The first reaction when pondering the idea of the United States and Europe sharing online poker player pools is generally riddled with laughter. At this stage of the game, with the legality of poker around the world more muddled than ever, it seems like an unlikely scenario.
Maybe unicorns will broker the deal on the day that pigs fly and poker bots are discovered to be aliens.
What brought the issue to our attention was the recent action in France whereby the government finalized an amendment to the Digital Republic bill to allow online poker liquidity sharing with other European countries. The agreement will allow online gaming regulator ARJEL to officially partner with countries like Italy, Spain, and possibly Portugal to share online player pools.
The move has been many months in the making as the countries watched their restricted online poker markets continue to lose players and revenue. As players moved to other countries or simply played on unregulated sites instead of the small, limited market options, countries like France realized that the only way to increase profits and popularity is to partner with other members of the European Union facing similar problems.
French President Francois Hollande is reportedly set to sign the measure any day to allow ARJEL to begin working with other countries to make the shared liquidity plan happen.
Europeans May Find Online Poker Relief
A liquidity sharing deal between countries like France, Italy, and Spain will be beneficial to online poker players in all of those countries, as they will finally be able to see larger prize pools and bigger promotions. While it will not be as lucrative as the days of the poker boom when dot-com sites operated with one global community, the partnership will open many more options for online players in the countries involved in the agreement.
Other countries will be more likely to join as well. Portugal is in the process of licensing and regulating its own online poker market, and others will likely see the benefit of joining the cooperative. It will likely be a slow but positive process to rebuild the online poker realm to its former state.
US Unlikely to Participate or Replicate
The natural progression of events would see eventual talks with the United States to partner for the good of the online gaming industry. However, the US is not likely to see it that way or see any benefit for Americans, for that matter.
The state of online poker in the US is still very immature and uncertain. The federal government is far from legalizing and regulating the online poker market, mostly seeing it as an issue to be handled by each state. However, that same Congress is seeing serious efforts to ban all online gambling due to Republican lawmakers influenced by Sheldon Adelson.
Meanwhile, on the state level, only three states have legalized and regulated online poker thus far, with Pennsylvania still a possibility but not a certainty to join the group. Other states like California, New York, and Michigan have examined it but not yet come to any decision due to multiple and diverse interests on both sides of the issue. And the three states that have legalized online poker have still not agreed to share liquidity, as only Nevada and Delaware have done so thus far.
New Jersey has looked beyond the borders of the United States, however. Its regulator, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, has been in contact with gaming regulators in the UK for quite some time. This summer, the DGE requested input from all online gambling operators in New Jersey and the UK regarding ideas for implementing a liquidity sharing deal.
While New Jersey doesn’t have the kinds of numbers of online gamblers that would catch the UK operators’ attention, the UK may benefit by gaining a foothold in the US market. New Jersey, on the other hand, could benefit handsomely with more than 63 million players to add to its current tally of nine million. And its operators – 888poker, PartyPoker, and PokerStars – already operate in the UK, making the basics of any player pool sharing already in place.
If New Jersey pushes hard enough and continues to instigate discussions on the topic, progress could be made, though implementation of such a project could take many months from the point of agreement. Considering it is in the very beginning stages of talks, it would likely be 2018 before players could begin to see the action.
As for the rest of the United States, however, the road is long and riddled with potholes. There is no indication that more than a handful of states will legalize and regulate online poker within the next few years, and it is very unlikely to happen on the federal level. That means that liquidity sharing between the US and Europe is even more unlikely in this decade.