‘Ukraine Has Always Been Attractive to Poker Players, Everyone Wanted to Come Here’ – the Founder of Ukraine Poker Open Eric Shahbazyan

‘Ukraine Has Always Been Attractive to Poker Players, Everyone Wanted to Come Here’ – the Founder of Ukraine Poker Open Eric Shahbazyan

A fresh issue of UGW Insider podcast has been released featuring Lavrentiy Gubin, Brand Ambassador of Ukrainian Gaming Week 2021 exhibition and the guest of a new episode – Eric Shahbazyan, the Founder of Ukraine Poker Open who spoke about the prospects for the development of poker in Ukraine.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected poker tournaments? What will the adopted law on the legalization of the gambling business change? What are the prospects for poker in Ukraine? Read the answers to these and other questions in the interview.

The interviewer: Lavrentiy Gubin (L.G.)

The respondent: Eric Shahbazyan (E.S.)

L.G.: Please tell us what is the general situation in the poker world right now in the context of the pandemic.

E.S.: The situation should be divided into two parts. If we talk about online poker, then it grew very actively during the pandemic, historical highs were updated. This past year has been a very, very successful year for online poker. The reasons are clear: betting did not work, everyone was sitting at home, playing. This all had a positive effect.

Offline poker is another matter. Tournaments have been canceled in many countries, the WSOP has been canceled, and for the first time in 50 years, there has been no World Championship of Poker. We have also canceled several stages of our tournaments in the CIS. But in places where it was not canceled, where the tournaments still took place in spite of everything, there were a lot of people, participants. This somewhat aroused surprise and healthy optimism.

L.G.: But how was the segment of poker doing in Ukraine before the pandemic?

E.S.: In 2018, if I'm not mistaken, poker was officially recognized as a sport in Ukraine. There were championships, we held the Ukrainian Poker Cup several times. And, in general, everything was fine, the sphere was actively developing, there was a lot of interest in poker. And the Ukrainian national poker team even won the World Team Championship, and this is indeed a very, very significant result.

The guys went to Chile, if I remember correctly. They have won and brought home gold medals. Everything was fine until, probably, the end of last year. After the famous speech by Volodymyr Zelenskiy about the need to close the slot halls. Lottery operators stood in the way of adopting the gambling law and everything in the country was closed.

Without any though, they also closed down poker clubs. That is, no one looked at the fact that poker is a sport. They closed everything. And all this time the poker community has been waiting for the law to be passed.

The law was adopted, but because of the quarantine, the clubs still remain closed. Everyone is waiting for the quarantine to end – this applies to both clubs and championships. The latter will take place as soon as possible.

L.G.: In your opinion, how did the adoption of the new gambling legislation affect the development of poker in Ukraine, or how will it affect in the future?

E.S.: If we talk about online poker, then it will certainly develop very actively. Online poker is becoming legal – several well-known rooms will buy licenses to operate in Ukraine. And, in general, due to large-scale advertising, the number of players should increase.

As far as offline poker is concerned, it's a little unclear. Poker is at least recognized as a sport, but when it comes to a cash game, there are certain holdbacks. Only tournament poker is considered a sport, and cash games are not. It can only take place in a casino. But whether it will be interesting for land-based establishments to organize it is not yet clear.

The difficulty is that there are certain taxes per table. Tax legislation in this matter is not optimal. When tournaments are held, for example, in Russia or Belarus, the organizer pays a tax per table that he can place for 15 days and pays a fee for this amount of time.

In the adopted law, there is no division into such short periods. That is, if the casino sets up a table, then it must pay for the year. And here certain questions already arise. The same situation is in Georgia, for example. You need to set the table for at least 3 months or a quarter. This always creates problems.

L.G.: But tax legislation is going to be revised now (in Ukraine – ed.). Maybe in some way, this will also be reflected there?

E.S.: Maybe. We have already talked about this ... After all, certain difficulties with the conduct of poker events at the casino will still arise.

For example, our events in Belarus are held as follows: tournaments are allowed in hotel halls, and the cash game is organized in the casino located in this hotel. In theory, it should be the same in Ukraine if an amendment is made regarding taxes per tables.

L.G.: How will the general trend in poker change after the pandemic? How will the pandemic change players’ preferences? How many more people will go online?

E.S.: For the past five years, online poker has been decreasing, not growing. But 2020 turned out to be, as I said, a very good year for the sphere.

What will happen next is not clear. Much depends on the legislative initiatives in different countries. If the legalization happens in such large countries as Germany or in certain states of America, then, no doubt, poker will grow. And if not, most likely, there will be no growth. There is a general downward trend in the number of online poker players.

Another thing is live gaming offline poker. Interest in this type of poker is growing. Now we see that the number of players who play in tournaments, both ours and others around the world is only increasing. This trend is likely to continue as live poker is generating a lot of interest among observers.

L.G.: How promising is the development of poker in Ukraine?

E.S.: Of course, it is promising. We have been holding tournaments in Ukraine since 2009, our first tournament was here. During this time, tens of thousands of people came to Ukraine as players and as tourists.

The gambling business makes a very significant contribution to the development of tourism in the country. I think that this direction will also develop. Ukraine has always been attractive to poker players, everyone wanted to come here. A visa-free regime with Europe wull also help the case. That’s said, everything should be great!

On February 24-25, Ukrainian Gaming Week 2021 exhibition will take place, presenting advanced solutions for the gambling industry and highlighting trends in the development of the gambling sector in Ukraine.

Follow the latest news from the event and discover previous episodes of UGW Insider podcast here >>>

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