On Wednesday, PokerStars announced that Portugal has merged its online poker player pool with those of Spain and France. PokerStars is currently the only site on which players from all three countries can compete against each other.
The three countries were formerly ring-fenced from the rest of the world, meaning that poker players could only sit at online poker tables with other players located within their own country’s borders. That is, people in Spain could only play against others in Spain, and so on. Naturally, this led to suppressed player traffic, so last year, the three nations agreed, along with Italy, to share online poker player liquidity.
Spain and France combined their player pools in January 2018, while Italy is still a bit of a mystery, having made little progress toward shared liquidity.
“We have worked hard to become the first operator to bring the benefits of shared liquidity to Portugal,” said Guy Templer, Chief Operating Officer of The Stars Group, in Wednesday’s press release. “Our players will see a huge increase in the variety and scale of our tournaments and promotions and will enjoy more excitement, more competition and more fun! This dramatically strengthens our offering and demonstrates our commitment to the Portuguese market. We look forward to working with the Portuguese regulator to further improve the poker product offering for Portuguese players, and additionally hope that Italy will soon progress so that their players can also enjoy the significantly better experience that shared liquidity brings.”
And while the merging of player pools among the three nations is a good thing – and certainly much better than anything the United States has done in online poker – it is interesting to note that Portuguese players will actually be absent from the standard cash game tables. It looks like the reason for it has to do with varying regulations among the different countries and how much rake PokerStars can charge. Have a look at what Severin Rasset said on the PokerStars blog:
We work closely with regulators to get the best outcome between regulations and our offering. With the introduction of Portugal, we had to take into consideration one regulation which has an impact on our offering in Spain and France, albeit quite a positive one. The maximum rake that can be charged on ring games in Portugal is 5%. Currently, our rake is 5.25% in ZOOM cash games and 5.75% for regular ring games for France and Spain. In my previous post, I discussed some changes in pricing that had to occur in order to find a middle ground for the ring game rake in France and Spain. This meant decreasing it for France, increasing it for Spain, and decreasing for both in ZOOM cash games. We also pay gaming duty for France based on bets, not on rake meaning we have to pay the tax pre-flop even though we don’t charge a commission (rake) at that point.
With this regulation to consider, we decided to simply lower the rake in ZOOM from 5.25% to 5% with no change in caps. This is a clear decrease in pricing that we are happy to make because we want Portuguese players to be able to enjoy the experience alongside Spanish and French players. We continue to work with regulators on offering shared liquidity in regular ring games, but for now these will remain separate. All other games and MTTs will be shared, with the pricing the same across all three countries.
It seems like PokerStars can’t include Portugal at the regular cash game tables yet because it would be forced to lower the rake more than it would like. Hopefully something will be figured out in the near future.