Many poker players around the world have been hit by the news. It usually happens without much warning, and it hurts everyone from the professionals to the amateur players. When major online poker sites withdraw from a particular market, the entire industry feels the pain.
Last week, Israel was the latest to take a hit as PokerStars and Full Tilt announced the exit from that real-money online gaming market. Days later, Slovenia felt it, too.
Amaya certainly doesn’t leave markets without cause, as the company’s bottom line takes a hit, as does the overall global player pool. When lawyers, executives, and consultants all agree that it’s time, however, it has to happen. And there is typically not much warning for players, as there is no reason to drag it out. Of course, players have ample time going forward to withdraw their cash balances, but their ability to play stops almost immediately.
Israel’s laws regarding online poker have long been ambiguous. Casinos and card rooms are certainly not legal, despite the Israeli Poker Association claiming that at least 500,000 Israelis play poker on a regular basis, mostly in under-the-radar home games. With no licensing available for online poker sites, operators often try to interpret the vague current laws and offer services to players based in Israel.
Recent court cases, however, have begun to clarify the government’s stance on internet poker. Beginning in 2015, prosecutors began to pursue companies associated with online gambling, whether they were credit card providers allowing financial transactions or poker game hosts. Most recently, the Supervisor of Banks decided that financial institutions and credit card companies must decline any transaction requested between a customer and online gaming company.
Within days of the latter, Amaya made the decision to exit the market. “Our management team regularly reviews our operations market-by-market to assess commercial opportunities and business risks for our brands,” the customer letter began. “Following a recent review, we regret to inform you that we have decided to stop offering real money games to players who are physically located in, or have a registered address in, Israel.” And on June 27, they kept that promise.
PokerStars and Full Tilt joined a group of operators to exit the Israeli market that already included sites like PartyPoker and 888poker.
Days after Israeli players got the bad news, those in Slovenia received the same. PokerStars and Full Tilt announced an official exit from the country as of July 4.
Slovenia does allow gambling within its borders with a thriving land-based casino industry. Poker is included in that list of legal activities, though it is not exactly a tournament destination for most live series operators. Online gambling and poker are not expressly permitted, though the government is in the process of allowing the activities. New laws were introduced in 2013, but it has taken years to put those laws in front of the European Commission for approval. If all goes well, operators will be able to apply for licenses later this year, and sites are likely to be up and running by early 2017. With 15 licenses available, it is likely that Amaya will be authorized for PokerStars and Full Tilt.
Meanwhile, PokerStars and Full Tilt wanted to be compliant leading up to the licensing process. “Following a recent review, we have decided to stop offering real-money games to players who are physically located in, or have a registered address in, Slovenia from July 4, 2016,” the statement noted. “We hope that we will be able to return to the market in due course, and will continue to support the implementation of fair and consistent regulation that serves the needs of all stakeholders and includes a strong commitment to consumer protection, particularly of vulnerable people in Slovenia.”
Who is Next?
For the time being, it seems that the market withdrawals are limited to Israel and Slovenia. “We do not currently expect to withdraw services from any other locations in the foreseeable future, and a full question-and-answer page has been provided for affected players.”
Other gray markets remain around the world, such as Canada and Mexico, as well as several European countries. Some are trying to push new legislation to license sites, and temporary exits from those nations might be necessary prior to official regulatory frameworks being established. As of the latest Amaya review, though, everything is set for the time being.