Shared Poker Tables Between France and Spain Imminent

2018 is off to a good start for poker players in France and Spain. Yesterday, France’s gaming regulator Autorité de Régulation des Jeux en Ligne (ARJEL) announced plans to let the first shared poker tables between France and Spain go live “in the next few weeks.”

The simple press release had this to say (translated roughly):

On 6 July in Rome, the President of ARJEL, Charles Coppolani, signed with his Spanish, Italian and Portuguese counterparts an online poker liquidity sharing agreement.

“Six months later, Spain and France are able to announce that Franco-Spanish poker tables will be offered to players from both countries in the next few weeks.”

This will be a welcome change for poker players living in both countries as it means no longer will they be ring-fenced away from the rest of the world. Poker laws passed in each country have prohibited operators from hosting international poker tables capable of seating players from different countries. Soon, French and Spanish players will find themselves playing with and against one another at licensed poker sites.

How and Why This is Happening

There was a time before the international race to regulation that poker sites hosted tables bringing together players from around the world. In those days, you could log on to any major poker site and find thousands of active players seated at hundreds of tables across a wide range of stakes. Any given table could have players from many different countries during those golden years of online poker.

Regulators in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and elsewhere then crashed the party by passing legislation to ring-fence their online poker markets. Ring-fencing cut off players in each country from the rest of the world and effectively shrank the player pool at every site. Ring-fencing hit cash game tables especially hard as a smaller player pool in each country resulted in fewer active tables, which in turn resulted in fewer players even wanting to play online at licensed sites.

Now, regulators in all four countries are backing off on their ring-fencing attitudes and finally embracing the idea of liquidity sharing. This change in policy will likely benefit players, operators and governments alike.

Players, of course, benefit from having a bigger pool of potential opponents now that they are no longer restricted to playing only with fellow countrymen and women. Bigger player pools create more tables to choose from and a healthier poker economy in general.

Increased activity will also make online poker a more attractive prospect for new players. Licensed operators will find it easier to gain new customers and retain existing players. Increased activity means more rake to be collected, and that ultimately results in more taxes paid in to the government.

A post published on yesterday revealed that Spanish regulators have candidly admitted the folly of their prior ring-fencing policy. According to the post, Spanish regulators admitted that their experience with ring-fencing has “not been positive” and that the effort has been “detrimental to tax collection.”

The Agreement

France, Spain, Italy and Portugal signed an agreement last year to allow licensed poker sites in each country to host shared poker tables allowing players from all four countries to play together once again, under certain conditions.

The original agreement (available in French and English here) explains that authorities in all four countries have come to realize that 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 [poker sites] to gather a volume of liquidity sufficiently attractive for those players, therefore leading some of them to turn to illegal [poker sites] …

The agreement also requires data-sharing between national regulators in order to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, and stipulates that player sharing will only happen at poker sites regulated in all countries from which players hail.

France and Spain are moving quickly on this, but we have yet to hear from Italy and Portugal regarding when they will join the player pool. The more countries that join the pool, the better it will be for players. In any case, this is a positive development for online poker.