PokerStars’ long awaited merger of its French and Spanish platforms was launched just three weeks ago, but the site is already celebrating the success of its player sharing experiment.

According to the PokerScout database – which tracks player activity across major online poker platforms – the newly combined PokerStars Europe is now the third-largest in the world. With a seven-day average of 1,800 players, the site beats out established competitors like 888Poker (1,500) and PartyPoker (1,400).

The only platform boasting higher levels of activity are the primary PokerStars site (11,000), and the Asian-facing IDN Poker (5,000).

To commemorate that achievement, PokerStars launched a new tournament series known as FRESH (France Espania Hold’em) on January 28. The FRESH series consists of 50 tournaments, with buy-ins ranging from €10 to €250, offering a combined €5 million in guaranteed prize pools.

The FRESH festivities will be finished off with a €1 million guaranteed Main Event (€250 buy-in), which runs from February 11-12.

In a press release, Severin Rasset – who serves as director of poker innovation and operations for PokerStars – dubbed FRESH as the first online tournament series open to both the French and Spanish markets:

“After so many years of closed liquidity, it is a major milestone to offer the first online series that combines French and Spanish players.

We created this series by learning from both countries and we hope that players will enjoy the bigger prize pool and tournaments on offer.”

The path toward player pool sharing began in July of 2017, when the various gaming regulators in France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy announced an historic agreement to combine their online poker presence. Previously, these European countries operated online poker as “ring-fenced” markets, with the Spanish-facing open only to Spanish IP addresses.

At that time, Guy Templer – the chief operating officer of PokerStars parent company The Stars Group – issued a statement praising the regulators’ decision to cooperate, rather than compete, with one another:

“This will be great for players and great for the poker category.

The French and Spanish regulators have done an excellent job in enabling a dramatic improvement in the gaming experience in their jurisdictions.

Now French and Spanish players can access a larger player pool with bigger prizes, promotions and a better selection of games, all with the confidence provided by a trusted, licensed operator.

Having a strong, competitive regulated offering – which comes from combining player pools – has proven to be attractive to consumers who might otherwise be choosing to play on un-licensed and potentially un-safe sites.”

Six months later, the French and Spanish regulators came together to codify the agreement, leading to the launch of PokerStars Europe.

As of yet, progress has stalled in Italy and Portugal, but a January report by industry outlet PokerRed revealed that Italian regulators are putting the final arrangements in place. Per PokerRed, a listing posted in the Official Journal of the European Union calls for online poker licensing tenders to be submitted between applications between March 15-19.

If the PokerStars Europe platform absorbed the current Italian-facing site, it would add another 900 players to its seven-day average (per PokerScout).

Templer reached out to Italian and Portuguese regulators as part of his statement, urging the two parties to complete last year’s player sharing agreement:

“We’re looking forward to extending this to Italian and Portuguese players, and offer our full support to the relevant authorities in those countries to do so.

In particular, we would encourage Italy to resume their drive toward shared liquidity which after a good start has recently slowed considerably.”

Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

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