In an unprecedented move at the Gambling Compliance conference in Lisbon on Monday, SRIJ Director and Head of Online Gambling Manuela Bandeira announced that regulated online poker in Portugal would be segregated.
This is a major blow to Portuguese players and online poker operators looking to enter the Portuguese market.
Currently the online poker market in Portugal is closed pending the issuance of licenses due to the introduction of new gaming laws. However, nowhere did it state that the market should be segregated.
The announcement of SJIR Director Bandeira directly contradicts that of the Deputy Tourism Minister Adolfo Mesquita Nunes.
In April, Nunes told the Portuguese player association ANAon that the “market would share liquidity internationally” and that Portugal had learned from the mistakes of France, Spain and Italy who had adopted a segregated market style.
Nunes went on to tell them that “international liquidity is allowed because there is nothing in the law that prohibits it” so it is quite the U-turn for Bandeira to come out and publicly contradict this statement.
However, as reported in Poker Industry PRO earlier this week, Bandeira went on to explain that “shared liquidity was the ultimate goal, but that as a first step, Portugal would adopt the French 'semi-open’ model where foreign players can play on poker sites licensed in Portugal, but Portuguese players are restricted to SRIJ licensed sites.”
Only after the semi-open model has been adopted and shared liquidity between the other segregated markets have been implemented will the SRIJ look at opening up the market to share liquidity more broadly.
The Impact of Segregation
When player liquidity is restricted to a small national market, online poker operators lose the marketing power of being able to offer tournaments with big prize pools. Cash games are also very limited under a nationally segregated scheme. The result is that these restrictions push players to seek out other sites which operate outside of the regulatory oversight of the jurisdiction to sites that lack the consumer protections which are the cornerstone of regulation.
With this in mind, it is a wonder as to why the SRIJ has ruled in this way and has contradicted the Deputy Tourism Minister, which surely will not go unnoticed.
It is going to be interesting to see what the fall out will be and what it will mean long term for the Portuguese market.