Looking Ahead: The Expansion of Online Poker in Spain and Portugal Looking Ahead: The Expansion of Online Poker in Spain and Portugal
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This is an excerpt from Poker Industry PRO’s recently published The State of the Online Poker Industry: Summer 2018, our twice-annual snapshot of the industry. It covers key developments over the last six months, upcoming changes and trends expected over the remainder of the year and an in-depth analysis of online poker performance and the world’s largest online gaming companies.

In this excerpt, we examine shared liquidity in Europe and how online poker’s biggest operators are looking to leverage the new regulations. To read the full Key Trends and Developments section including other regulatory impacts and new game innovations, please contact us for your copy of the full report.

Shared liquidity networks in Europe will expand over the next six months building a competitive, growing market. Increased online poker revenue from Spain, France and Portugal reported from regulators and the operators within these markets will be a powerful lobbying tool to encourage Italy to adopt the system next year.

PokerStars connected Portugal to the Spanish-French player pool in May. For Portuguese players it transformed their online poker experience, allowing them to compete in a player pool ten times the size. As the company enjoys its first-mover advantage, other operators patiently await the necessary approvals to compete.

Partypoker is expected to connect its French network with its Spanish network in early June, advancing its commitment to ultimately operate a four-way shared liquidity pool in Europe. After the publication of the report, partypoker joined its online poker networks in France and Spain. Given the company’s statements, presumably it has applied for a license in Portugal, and it plans to relaunch its brand in Italy.

Winamax also has ambitions of building a player pool across all four countries. It awaits its license from the regulator to go live in Spain and appears primed for launch; it acquired its license in Italy and is presumed to have applied in Portugal.

888 runs a successful online poker room in Spain, but it exited the French online poker market years ago and has shown no interest yet of returning. Unfortunately for the operator, it focused its early efforts on a move into Italy, so it will now have to wait until 2019 to start building its European shared liquidity network. 888 has also applied for a Portuguese license.

Potentially 2018 will see more online poker operators go live in Portugal. However, predicting when licenses will be issued in the country is problematic: The last license issued by the SRIJ was over six months ago, one of only two in 2017 and the first sports betting license in over a year.

The question over whether Italy will participate at all still lingers. While a statement from the Ministry of the Economy in January indicated that “the international agreement is going to be respected,” there have been no concrete developments. With the issue now politicized, it remains hard to predict.

During the Q1 2018 earnings call, The Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi pushed back previous estimations of a late 2018 go-live date in the country, and he indicated that lobbying will be required to move the issue forward.

“We don’t anticipate Italy [will] join the liquidity this year,” he stated. “We are going to push quite aggressively for Italy … We are hopeful that Italy will join early next year,” he added.

Revenue figures from Spain and France will help make the case. Already figures from both countries in the first quarter of 2018 suggest that the online poker vertical has been transformed under the new regulations, reversing a perennial decline.

With figures from Italy still in freefall, there are now hard numbers to support the theory that European shared liquidity will revitalize the industry.