used as real world credit.
China’s CCTV News recently ran an exposé regarding the alleged real money aspects of play-money poker, and many believe this behaviour is what triggered the recent poker crackdown in the whole of china.
Ourgame Confirms Arrests
By May 9, Ourgame stopped the trading of its shares on the stock exchange in accordance to the investigations being conducted about their platforms being used for organized gambling activities. Over 65 million yuan ($10.2 million) in funds has been frozen in connection to the investigations.
To clarify the rumours, Ourgame filed a statement with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, confirming the recent arrest of the six employees, who are now subject to potential prosecution by the public security bureau of Henan Province.
The company was also quick to clarify that none of the arrests were made in connection with Ourgame. Their statement points out that the employees were arrested based on their personal decisions and not based on the decisions of the company. The statement also clarified that none of the employees arrested were directors of the company.
In the statement, Ourgame said “Following their investigation of the situation, including discussions with the relevant authorities, the Company’s PRC legal counsel has opined that the purported illegal activities were related to the personal actions of the relevant individuals and do not involve any illegal actions on the part of the group.”
According to the statement, Ourgame argues that neither the company nor its board of directors were informed by authorities regarding the commencement of the proceedings against the six individuals. To aid the procedure, Ourgame has established a committee to look into the activities and behaviour of the six employees, and submit any evidence they find to the authorities.
Turbulent Times For Poker in China
The arrests come after the Chinese government announced that poker was banned as a competitive sport and all mobile apps offering free-play Texas Hold’em Poker and other poker versions will be banned from the country starting June 1. All promotions of poker and other related events via the social media app WeChat has also been prohibited.
The ban had many operators and companies rushing to take their products off the Chinese market. Tencent who is the official operator of the WSOP franchise in China was one of these operators. The WSOP was quick to pull down its free-play Chinese WSOP app and has also blocked access to all poker-related discussions on WeChat.
Boyaa Interactive another popular poker operator also took down a number of its poker games including the popular Texas Poker and Boya Dezhou Poker. Even though Macau is separate from the gambling restrictions made in mainland China, the gambling hub was also hit by the ban as two poker rooms closed in the region and the upcoming International Poker Tour (IPT) Macau has also cancelled its stop.
Ourgame’s Must Make Changes
Ourgame was also swift to release a response when the ban when was announced. The statement said that the company will be examining its current poker offerings and correcting their products to follow the new regulations.
With these arrests, Ourgame will most likely have to rethink its strategy and educate their employees as these arrests will not help Ourgame’s reputation in the global market.