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Online Poker in Asia & the Middle East: The Next Big Thing?

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The culmination of the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) was a landmark moment for the game, helping it become a massive global phenomenon.

The aptly-named Chris Moneymaker took first prize in the Main Event, becoming the first person to achieve the feat after qualifying via an online poker site.

Subsequently dubbed by the media as the ‘Moneymaker Effect’, the American player’s success sparked a huge surge of interest in poker.

The game took off in North America and Europe as broadcasters and sponsors clamoured to jump on what became an extremely lucrative bandwagon.

The popularity of poker has shown no signs of slowing down since then, with the game attracting a new wave of interest in several emerging jurisdictions.

These include Asia and the Middle East – regions where the online gambling industry remains in its infancy due to licensing and regulatory issues.

However, with an increasing number of casino sites now catering for Asian and Arab poker players, the game looks set to boom over the next few years.

With that in mind, read on as we take a closer look at whether online poker will be the next big thing in Asia and the Middle East.

Relaxation of Strict Laws Should Boost Poker

Numerous Asian and Arab nations are currently working towards establishing a formal licensing and regulatory framework for online gambling.

Several Arabic online casinos already operate in the region, and many more sites have been tipped to join the party over the next couple of years.

One of the biggest hurdles many nations in the region must overcome is their historic stance on gambling due to their religious views.

However, with some Asian and Arab countries boasting a much younger demographic than was previously the case, governments have been forced to revise their position.

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are among the nations where the rulers are slowly adopting a more relaxed approach to gambling.

This increasingly lenient stance is partly fuelled by their desire to become major players in the global tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors.

Once Asian and Arab nations have navigated their way through licensing and regulatory questions, it will naturally follow that poker’s popularity will grow.

The ‘Moneymaker Effect’ Will Drive Poker Boom

As mentioned earlier, Moneymaker’s success at the WSOP in 2003 was the catalyst for a major boom in the popularity of poker across the world.

His victory demonstrated that it was possible for someone to sign-up for an online satellite tournament and emerge victorious on poker’s biggest stage.

His achievement inspired millions of other people to start playing poker, and this aspirational element will likely be repeated in Asia and the Middle East.

Some of the top professional poker players in the world today were born in the region, and their exploits are guaranteed to lure others into taking up the game.

Antonio Esfandiari, Joe Hachem, Freddy Deeb and Sammy Farha are among the players who have won millions of dollars on the professional circuit.

The 2023 WSOP Main Event highlighted the increasingly diverse nature of poker, with players from across the world securing a payout at the prestigious event.

Five of the top 100 were from Asia and the Middle East, with Israel’s Gabi Livshitv securing the best finish by scooping $345,000 for finishing 26th out of 10,043 entrants.

Tech-Savvy Populations Eager to Embrace New Innovations

With the youthful demographic in numerous Asian and Arab nations eager to embrace new technology, online poker sites are guaranteed to benefit.

A quick look at how people in the Middle East access the internet highlights that point to perfection, with smartphones now the dominant device in several nations.

Bahrain leads the region at a penetration rate exceeding 97 percent, while the United Arab Emirates is not too far behind at just over 96 percent, according to Statista.

Gaming is already hugely popular in the region, with Saudi Arabia widely recognised as a highly lucrative market for mobile gaming companies.

Saudi has an average revenue per paying user (ARPU) of $270 compared to just $32 in China – figures which demonstrate how their increasingly relaxed stance on gaming is driving growth.

It is estimated that nearly one quarter of the online population in Saudi play mobile games five or more days a week, further highlighting the possibilities for online casino operators.

Given each of the factors we have pinpointed, online poker looks nailed on to become the next big thing in Asia and the Middle East over the next few years.

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