The small Eastern European nation of Croatia recently launched its first licensed online poker room, courtesy of local casino and sportsbook operator SuperSport.
Croatian law has allowed for a regulated online gambling industry since 2010, but it took until January 11 for the country to put the Ordinance on Interactive Online Casino Gaming into practice.
That law’s statutory language is quite strict, stipulating that online gambling licenses in Croatia will only be awarded to companies that operate at least one brick and mortar casino on local soil. As such, major worldwide operators like PokerStars and 888 Poker were effectively barred from entering the emerging Croatian market.
This left a void to be filled by domestic entities, one that SuperSport stepped in to fill. Having already established itself as a dominant force within the local gambling industry – by opening more than 300 live betting shops since 2004, and an online sportsbook in 2010 – SuperSport’s positioning for an online poker license was second to none.
Even so, as SuperSport Head of Poker Vedran Katic told PokerNews one day after the site launched, laying the groundwork for such an ambitious project took time:
“There were other bureaucratic and technical issues that prevented licenses to be issued until last year. The state lottery was the first to launch an online casino based off of the 2009 gaming regulations, which then made it possible for others to enter the market, because they covered all the problems connected to the whole infrastructure needed for the Ministry of Finance to be able to oversee all the concessions.”
Further complicating matters was a provision within the federal iGaming law which held that any necessary infrastructure must be built in Croatia.
This removed the option of outsourcing central tasks like computer coding and server management, leaving SuperSport to essentially build its own infrastructure system from the ground up:
“Developing poker software is very, very difficult. It is very complex for developers, who are usually not poker players themselves. We wanted to make custom branded software with the software being completed fresh. When players first sit down, they can feel like they haven’t seen it anywhere else before.”
In launching SuperSport Poker for the first time, the site’s developers chose to release a “beta” mode only for the purposes of direct player testing. On the first day of live play, SuperSport achieved a cash game volume peak of 190 players.
Although cash games are the primary focus for SuperSport at this time, the site also offers a limited tournament schedule. For now, the poker action is limited to No Limit Texas Hold’em, but Katic reports that additional variants like Pot Limit Omaha and Seven Card Stud are in the works.
The site’s primary audience thus far is local recreational players, so advanced analytical tools like heads-up displays (HUDs) preferred by professionals are not permitted. As Katic explained, the site’s objective is to build the largest possible pool of players, before expanding the scope of SuperSport Poker to mirror major online poker rooms worldwide:
“We want to develop in line with player liquidity that the poker network is going to bring. For example, if we want to have fast-fold poker, want to have lottery-style sit & go tournaments and want to have all these popular types of games, you have to have quite big liquidity.”
For now we are just focusing on the basics and we will have a mobile version and probably a web browser version in addition to the downloadable software currently available for both the PC and Mac.”