iPoker Network Pulls out of Ukraine – Skins Leave Russia

iPoker NetworkThe iPoker Network has announced that it will no longer provide a service to Ukrainian players, and several skins have also joined the exodus from Russia.

Regulation – or the lack of it – seems to be the main topic of conversation in the poker media right now. With the likelihood that regulated online poker in California is not going to happen this year – and there being doubts about what might happen in Pennsylvania in the fall – the general feeling about regulation is that it is a complex situation that will take a long time to resolve.

However, if you thought the situation in the States was complex, consider Europe. The European Economic Community (EEC) consists of fifty-eight member states. Each has their own laws related to gambling and many of those laws contravene the EEC´s own regulations on freedom of trade. Consequently many online poker sites continue to provide a service to “grey” jurisdictions.

The Situation in Ukraine – A Prime Example of Complex

One such jurisdiction is Ukraine. In 2009, the country passed a law prohibiting any form of gambling that was not state-sanctioned – live or online. At the time, the official government line was that poker is a sport, so it was not covered by the new law. However, a change of opinion in 2010 forced online gambling companies to move their servers outside the country in order to continue providing a service to Ukrainian players.

Live poker clubs contested the reclassification of poker as gambling, and pursued their claim that poker should remain a sport through the courts. In 2013, the Ukrainian Supreme Administrative Court upheld the poker club´s case, but only for tournament poker. Cash games remain illegal but, due to political priorities (there was a coup in 2014 and then Russia invaded the Crimea), no individual or online gambling provider has been prosecuted for breaking the law.

The iPoker Network Pulls out of Ukraine

Despite there being no sign of a resolution to Ukraine´s political problems, the iPoker Network has taken the unexpected decision to add Ukraine to its list of restricted territories. The Network officially stopped providing a service on August 15th and has emailed all affected players telling them they should withdraw their funds by the end of the month.

No official reason has been given for the withdrawal from the Ukrainian market, although proposals to regulate online gambling in Ukraine were submitted to the Ministry of Finance last December. It could be the case that the Network is cautious of being penalized for being a “bad actor”, and wants to ensure that its member sites are eligible for licenses when the proposals are passed.

The Situation in Russia – About as Black and White as You Can Get

By contrast, online gambling in Russia is illegal under the 2014 Bill 478806-6. The bill criminalizes companies that provide an online service and those individuals who engage in online gambling. The Bill is generally considered unenforceable, which is why the government has taken other measures to prevent online gambling in Russia – such as blocking ISPs and introducing payment processing controls.

Despite the prohibition of online gambling, many online poker sites have chosen to remain in the Russian market. PokerStars, 888Poker and Party Poker still accept Russian players; although in early 2015, Ladbrokes joined BetFair, UniBet and Everest in withdrawing from the Russian market. Now three other iPoker Network skins have joined the exodus – Gala Casino Poker, Coral Poker, and Mansion Poker.

The withdrawal from the Russian market by these three sites could be a one-off or the start of a larger – and significant – withdrawal by skins on the iPoker Network. Following the Network´s blanket withdrawal from Ukraine – and PokerStars recent sudden withdrawal from Slovenia – one would suggest that online poker sites are taking a long, hard look at the complexities of regulation in Europe.