888 Holdings has launched a new online poker room in Italy, complementing its existing casino and betting operations.
As with other poker rooms regulated in Italy, and like 888’s existing room room in Spain, the player pool is separate from 888’s dot-com pool in the rest of the world.
“We’re delighted to bring our poker site to the Italian market, which fits with our strategy to expand 888’s presence in regulated markets and strengthens our position for the forthcoming pooling of players across selected European market,” said Itai Pazner, COO of 888 Holdings.
However, 888’s decision to enter the competitive Italian poker market now is thought to be in preparation of European shared liquidity which 888 hopes will ultimately allow it to combine player pools across borders.
“We … follow the new EU shared liquidity discussions and [we’re] working to launch 888poker in Italy,” 888 CEO Itai Feiberger told investors in a recent earnings call. An Italian launch was categorized as a “first step … in participating in this very interesting venture.”
Unfortunately for 888, while the process in France and Spain has moved forward rapidly, and Portugal is also taking the necessary steps forward, progress has stalled in Italy following concerns raised by local industry interests and politicians.
With France already issuing shared liquidity licenses, and Spain not far behind, the first Franco-Spanish shared liquidity poker room will hopefully materialize this month. Italy is now assumed to be well behind the curve.
It is not clear whether, given these developments, 888 will consider re-entering the French market. It launched when the market first launched but rescinded its license and aborted all operations—including a never-repeated network partnership with Microgaming—in 2012.
Meanwhile, 888 Italy will be operating in the Italian segregated online poker market. 888 will be hoping to repeat the success in Spain where it is the number two online poker room behind PokerStars; but in Italy, it faces much stiffer competition.
Like in Spain, PokerStars is the dominant force in Italy with an estimated 50-60% of traffic. But People’s Poker, with its vast network of skins and local expertise, has carved out an important niche and is growing its liquidity. iPoker’s Italian poker network also maintains an important player pool, and even Lottomatica on IGT Poker/Poker Club Italian runs some games daily.
To encourage sign-ups, 888poker is offering the same €8 no-deposit signup bonus (to compare, that’s the same as it offers in Spain, though less than the £20 offered in the UK) and a huge 100% deposit match bonus up to €1500 (which dwarfs the first-deposit bonus currently offered in any other market).
The operator is also running “Celebrate in Great Style” welcome freerolls to launch the poker room and has earmarked €5000 across two daily freeroll tournaments until February.
It is the fifth such poker player pool that 888 Holdings operates across nine licensed jurisdictions. In Europe, the company runs the dot-com pool licensed primarily in Gibraltar, connected to national, open-border regulated markets of Denmark, the UK, and Romania. Along with its Spanish and now Italian poker rooms, it also runs a network in New Jersey with its own 888 skin sharing liquidity with WSOP, and its software is used for the Delaware-Nevada network.
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