You are here

PokerStars "Surprise" Bans Numerous Countries Without Warning

PokerStars Logo

The world's largest poker site, PokerStars, and its partner organization, Full Tilt Poker, used to welcome players from almost every country in the world. However, they have been banning players from certain jurisdictions for years now, and the list of countries from which the rooms do not accept action is now truly lengthy.

While online poker and gambling had been widely ignored by the authorities in all but the most oppressive regimes a decade and a half ago, this has been changing. PokerStars wishes to keep its nose clean in the hopes of being able to enter regulated markets when the time is ripe without being excluded due to “bad actor” clauses in legislation. Also, ever since the purchase of the poker behemoth by Amaya Gaming (now called The Stars Group) in June 2014, the firm has been publicly listed and thus answerable to the owners of Amaya shares. A failure to abide by the relevant gaming legislation around the world could open it up to prosecution by legal officials as well as lawsuits by shareholders.

Below, we've cataloged the most notable markets from which PokerStars has withdrawn its services and possible reasons for its decision. Click on a link in the Table of Contents to go to the section for the country you're most interested in.


PokerStars Leaves Asian Markets

Small Map of China
Macau Flag
Flag Map of Taiwan

In late August 2020, several users received an email from 'Stars stating that “as of 1st of September, we'll be exiting China, Taiwan and Macau.” This move appears to be related to the acquisition of The Stars Group by Flutter. The new parent organization prefer to transact solely in regulated markets, and so it directed that TSG leave a few Asian countries.

It had already been known that China views poker with suspicion, and it extended its anti-gambling policy to even include play money social poker apps in June 2018. Therefore, it came as no surprise that The Stars Group would eventually have to cease offering games there.

However, there are two third-party skins active in China – Red Dragon Poker and 6up – that combine their player traffic with the PokerStars .com and .eu worldwide pool. Players on these two sites are still able to log in and access the normal PokerStars games.

PokerStars Exits Switzerland

Switzerland Flag Map

On July 1, 2019, the government of Switzerland began enforcing its new Money Gaming Act. Under the terms of this legislation, online gaming providers must be licensed. However, all applicants must partner with a local company in order to obtain a license.

PokerStars did not have any qualifying agreement with a local Swiss firm, so it left the country shortly thereafter. Although rumor had it that 'Stars was close to partnering with a Swiss casino, it seems as though any such plans have fallen through as PokerStars is still not available to Swiss residents.

PokerStars Withdraws From Hong Kong

Flag of Hong Kong

PokerStars has elected to depart from the Hong Kong market effective May 23, 2018. Affected users were sent an email that read, in part, “The Stars Group has taken the decision to withdraw the option of real money play for residents of Hong Kong.”

The decision comes in the wake of recent changes in Chinese law whereby poker social apps are being banned while the game itself is no longer considered a mental sport. Although Hong Kong operates under its own administration and laws, it is affected by developments on the mainland. Also, under some interpretations of HK law, internet poker counts as a form of unlicensed, illegal gambling.

Also relevant is the fact that 'Stars has entered into an arrangement with the Hong Kong real estate group International Entertainment to expand its live poker profile in Asian markets. The poker room's withdrawal from Hong Kong will probably help its partner corporation stay in the good graces of the authorities.

PokerStars Abandons South Africa

South Africa Flag Map

As of May 23, 2018, reports have started filtering in that 'Stars is no longer permitting South Africans to access the site's online gaming products.

The only types of online betting allowed in S.A. are regulated sports-betting, racing wagers, and lotteries. Under laws passed in 2010, offshore entities are not permitted to offer services to South Africans, and even merely enjoying the games as an individual player is a crime. In fact, during a 2017 crackdown, the authorities seized R1.25 million (about $97,000 at the time) from players caught gambling online. The South African government has been working with banks and other financial institutions to identify gambling-related transactions and then to prosecute the offenders.

The National Gambling Amendment Bill was written in 2016. Among its provisions are sections intended to beef up the tools officials have at their disposal for combating illicit online gambling activity. This bill hasn't passed into law yet, but movement is expected this year. It's likely that PokerStars is keeping its options open by leaving the market now rather than waiting to be found in violation of the law later, which could impact any plans it may make for a future South African return.

If you live in South Africa and still want to play poker, then you have a fine option available to you in the form of This company will grant you a 100% up to $1,000 bonus to use at the tables, and you can deposit via Bitcoin to avoid cumbersome banking restrictions. For signup instructions, check out our .

Australia Banned

PokerStars bans Australian players

In August 2017, PokerStars announced it would be leaving the Australian poker market. This was not a huge surprise given that 888 had left Australia months earlier in January, Party announced its departure in July, and the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016 was set to become active law on September 11th, 2017. This law facilitating crony capitalism in Australia is a barbarism if you ask us, and it leaves poker players with a dilemma.

PokerStars no real money gaming in your country warning!

Luckily, Professional Rakeback is on top of things, and we know what poker sites are still accepting players from Australia moving forward. Remember, the new laws do not forbid or make it illegal for Australian citizens to play poker online. The laws only affect the providers of the games. Many of those companies are too smart to be strong-armed, however, and rely on International trade laws to circumvent any bans. Read about how Australia got into this predicament in the first place and then learn more about safe, and legal for the consumer, real money online poker sites for Australia.

PokerStars Leaves Colombia

Colombia Flag Map

On July 17, 2017, PokerStars stopped serving Colombia. The firm had, a few months earlier, been placed on a blacklist of disallowed online gambling websites created by the gaming regulatory body Coljuegos. Starting in the middle of July, the country began blocking domains contained within the list: probably the final impetus for PokerStars to take action and leave the market.

In the months since this disappointing news, Colombia has begun to license online betting companies. This gives us hope that PokerStars might eventually return to the country, but as of right now, it does not do business in Colombia. In the meantime, we advise you to open up an account at TigerGaming, a reliable internet gaming provider that has a 24-hour payout guarantee. Read our comprehensive TigerGaming Poker review page for more information.

'Stars Gives Boot to Israelis and Slovenes

Flags of Slovenia and Israel

As of July 4, 2016, Poker Stars and Full Tilt have banned the countries of Israel and Slovenia. Player balances remain available for withdrawal, but players logged in from and having accounts registered in those countries will not be able to access any online gambling offered by Amaya.

Israel has had laws for decades banning gambling, but they were widely ignored at least as they related to betting of the online variety. However, this has changed in recent years with prosecutors going after credit card issuers that allowed gaming-related transactions.

Circumstances in Slovenia are different in that there were few, if any, legal strictures that could have been used to go after online poker websites. This changed recently though with the government announcing its intention to enact a regulated internet gambling framework: a process that – it would seem – 'Stars has every intention of complying with.

Residents of both Israel and Slovenia are welcome to create accounts at Besides poker, for which you can claim a 100% up to $1,000 bonus, there's also sports-betting, casino gaming, and several other wagering choices. Browse through our up-to-date review of Poker for all the details.

PokerStars Flees Singapore

Singapore Map

Singapore's Remote Gambling Act came into effect on Feb. 2, 2015, and PokerStars opted to close its doors to the country on the very same day.

While there's hope for the company to re-enter, in a regulated capacity, areas that it has formerly done business with, this is unlikely to be the case in Singapore. This island nation is known to be very strict on vices like gambling, and its previous openness to online poker was likely just an artifact of an outdated legal code, which has since been remedied.

PokerStars Disallows Players From Dozens of Countries

Globe With Red Circle and Crossbar

Some time in late September 2014, the online poker Goliath, king of all poker sites, began banning players from a variety of countries.  Reports began surfacing immediately on Internet poker forums and online chat groups.  A massive outcry, very common in online poker realms, of "WTF" was screamed aloud! When the dust settled, it appeared that many dozens of countries have gotten a taste of the proverbial "ban stick."

“Rogue” Countries

As many online poker players are aware, PokerStars is a mammoth poker site, which, along with its sister poker company Full Tilt, holds more online poker traffic than its nearest competitors. 'Stars may have given up a bit of market share to their competitors over the years though, as players from the following countries – in addition to those described above – have been banned from real money play on the two online poker sites:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Bahrain
  3. Bangladesh
  4. Cuba
  5. Egypt
  6. Iran
  7. Iraq
  8. Jordan
  9. Kenya
  10. Kuwait
  11. Libya
  12. Malaysia
  13. Mozambique
  14. Myanmar
  15. Nigeria
  16. North Korea
  17. Pakistan
  18. Qatar
  19. Rwanda
  20. Saudi Arabia
  21. Senegal
  22. Sudan
  23. Syria
  24. Tanzania
  25. Turkey
  26. United Arab Emirates
  27. Yemen
  28. Zimbabwe
  29. Territory of Palestine
  30. Vatican City

If you happened to be a player who had a registered address in one of the aforementioned countries, then at some point, you woke up and found out that you could no longer participate in online poker games in these countries. The changes appear to be very heavily focused on countries of predominantly Islamic faith, Middle Eastern nations, African nations, and nations considered “rogue” nations by most Western countries. 

Much of the speculation involved in this matter centers on the acquisition of the parent company of PokerStars and FullTilt, Rational Group, by Amaya Gaming. Amaya is a publicly traded company, and the common opinion being circulated is that its lawyers probably came to the conclusion that the risk-to-reward ratio of offering poker services to these countries was not worth it. The thought is perhaps that shareholders have to be pleased, and offering gambling services to countries that have a predominant faith that frowns upon gambling is not a good idea.

Other speculation includes the addition of casino gaming to both Full Tilt and Poker Stars as having been a possible motivation for these drastic actions. There is an argument to say that poker is a game of skill and therefore not subject to many types of “gambling” laws. The same argument fails the test when it comes to pure casino or pit games.

Players were given no notice of any changes to the two poker sites and were simply unable to log into their accounts with the message:

Our management team regularly reviews our operation along with independent 3rd party professionals to assess the business risk and opportunities for our brand on a market-by-market basis. Following our most recent review, it was determined that we would no longer offer real money games in your country.

This was a pretty big fire starter in the forums and chat groups!  Players from the affected countries had all of their FPPs locked up and unable to be spent, effectively crushing their rakeback returns. It appears, however, that PokerStars eventually allowed almost all players to spend their FPPs in the VIP store to purchase reward bonuses as well as unclaimed Stellar Rewards and Milestone Cash Credits. It has also been stated by players that PokerStars support informed them that they would be able to resurrect their accounts, and their lost FPPs, if they relocated to an allowed country and provided new documentation. So there is hope still!

Now that the much-lauded PokerStars VIP system is extinct, it's not clear how future departures from geographic markets will be handed. The Chests reward system does not seem to lend itself well to claiming partial exchanges, so there's the possibility that such customers will be out of luck.

Contact PRB to Discuss Your Options

Mouse Pointer Hand Icon

If you were in one of these affected countries and are looking for a new home, please contact the Professional Rakeback staff on Skype, AIM, email, Facebook, or Twitter, and we will be happy to find you a new home for your online poker needs.

You might be especially interested in the best Bitcoin poker sites. There are quite a few of them that transact around the world, and most of them are much more liberal about what countries they accept than old-school, hidebound organizations like PokerStars.

Other Markets Not Affected

Check Mark

Other countries that are sometimes considered to be “gray market” were not affected. Canada is a great example of this and it appears that Canadian online poker is still alive and well with both PokerStars and Full Tilt in full-scale operation within this country.

The same can be said for Brazil, where the ancient, unenforced anti-gambling laws and a freewheeling, do-as-you-please culture combine to make a sizable market for online poker in Brazil without the government leaders interfering too much. There are plans in the works to license and tax gaming operators in Brazil, but the relevant bill has been much delayed (how shocking), so this entire sector is an unregulated economy right now.

The UK is another matter however. With the implementation of a point of consumption tax in 2014, many operators left the scene. However, PokerStars was not one of them because it crunched the numbers and elected to continue in the United Kingdom.

The situation is variable in other European markets. For instance, PokerStars is a fully legal cardroom in the Czech Republic, but most other online poker organizations have called it quits due to the high levels of taxation and regulation within the country. Yet, there are plenty of offshore, gray-market groups that offer poker to Czechia's citizens, and you can learn about them in our internet poker guide for Czech players.