PokerStars’ parent The Stars Group has inked a deal with Hong-Kong-listed International Entertainment Corp to operate land-based poker tournaments in “certain Asian counties” under the PokerStars brand, according to a filing by International to the Hong Stock Exchange.
International Entertainment is the owner-operator of the five-star AG New World Manila Bay Hotel and Casino in downtown Metro Manila in the Philippines, but it also invests in and leases properties for casino operations across the region.
PokerStars sponsors the Asian Pacific Poker Tour (APPT), which includes stops from Manila to Macau, to Melbourne. It’s unclear whether the deal with International is an expansion of the APPT, or a completely new tour.
Road to Wigan Near
International made a splash in UK media recently for its proposed acquisition of Wigan Athletic, an unglamorous soccer team from North East England, currently plowing its trade in the second tier of the country’s soccer leagues.
That deal was reported today to be “close.” It’s one of several involving wealthy investors from China and elsewhere supposedly looking to “flip” lower league English soccer teams – investing in winning promotion to the top tier before selling the club for a profit.
The company was formed by the late Cheng Yu Tung, a long-time business associate of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, and in 2014 it attempted, unsuccessfully, to acquire the Suncity Group, the enclave’s biggest junket operator, at the height of Macau’s economic boom.
Just Who is Stanley Choi?
In 2017, International Entertainment was acquired by Brighten Path Ltd, whose chairman, Stanley Choi, describes himself as a professional poker player, as well as a financier and M&A specialist.
According to The Hendon Mob website, Choi finished first in the 2012 Macau High Stakes Challenge Super High Roller for $6.5 million. The following year, he finished second in 2015 Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP), Macau, a PokerStars APPT event.
PokerStars has long seen China, where gambling is illegal, as the golden goose of play-money social poker, but it seems unlikely the new deal will offer access to the Chinese mainland.
Last month, the Chinese government announced social play-money poker apps would be prohibited and that tournament poker would no longer be viewed as a competitive sport, a designation that allowed live poker tournaments to be tolerated in certain regions.
Observers say the ruling has arrested the development of poker in the region, where most of the tournament fields were composed of play-money satellite qualifiers from mainland China.