Leading international online poker site PokerStars has suspended its remaining services to players in Russia as that country’s armed invasion of neighboring Ukraine enters its third week. In announcing its suspension of services, PokerStars corporate parent, Flutter Entertainment, joins a long and growing list of companies that have ceased operating in or doing business with Russia in recent days.
PokerStars announced its decision to fully exit the Russian market at this time in the most succinct of social-media posts:
Important update: we are suspending all our services in Russia.
— PokerStars (@PokerStars) March 9, 2022
PokerStars’ operations in Russia had increasingly been limited. Last year, all Russian players were moved over to the PokerStarsinSochi site, operated by Casino Sochi, to comply with Russian gambling law. However, the site’s gaming operations remained under the administration of PokerStars’ servers, which are not located in Russia. That in turn led to Russian players not being able to deposit or withdraw from the site more than a week ago when the country was largely disconnected from international banking services. All Russian player balances on PokerStarsinSochi are effectively frozen at the present time.
While Russian players with active balances had been able to continue playing despite the earlier banking freeze, Stars’ decision to suspend services ends that dwindling activity. Some commenters on Stars’ Twitter post averred that PokerStars was punishing everyday Russian players for the military actions of its government, when those players were powerless to do anything. However, PokerStars’ withdrawal from Russia is largely symbolic anyway. Russia already announced its plans to fully block all internet activity from non-Russian sites by March 12, as the country seeks to prevent any non-Russian reports concerning the Ukraine invasion from reaching its citizenry.
Another large site previously servicing Russia, partypoker, had previously exited the country, citing its grey-market regulatory nature. The country’s access to a few other sites, including both fiat and crypto currencies, continues to dwindle.
Some outside reports on invasion still drifting in to Russian players
Russia’s access to stories from Ukraine still exists, though it is dwindling, and it is largely confined to internet-savvy individuals, largely younger and upwardly mobile. The largest Russian poker forum, Gipsyteam.ru, briefly carried a prominent link to a forum post announcing PokerStars’ cessation of services to the country. However, at last check, the link to the story itself remained non-operational.
A series of accounts gathered by players now in Ukraine that was published on March 2 remains viewable for the time being. Though 10 days old, the stories capture the increasing desperation of the situation and come from some of the cities now under more fierce attacks, including Kyiv, Mariopol, and Kharkiv.
How long these reports will remain viewable to both Russian readers and to international visitors is an open question, given the ongoing Russian cyber-crackdown. The collection of reports also comes with a statement from GipsyTeam.ru’s administrators: “These are personal stories of players, without politics and slogans. Please do not turn comments into political debates, otherwise we will have to close them.“
Featured image source: Screengrab of Gipsyteam.ru (English translation via Google)