Regulators in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain Agree to Share Online Poker Player Pools

After pens were put to paper July 6 at a signing ceremony held in Rome, regulators representing four European Union nations officially entered into an online poker player sharing agreement.

Online poker rooms in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain which were previously “ring-fenced” platforms are now free to pool their player bases for the first time. Under the ring-fenced system, players in these four nations had only countrymen as opponents – thus partitioning player liquidity across each site.

The four signatories were the French Online Gambling Regulatory Authority, the Customs Agency and Monopoly (Italy), the Service of Regulation and Inspection of Games Service of the Portuguese Tourism Institute (Portugal), and the General Direction of Game Management (Spain).

In a press release issued to announce the compact, titled “The Convention on Sharing of Online Poker Cash,” the four regulatory agencies outlined their shared objectives:

“This agreement aims at improving cooperation and information exchanges among the authorities to allow the liquidity sharing between licensed online poker operators, fighting the illegal market and fraud, guaranteeing player protection and the respect of the anti-money laundering prescriptions.

The concrete implementation of the sharing will depend on the regulatory requirements of each jurisdiction. The authorities commit to make their best efforts to enable effective implementation by the end of the year.”

The shift in regulatory strategy – which went into effect on the day of the signing – comes amidst a period of prolonged struggles for online poker since 2011, when France, Italy, and Spain began ring-fencing their games.

Per the online poker traffic tracking database PokerScout, the average daily player count for regulated sites in those three countries has been reduced by more than two-thirds of the pre-segregation era.

Due to their inherently restrictive nature, ring-fenced platforms are typically comprised of the same players contesting the same games at the same stakes, which leaves little in the way of variety. As such, high-volume players living in the four countries have flocked to locales where player pool sharing is already in place.

The four signatories clearly recognize that shared player pools are the best approach to reversing this trend, as the Convention states in its second paragraph:

“Considering that the attractiveness of online poker relies for a large part on the volume of liquidities brought by players accessing tables proposed by licensed online poker operators, and that the current partitioning of the national markets does not enable to gather a volume of liquidity sufficiently attractive for those players, therefore leading some of them to turn to illegal offer;

The authorities express their willingness, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain to strengthen their cooperation in order to enable the sharing of online poker liquidities between licensed online poker operators.”

The agreement will impact globally leading platform PokerStars more than its competitors, as it’s the only online poker site currently serving all four markets.

Current PokerScout data reveals PokerStars.pt in Portugal to have the top average daily player count of 39,562, followed by PokerStars.it in Italy (35,521), PokerStars.fr in France (34,713), and PokerStars.es in Spain (33,453). As those numbers suggest, joining player pools from the four jurisdictions would create a shared platform with more than 140,000 daily users.

The only other major online poker provider in the European Union that stands to benefit from the Convention is Winamax, which holds the distinction of holding France’s top market share.

Per an addition made to the Winamax company page on LinkedIn in January of this year, the site’s operators have been actively planning their expansion into the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese markets for at least six months.