Over the weekend Russian ISP’s have blocked online poker websites including Pokerstars.com and dozens of other online casinos & bookmakers. This could be the biggest blow to online poker since Black Friday, and players around the world are rightly concerned as Russian players make up a large percentage of the online poker population.
In November 2012 a supreme court ruling made ISP’s responsible for blocking gambling sites in Russia, but authorities have not made any lasting effort to enforce this decision until now. Deputy Head Maxim Ksenzov reported that the blocking has occurred at the request of the prosecutor’s office based on these court decisions. So over the weekend some major gaming websites have been blocked including Pokerstars, Ladbrokes, SportingBet, UniBet, Betway and many more. The full list of blocked websites has been published here.
Initially it was only the gaming websites themselves that were being blocked so we were still able to see Russian players at the tables. However there was more difficulty for Unibet, with their internet based login script preventing players from gaining access. The ISP’s that are blocking the websites are MTS, Rostelecom, and Dom.ru, however it has been reported that technical issues could be the real cause of problems with Dom.ru. The blocks put in place by MTS and Rostelecom only seem to affect the websites and not the servers for the time being but many are worried that the Russian authorities may be able to enforce a ban on the poker room software as well. Players were still able to access the Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker software for the time being.
Concerned players have contacted Pokerstars directly and received the following response:
“Thank you for contacting PokerStars, and for expressing your concern.
We are aware of the recent situation in Russia. At this time we do not believe this changes our ability to offer services to Russian players. As such our operations continue as usual.
We operate under several licenses issued to us in various jurisdictions and we always abide by all relevant laws and regulations.
We will communicate all necessary information to our players should changes take place in any jurisdiction which might affect players directly. We can assure you that your funds are always safe with us and that they will be made accessible to you should you ever want to withdraw them.
Our terms and conditions make it clear that our services are not for use in jurisdictions where it is illegal to do so, but the measures taken by Roskomnadzor, and the resulting action with the Common Registry of Banned Websites that prevents access to our PokerStars.COM website, does not affect ability to continue playing at PokerStars.
We trust this alleviates your concerns, and thank you for choosing PokerStars.”
Although the response from Pokerstars is a reassuring one, these are certainly worrying developments. Stay tuned for latest updates and lets hope this is a problem that can be resolved. We would all hate to lose another country (and all the players that come with it!) to another online poker ban that some are already calling ‘Black Saturday’.