China loves poker games. But it looks like the Chinese government is trying to stamp them out.

A new batch of 795 games were recently approved -- but none were poker or gambling titles. Contrast that to 2018, where nearly half of all games approved (962, to be exact) were poker games.

It comes as part of a wider crackdown on the online gambling industry. Throughout the last year, authorities have blocked or removed apps and there have been a number of arrests.

The crackdown has been especially hard for Tencent, which pulls in more gaming revenue than any other company in the world.

In September, Tencent shut down its popular Texas Hold ‘Em Poker and Happy Fight Poker apps. The following month, more poker games were targeted when multiple Texas hold’em mobile apps were blocked.

Gambling rings in China often operate through China’s ubiquitous chat app WeChat, through which people send money using WeChat Pay. Shenzhen authorities arrested dozens of people from 2017 to 2018 in connection with gambling activities on WeChat and QQ, another Tencent-owned messaging service.

After a mysterious SMS message with WeChat contact information, a stranger on Tencent's chat app sends an invitation to join a mahjong game. (Picture: Abacus)

While many platforms require users to charge their accounts with yuan from bank cards, some have sought to use cryptocurrency to get their gambling fix online. Any platforms hosted in China are still at risk, though, regardless of payment methods. Guangdong police made this point last year when they quashed a platform hosting bets in cryptocurrency worth more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion).

Although reports of crackdowns involving Chinese authorities tend to have a dystopian tinge, governments may have good reasons for opposing vices like gambling. Chinese authorities appear especially sensitive to schemes that threaten financial wellbeing, which can result in unrest. In the past, the government has been quick to suspend stock trading at the first signs of trouble, and it has cracked down on shadow banking activities that skirted traditional banks.

As with stocks and show banking, gambling has financial consequences, especially for those who find it hard to pull away. One addicted gambler told CCTV that he lost 20,000 yuan (US$2,975) through online games in the span of about six weeks.

It’s not unusual for countries to ban or limit online gambling. The current administration in the U.S. has recently had a change of heart with the country’s Justice Department deciding that the Federal Wire Act actually outlaws all online gambling. A federal court had determined in 2002 the law only applied to sports betting, setting the new interpretation up for a potential court battle.

The decision was long sought by a group led by casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, founder and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. That same company also owns Sands Macao and Venetian Macao.

Macau, the once-Portuguese territory across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, is known as China’s Las Vegas. This gambling haven attracts 30 million visitors from Mainland China per year. For a magnate like Adelson, that means money in the bank. Or in the casino, so to speak.

If you’re not a billionaire who owns multiple casinos, though, the prospect of a crackdown on online card games on both sides of the Pacific probably isn’t very comforting. If you just can’t get enough Texas hold’em, maybe try organizing a game with friends.