It seems like PokerStars isn’t finding a lot of hospitality around the world this week. At the same time that the company is facing opposition to its inclusion in the California online gambling marketplace, Russia has apparently moved to block their website as well, along with dozens of other Internet betting – and even some non-gambling – sites.
The move comes after a November 2012 ruling in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation that made Internet service providers (ISPs) responsible for blocking gambling sites that were illegally offering games in Russia. Until now, there hadn’t been any real enforcement of this ruling.
According to reports, the prosecutor’s office recently requested that a list of sites be blocked, including PokerStars and a number of major bookmakers including Ladbrokes, SportingBet and others. A list of blocked sites featured many other popular poker, casino and sports betting sites like Carbon Poker, the Russian PartyPoker.net site, and some affiliate sites. In total, about 50 gambling-related sites were blocked.
Website Blocked, Games Still Available
For the most part, it was only the websites of these companies that were blocked. For instance, players from Russia were still able to join tables at PokerStars, even as the company’s website was unavailable.
However, there were exceptions. At Unibet, players could not access the company’s servers, possibly due to the fact that it uses an Internet-based login script. Blocking sites could potentially also make it difficult for new players to register accounts, or for sports bettors to place wagers through their web browsers.
PokerStars Stays Positive
According to players who have contacted PokerStars, the company has tried to reassure them that business as usual will continue for their Russian players.
“We are aware of the recent situation in Russia,” read a response from PokerStars reported by at least one concerned player. “At this time we do not believe this changes our ability to offer services to Russian players. As such our operations continue as usual.”
PokerStars also tried to skirt the line between what Russian authorities have done and the legality of their offerings in the country.
“Our terms and conditions make it clear that our services are not for use in jurisdictions where it is illegal to do so, but the measures taken by Roskomnadzor [register of blocked websites], and the resulting action with the Common Registry of Banned Websites that prevents access to our PokerStars.com website, does not affect ability to continue playing at PokerStars,” the reply said.
If the move eventually forced Russian players off of these gambling sites, it would be a major loss for the international online gambling community. In particular, poker sites would lose significant liquidity; with the United States no longer a major part of the global online poker market, Russia is one of the largest contributors to player pools.
Web Censorship Becoming Common in Russia
Russian authorities have been busy blocking websites of late, and not just in the world of gambling. In early March, the general prosecutor’s office ordered the blocking of 13 web pages that were linked to protest movements in Ukraine. More recently, Russia blocked the websites of three major opposition news groups, as well as the blog of Alexei Navalny, a popular critic of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. The censorship has stepped up since the crisis in Crimea, though there’s no direct link between the Ukrainian situation and online gambling.