Portugal´s National Association of Online Gamblers has called on all online poker players to boycott sites entering the country´s new regulated poker market.
In December last year, Manuela Bandeira – the Director of Portugal´s gambling regulator – dropped the bombshell that the country´s new regulated online poker market would be ring-fenced in a similar way to France, Spain and Italy.
The announcement was greeted with significant criticism from online poker players in Portugal, who are already unhappy with restrictions on the variety of games can be offered (no heads-up or Spin & Go games allowed) and excessive taxation that will result in higher rake being deducted and fewer player benefits.
Now the Associacao Nacional de Apostadores Online (ANAon) – an advocacy organization that supports the rights of online gamblers in Portugal – has called upon all online poker players to boycott sites that enter the country´s new regulated poker market once licences are issued next month.
Boycott Call Follows Meeting with Regulator
The call to boycott Portugal´s online poker market follows a meeting between ANAon representatives and the gambling regulator just before Christmas. At the meeting the regulator explained the plan was to introduce international liquidity once technical requirements had been approved by the EU.
However, with no indication of how long it may take for the technical requirements to be approved – and no guarantees that the regulator would rush into pool-sharing agreements with other international markets when they were – members of ANAon voted last week to support a boycott.
The statement announcing the boycott was posted yesterday on the ANAon website. It states that members are unhappy with a ring-fenced market and will not play at any domestically-regulated online poker site unless there is international liquidity.
The advocacy organization has also rejected a compromise proposal that would allow players from outside Portugal to register with Portuguese online poker sites similar to how the French model started. ANAon believes (and we have to agree with them) that players in the “open” European market would not opt into a ring-fenced market that was limited in what it could offer with fewer rewards.
Carry On Playing at Unregulated Sites
Last summer, many leading online poker sites withdrew from the Portuguese market or declined to accept new registrations. This left players with no option but to play on unregulated poker sites usually serving orphaned players in the United States, or to connect to existing European poker sites by using a VPN (allegedly prohibited by many sites).
The message from ANAon appears to be for Portuguese players to continue playing on unregulated poker sites. Although they may not offer the same level of player protection that regulation provides, there is certainly more liquidity at the cash tables, bigger tournament prizes than will ever be available through a ring-fenced market, and a fair level of rake/player rewards.
Officially, playing at unregulated sites is supposed to illegal under the new regulations, but – to date – no action has been taken against players who can still access 888Poker or PokerStars from Portugal, or the sites themselves. It is also evident from recent scores posted in the Portuguese poker community on PocketFives.com that players are taking advantage of VPNs to access games on other European sites.
It is difficult to imagine how effective the boycott will be. Portugal only has a fifth the population of France and will likely only be able to support a maximum of two online poker sites – each probably having no more than 200 players. As has been seen in France, Spain and Italy (and in the US states that have regulated online poker), regulation without shared liquidity does not work.
Let´s hope the Portuguese gambling regulator gets the message before the sites themselves make the decision that entering the online poker market in Portugal may not be worthwhile.