Online poker liquidity in the EU will take a step forward, as France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal get ready to sign an agreement in Rome on Thursday. The accord will bring down digital borders that have stonewalled the European market for the past six years.
Following years of discussions, an agreement to share player pools is due to be signed by regulators of all four countries on July 6, according to French online gambling regulator ARJEL.
“This agreement will set the basis for cooperation between the signing authorities in this context and will be followed by further necessary steps within each of the jurisdictions involved in order to effectively allow for liquidity poker tables,” said the regulator in an official statement.
France, Italy, and Spain regulated online gambling from 2010 to 2012, largely at the behest of the European Commission, which ruled that monopolized, restrictive gambling laws contravened European Union principles on the free movement of services. New regulations opened up their markets to foreign operators, but they also chose to ring-fence those markets, which have been in a downward spiral ever since.
Online poker, as a P2P game, is essentially dependent on liquidity in a way that online sports betting and casino aren’t. In poker, inter-country cross-pollination creates bigger tournament prize pools and more options for players, which in turn increases the number of participants overall.
France realized its mistake quickly, leading ARJEL to discussions regarding pooling liquidity with other EU member states from as early as 2012.
After several failed attempts to convince parliament that open borders would be a good thing for online play, ARJEL eventually forced through an amendment to the country’s gambling laws that enabled the sharing of player pools.
Portugal also recently overhauled its gambling laws to create a new licensing jurisdiction, and learned from the mistakes of France what not to do when it came to liquidity, if not on the issue of tax rates.
No Quick Fix
The implementation of the proposed system is likely to take time, and there’s no guarantee that it will provide a complete answer to the EU’s poker problems. The downward trend in online poker is international and has also been experienced in jurisdictions that have access to global player pools, such as the UK. But ring-fenced markets still suffer the most.
The experiment will be watched closely by the US online gambling jurisdictions of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, and by those states considering following their lead, such as Pennsylvania.
Pokerstars parent Amaya will be watching too, as it has the most to gain from the integration of four markets in which the company is already dominant. The fusion of these markets would create a new PokerStars network which would likely be the second largest in the world, after its other global .com network.