The Spanish online gambling regulator – the Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (DGOJ) – has announced it will be issuing cross-border online poker licenses “in the coming weeks” that will facilitate the first stage of a liquidity-sharing project between Spain, France, Italy and Portugal.
In July last year, online gambling regulators from Europe´s four ring-fenced countries agreed a “basis of cooperation” with the aim of creating a shared liquidity pool for online poker. The process of creating the pan-European market pushed ahead despite the continuing failure of the Portuguese market and objections from Italian politicians.
Last month, France´s online gambling regulator – the Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne (ARJEL) – issued its first cross-border online poker license to PokerStars.fr; and earlier this week its Spanish counterpart said it will also be issuing cross-border online poker licenses as soon as the law permitting it to do so is published in the Official State Gazette.
Once the licenses are issued, operators with cross-border online poker licenses will be able to combine their player pools from Spain and France. No timeframe has been suggested for when operators in Portugal will be able to join the pan-European market, and nothing is expected to happen in Italy until after the country´s elections take place in March.
PokerStars and Party to be First in the Queue
PokerStars and Party Poker are expected to be the first recipients of Spanish cross-border online poker licenses. Both have a presence in Spain and France, and although Party Poker´s Spanish presence is miniscule (partypoker.es has not hosted a multitable tournament since May 2015), the site hopes liquidity sharing will signal a reversal in its fortunes.
The French online poker site Winamax was also expected to apply for cross-border licenses in Spain and France, but the site might be having second thoughts. Despite declaring its support for a pan-European market – and signing Spain´s Adrian Mateos and Italy´s Mustapha Kanit as sponsored pros last October – Winamax hasn´t been quick to apply for either French or Spanish cross-border poker licenses.
One of the issues obstructing Winamax from obtaining a Spanish cross-border poker license is that it allows players from outside France to play on its poker platform. This is contrary to Spanish licensing regulations; and, as Winamax does not have a presence in Spain, the site may be considering whether it is worth abandoning its non-French customers in order to obtain a license in Spain.
888Poker Also Appears Reluctant to Get Involved
With Winamax and PokerStars sharing 80% of the French online poker market, 888Poker doesn´t appear to be in much of a hurry to join pan-European liquidity sharing either. 888Poker does have a healthy market share in Spain, but rather than try to make a profitable incursion into France, the site has decided to turn its attentions to the much more open Italian market.
On Tuesday, the company launched 888Poker.it to complement its existing Italian-facing sports betting site and online casino. The launch is being supported by a substantial marketing campaign and it will be interesting to see where 888Poker.it lands among its competition once the dust has settled. The result could determine whether the company eventually moves into the French online poker market and seriously gets involved in pan-European liquidity sharing.
Consequently it looks as though the launch of a pan-European market could be a bit of an anti-climax. The only two operators likely to take advantage of the initial liquidity sharing possibilities will be PokerStars and Party Poker – the latter being a very minor player in European regulated markets – while Winamax and 888Poker may just sit on the fence. Not quite the “great news for poker in Europe” forecast by some industry observers.