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Spanish - looking ahead to 2012

The process to bring licensed, regulated online poker to Spain by January is proceeding on schedule. “The latest reports suggest that, at least to begin with, the market will be entirely separate from the international player pool.” The current window to apply for a license ends on Wednesday, and the first licenses could be issued by December 20. The first “dot.es” sites should be dealing póquer shortly after.

What can customers expect? The restrictions should follow what was reported back in September: limits include a €10 maximum big blind, 100BB maximum stacks, and a limit of €250 buyin to tournaments. Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Draw and Stud games are explicitly permitted, and apparently no deposit limits will be imposed.

The player pool will be segregated, although the recent regulatory draft contains language that allows non-Spanish residents to register accounts, assuming a verification procedure is implemented. It is unclear whether this will be in place when the first poker rooms open in 2012.

Compared to the existing segregated markets in France and Italy, the Spanish regulations are more permissive and impose less of a tax burden on operators, so there is hope that there will be decent liquidity and players will not see a rake increase in the transition from dot.com to dot.es.

No official list has been published on who has applied for a license, but various operators have publicly indicated an interest. One site that is almost certain to have applied is PokerStars, who runs the largest poker rooms in every regulated market in which it operates, including Italy, France, Estonia and Belgium. The recent purchase of Spanish-only iPoker skin Cara de Poker and the announcement of a third Estrellas de Poker Tour are further indicators the room is positioning itself to be the major player in Spain in 2012.

Also touted for a license is bwin.party, that operates the PartyPoker brand in Italy and France as well as internationally. Ongame is unconfirmed, but told pokerfuse in July that it was likely to enter both the Spanish and Danish markets in 2012. Ladbrokes announced a deal with Microgaming to provide services to Spanish customers under their LBApuestas brand. ChiliGaming announced earlier this month it had teamed up with an unnamed Spanish company to facilitate in the license process, and would operate under chilipoker.es rather than its valuable poquer.es domain. Other likely applicants include 888, Betfair and William Hill.

“Hopefully the liberalization on deposit restrictions and game stakes is enough to ensure a healthy, liquid Spanish network, and is one more step toward a unified European model.” One unconfirmed operator is Unibet, a popular brand in Spain. Spanish customers were recently notified that they would be blocked from playing from December 20. The email did not speculate as to whether it would return under a dot.es brand in 2012.

Once the first licensed poker rooms open, it will be illegal for operators to offer online poker to Spanish residents, although it is unclear whether this would prevent such activity: many still operate in France and Italy without such a license. There is language in the draft to impose possible IP restrictions on such unscrupulous operators, although the EU courts would be expected to oppose such extreme measures.

Spain has carved out a regulation that, although not open to the international market like the recent legislation in Belgium and Estonia, is much less restrictive than its French and Italian counterparts. Hopefully the liberalization on deposit restrictions and game stakes is enough to ensure a healthy, liquid Spanish network, and is one more step toward a unified European model.