Shared Online Poker Liquidity in 2018?

With online cash game poker being in a state of decline for years, it was last summer when the regulators of four European segregated markets decided that something should be done, and done quickly. The French gambling regulator ARJEL initiated year-long discussions with its counterparts from Italy, Spain, and Portugal, which discussions produced the shared online poker liquidity agreement this summer.

The shared liquidity project will allow operators licensed in the four countries to merge their player pools in a bid to improve their profitability in the respective markets and to hopefully boost regulated cash game activity there. While it was expected that an initial phase of the shared liquidity network would be launched by the end of the year and later on became clear that this would not happen, significant progress was made in 2017 in relation to the project’s eventual realization. Here is what regulators and other participants in the scheme managed to do over the past 12 months and how this would contribute to the success of the shared liquidity scheme and to the coveted improvement of Europe’s cash game poker.

Portugal Completes Shared Liquidity Technical Standards Framework

The country completed the necessary step of crafting a technical standards framework in relation to the shared liquidity project in early 2017. Basically, the framework was important as it would make it possible for locally licensed poker operators to merge their Portuguese player pools with their player pools in the other participating countries.

The set of technical rules was reviewed by the European Commission and received the necessary approval in April, thus making it possible for Portugal to participate in the shared liquidity project.

Winamax Seeks Italian-, Spanish-, and Portuguese-Speaking Staff

French online poker operator Winamax made it known in late January that it was seeking Italian-, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking staff for its planned expansion across Europe. With that, the poker room revealed its interest and intentions to participate in the shared liquidity project. Winamax is the largest poker operator in its domestic market, and it has probably seen a good opportunity to extend its footprint across other regulated jurisdictions through the shared liquidity scheme.

PokerStars Restricts French Site to Local Players Only

In early February, PokerStars announced that it would restrict its French operations to players located in France and its overseas territories. Prior to that, its .fr website had been available to players from other European jurisdictions where local regulations had not banned access to the online poker website.

The online poker room cited the constantly changing regulatory environment as a reason for its decision, but many also believed that the move could have been partially motivated by the upcoming launch of the shared liquidity network.

France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal Sign Shared Online Poker Liquidity Agreement

The online gambling regulators of the four participating countries signed the shared liquidity agreement at a special meeting in Rome, Italy on July 6, 2017. The inking of the agreement concluded a year of negotiations in relation to the project and its eventual implementation. And while it was an important step towards the realization of the shared liquidity scheme, the agreement was not the final step towards that goal. Regulators still had a lot to sort out before interested operators were able to merge their player pools from the four participating segregated markets.

For instance, they all had to present technical requirements and additional information in relation to the way poker services would be provided. France and Spain produced that information towards the end of July. Portugal, too, completed that step in the next few months.

Italy Misses Deadline for Call for License Applications

It was originally expected that Italy’s gambling regulator Agenzia delle dogane e dei Monopoli would launch a call for new license applications and for license renewals in late September. However, that move was never undertaken, and eventually risked Italy’s timely entry into the shared liquidity project. According to recent information, France would seek an early 2018 start of the project. And it seems that the country as well as Spain and Portugal will be able to launch the shared liquidity network within such timeframe. However, Italy is expected to join a bit later.

Italian Opposition to Shared Liquidity

Italian politicians, including Deputy Paola Binetti and Senator Franco Mirabelli, were among the powerful figures who voiced opposition to the online poker scheme. According to them, and other members of Italy’s political elite, the shared liquidity project would create conditions for illegal activities and increased gambling addiction rates.

Winamax Buys Italian License and Hires New Ambassadors

While Italian politicians were going vocal against the shared liquidity project, Winamax bought the Italian iGaming license of online gambling brand bet-at-home. The move would make it easier for the French poker operator to enter the Italian market than if it had waited for the local regulator to launch the application process for granting new licenses.

As part of its strategy to enter the four markets that participate in the shared liquidity project, Winamax added two new ambassadors to its team. Italy’s Mustapha Kanit and Spain’s Adrian Mateos were recruited to promote the French poker brand in their homelands and across Europe.

PokerStars Receives First Shared Liquidity License

Earlier this month, PokerStars became the first online poker operator to receive the green light to participate in the shared liquidity project from French iGaming regulator ARJEL. Under the terms of its license, PokerStars will have to make sure that it merges its player pools only in the four participating jurisdictions. Here it is interesting to note that PokerStars is the only online poker operator that is licensed to operate in each of the four countries, and many believe that it will be the single big winner from the upcoming launch of the scheme.

It very much seems that France is pushing for early 2018 launch of the shared liquidity project. The country was actually the main initiator of the whole scheme, when it passed a law last summer that allowed it to enter shared liquidity negotiations with other interested countries.

As reported earlier this month, Spain and Portugal might be ready to join the project upon launch. As for Italy, it will probably have to wait a little longer as it is yet to renew the licenses of its existing iGaming industry stakeholders and to issue licenses to new operators. It is believed that the country will enter the project at a later point in 2018. It is yet to be seen whether this will happen and how the shared liquidity scheme will impact the online poker environment of the four participating countries and of Europe as a whole.

In Shared Online Poker Liquidity Progress: Will the Project Go Live in 2018?

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