A non-gambling form of poker looks set for a massive popularity boost in China after Alibaba Sports and Oceans Sports and Entertainment agreed to a sports partnership for the latter's Match Poker product.
Match Poker, created by the International Federation of Poker (IFP), is a team-based, non-gambling version of poker where players play for points rather than money and hands are dealt via smartphones instead of physical playing cards; it has been likened to an eSports equivalent of poker.
Partnering with Alibaba could be a stroke of genius on the part of Oceans Sports, as the Chinese e-commerce company is one of the largest retailers in the world and immensely popular with Chinese citizens. In 2014, Alibaba claimed the title of the largest global initial public offering (IPO) ever when it raised a staggering $25 billion.
Patrick Nally, the President of the IFP, is understandably excited about the potential reach the deal with Alibaba will give to Match Poker.
"The alliance between Oceans and Alibaba Sports creates one of the most powerful forces in sports marketing anywhere in the world," Nally said. "I am delighted that their energies, attention, and resources will be focused on launching and promoting Match Poker and that they share my belief in its massive worldwide potential."
Nally believes that Match Poker will resonate with both young people and established poker players thanks to the ability to play a gambling-free version of the game and the connective power of technology, which allows players to form teams and compete in local, national, and even international competitions and leagues.
The initial target is to have as many as two million Match Poker players from China within the next five years, with revenues generated not from rake, as in traditional poker, but instead via subscriptions, pay-per-play, and media and sponsorship rights.
China has long been touted as the next online poker hotbed due to it being the world's most populous nation, but it is technically illegal to gamble online or offline on anything except the sanctioned state lottery. However, what constitutes gambling varies from province to province.
Alibaba would not have entered this agreement lightly and are sure to do everything they can to push Match Poker to 1.357 billion population of China. If it takes off and introduces poker to China, it could be a huge boost to the game.
Image courtesy of CNBC.com