Spain and France are no longer going it alone in the online poker space, as they have taken a bolt cutter to their chain-link ring fences and now share online poker liquidity. As everyone expected, PokerStars became the first online poker room on Tuesday to merge the player pools of the two countries.

The announcement of the shared liquidity deal came in July. In addition to Spain and France, Italy and Portugal were also in on the agreement to merge their online poker player pools. The original hope was to get the shared liquidity done by the end of 2017, but a couple weeks into 2018 isn’t too bad.

Portugal is expected to get onboard in the near future (though Portuguese officials have been fairly quiet on the matter), but Italy’s participation is actually up in the air at this point, despite last year’s announcement. According to a November report from CasinoNewsDaily.com, Italy, at least at that point, had yet to even open the bidding process for shared liquidity licenses. The application process was supposed to have begun in September.

In the meantime, Spain and France are a go, and this is clearly important because player liquidity is of vital importance to online poker rooms. Online casinos can get by with smaller player populations since the players are not competing against each other. It is just fine if there is only one person at a blackjack table (in fact, most players would probably prefer to play alone), but a poker room with sparsely populated tables will have trouble surviving.

There is a reason why small poker rooms have a hard time growing. Think about it. If you download the software of a tiny poker room, logon, and see only a handful of active tables, each with just two or three players, would you want to deposit and sit down? If you are a tournament player, would you want a lobby full of small prize pool tournaments with fewer than 20 players each or Sit-and-Go’s that take forever to fill up? No, probably not. On top of that, there is a good chance that those that are actually playing there will leave because the games are just so bad.

Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal have all be able to maintain their solo poker industries, but results have been underwhelming. Chief Operating Officer of Stars Interactive Group Guy Templer is confident that the new shared liquidity environment will benefit everyone:

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. 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.

PokerStars will also use its Seat Me table seating system in the new joint offering. Seat Me was launched on PokerStars Spain almost a year ago in order to prevent “bumhunting” and seating scripts by eliminating all ability for players to choose the tables at which they sit. Now, players just choose their stakes, game type, and table size and the PokerStars client automatically puts them in an open seat.

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