GAME OVER: PokerStars Announces Pullout of Russian Market in Light of Ukraine Invasion

The fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to affect business operations around the world. Many international companies have pulled out of Russia in recent days and that includes online poker operators.

The latest came on Wednesday with PokerStars announcing it would be pulling out of the country.

“Important update: we are suspending all our services in Russia,” the company noted on Twitter.

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PokerStars, partypoker out in Russia

The withdrawal of one of the world’s largest poker operators will leave many players in the country looking for another option. The move also follows partypoker exiting the market in early February.

Party had legal concerns regarding continued operations in the market.

“It’s correct we are removing services from various locations due to regulatory issues,” party Twitch and community manager Colette Stewart noted on the site’s Discord server.

Stars now seems to be continuing that trend with war raging in Ukraine. As PokerScout reported last week, operators aren’t scheduling live events in the country after the invasion. 

Party, GGPoker, 888poker, and the World Poker Tour have no events planned in the country at the moment. PokerStars also canceled the Sochi stop on the European Poker Tour that was planned in March.

“PokerStars can confirm that EPT Sochi has been canceled,” the company noted in a statement to PokerScout. “An event will not be held in Sochi until such time that it is safe for staff and players, and appropriate to do so.”

Punishing Putin or punishing players?

As more companies exit the Russian market, some critics argue these types of moves are punishing the Russian people instead of President Vladimir Putin. Others argue pressure on the country as a whole might help bring change to the country’s leadership.

As for poker, the country had been a growing market for online poker prior to the arms buildup and invasion. In the wake of increased sanctions on the country, online poker companies may also now see the country as just too challenging to continue operating.

As of now, at least PokerStars and partypoker see too much risk in taking on Russian players. No other operators had yet announced ceasing operations in the country as of Wednesday.

Several players on Twitter urged 888poker and GGPoker to follow the lead of PokerStars and partypoker. However, those companies’ haven’t made any announcements regarding operations in the country.

Poker players follow events in Ukraine

Like many around the world, poker players have watched events play out in Ukraine. Many players recently followed the plight of Ukrainian poker player and entrepreneur Eugene Katchalov

The former WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic winner was born in Ukraine, but his family moved to the United States when he was 2 years old. Katchalov moved back to Ukraine five years ago, but sought to get his family out of the country when fighting began.

As he and his family drove to the border, Katchalov gave a first-hand account of what was happening in the country. 

“Just saw two military helicopters fly overhead,” he noted. “Certainly haven’t felt nerves like this since 9/11 in Manhattan.”

The family eventually crossed into Hungary. Katchalov has continued offering updates from friends and family still in the country.