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italy-spain-franceThe global online poker market was a flourishing one before various countries began to crack down on internet gambling laws. Not long after the United States passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, at which point sites like PartyPoker departed the market, numerous countries around the world began to revisit their own laws on the subject. Ultimately, several European countries and the US were among those opting out of the shared dot-com online poker industry.

What followed for countries like Italy, France, and Spain was the establishment of licensing frameworks to issue licenses and closely monitor the sites offering online poker and other internet casino games to their citizens. And those countries decided to fence off their players from the dot-com market.

Italy launched its own online poker market in 2008, France in 2010, and Spain more recently in 2012.

It didn’t take long for the gaming regulators to realize the error of their decisions. Players left the countries in droves to move to other parts of the world that offered access to online poker sites that remained lucrative for professionals. Quarter after quarter – and ultimately year after year – Italy, France, and Spain saw the inability to increase profits in any substantial way without offering larger prize pools, guarantees, and overall game liquidity.

The Slow Road to Liquidity

Those regulators began talking. Slowly but surely, more regulatory personnel admitted to the benefits of sharing liquidity with other well-regulated countries. Aside from the technology required to link the markets, which was certainly available from the online poker operators, the regulators realized that there was little risk but a lot of revenue to gain.

Initially, France was the country initiating the talks. When Charles Coppolani took over as the president of French online gaming regulator ARJEL in early 2014, he was vocal about his concerns about the declining segregated market and his desire to partner with other European nations.

By May of 2016, Coppolani had convinced the government to take a chance, and the French Senate passed an amendment to the Digital Bill that allowed ARJEL to sign agreements with other European countries for shared online poker liquidity. With that, he began formally reaching out to Italian and Spanish representatives to discuss the possibilities.

The Slightly Faster Road Leading to 2017

This week, the talks were confirmed. The French, Italian, and Spanish regulators met on an informal basis but released an official statement confirming the agreement of all three countries to share online poker liquidity. While the governments must still give the final authorization and details must be formalized, the group confirmed that the issue is a priority. The goal is now to reach an official agreement by the middle of 2017.

Online poker players should not expect to see combined player pools in the summer of 2017, but today’s technology is advanced enough to allow for a relatively speedy road to actual liquidity once all of the agreements have been signed.

There are bumps on the road, however. The first bump is Portugal, which only passed a new law to regulate the online poker market within the past year, and it only issued its first online poker license (to PokerStars) in the past week. The industry is new to Portugal and may require an adjustment period, though its regulator has indicated a distinct interest in participating in the European liquidity sharing.

A second pothole in the road may be in the details of the partnership. While online poker operators can easily link their dot-country pools, other information must be in line beforehand. For example, the taxes that online poker player pay on winnings varies from country to country, as does the collection and amount of rake on the various games. There are likely to be sticking points surrounding compromise on these issues, as all countries to share player pools must agree and garner final approval from the top brass in each nation.

A potential bump could be the interest of the UK in the agreement. The UK’s online poker market currently allows participation in the global dot-com market, but the country is interested to some degree in meeting with Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal about the liquidity agreement. Not only does the UK’s dot-com sharing present a problem, but the UK has opted out of the European Union with its recent Brexit vote. If the French government approved liquidity agreements with other EU partners only, that now omits the UK. The situation could become very complicated if the UK shows more than a passing interest.

For now, three countries are committed to bettering their online poker industries. And Portugal is likely to join Italy, Spain, and France in the endeavor. They have moved ahead in a committed way this year, and further talks could bring benefits for many European online poker players in the coming year.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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