Over the last 15 to 20 years, poker has grown from a game that a few people play with their friends to a worldwide competition. While many countries have joined the party, one country that's been slow to participate is the one that has the most people in the world: China.
It's somewhat odd that poker hasn't taken off in China just yet because it's a country that loves to gamble. It's a well-liked game but far from the most popular option. They'll be looking to bring it to the mainstream a little more via the Global Poker League with the help of Alexandre Dreyfus, the Frenchman who runs the league.
Dreyfus' firm, Mediarex Sports and Entertainment, is working with Ceyuan Capital from Beijing and Head and Shoulders from Hong Kong. Head and Shoulders is run by Stanley Choi, who is one of the biggest names in poker in Asia. Choi is most famous for winning the 2012 Macau High Stakes Challenge in which he took home about $6.45 million in a cash game with some of the biggest names in poker. They're all working together to try to boost the numbers by showing more of it on television. It seemed to work in the North American markets - especially early in the 2000's - and now the Chinese will try to do the same.
The GPL is also moving into avenues to make it easier to watch and understand, such as having home and away teams and different camera angles to show the audience what is happening without tipping off the players. It has a distinctly different feel to it compared to something like the World Poker Tour or the World Series of Poker as the GPL is trying to be more attractive to the casual fan.
In terms of the numbers, the game has grown in China thanks to mobile downloads. Almost 100 million Chinese people have some sort of poker game downloaded on their phone but when you consider that there is a population of 1.3 billion, that's really not as big of a success as it sounds. That's just seven percent compared to the United States where one in 10 adults play poker. If you're thinking that three percent isn't that big of a difference, consider that China seeing a three-percent growth in poker players would result in more than 40 million more players.
One of the reasons why the growth of the game has been stunted a little bit has been because of gambling restrictions imposed by the government. However, the Global Poker League has ways of getting around the rules. They have teams, so it isn't the players that wager. Instead they have revenue sharing and they win prize money. It makes it more palatable for the government to allow since it is not directly gambling and it's still just as entertaining for the viewers.
There is plenty of room for poker growth in China and it'll be interesting to see how the GPL is consumed by the population and whether or not it propels the game to new heights.