European Poker Sites – The Ring-Fenced Markets
There are three larger countries which have separated their poker players off from the rest of the world. France, Italy and Spain have their own poker rooms, which are available only to residents of their own countries. In the case of France, outside players are allowed to join, with the tax revenues benefiting France, and not the country the player comes from (whether inside the EU or not).
The French sites are overseen by the government agency ARJEL. The new system was formed in 2013, and from that date French players were not allowed to play on overseas sites. The tax on French games is high, which put several sites off of applying for licenses. PokerStars.fr is the biggest site with Winamax not far behind.
Italy aimed to crack down on their endemic corruption by segregating their players back in 2007. In the beginning only online poker tournaments were allowed. This changed in 2011, when cash games were also permitted. Italians are big gamblers, and their sites are successful. Again, PokerStars are the biggest single site.
Spain was the last of the 3 to regulate. This was an attempt to wrest control of gambling from their semi-autonomous regions. 888 and PokerStars vie for the lead in Spain. The controlling body is called the Comisión Nacional del Juego.
Now and again news does surface of a plan to share liquidity between countries. At the time of writing I have not seen any concrete steps toward this goal.
European Poker Sites – Regulated and Open Markets
Many Nordic and smaller ‘Western’ countries have also licensed and regulated online poker. These countries have realized that their own populations are too small to sustain a thriving poker economy. Instead of shutting off their markets like France, Italy or Spain, they have allowed players to join the bigger global pools. This benefits all concerned, as long as there is a way of accurately assessing the rake (and so tax yield) from individual players based on their countries. Denmark is a great example of how to regulate (tax) poker without damaging the ecosystem. The Netherlands, Belgium and others are at different stages of their own regulatory efforts. Alarmingly, news is appearing recently that Norway are working with their banks to block gambling transactions.
Open markets are those that rely on pre-internet legislation or have yet to come up with anything concrete about their own regulations. Germany is the biggest ‘unknown’ at this time.
Central and Eastern European Poker Sites
Smaller countries, many of which have ‘vested interests’ filling their pockets from political reforms are a real patchwork when it comes to online poker. A great example is Hungary. They created a licensing regime, and did not tell anyone how to get a license. Next, they awarded their one and only online casino license to someone in the prime minister’s inner circle – followed by blocking the international sites URLs by making it illegal for the ISPs to connect with them!
Poker sites have pulled out of the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania recently. Many international sites appear to be using a ‘wait and see’ approach with this region.
European Licensing Jurisdictions
There are many small nations and dependencies that license poker sites for international players. These include some of the most reputable licensing jurisdictions. Malta, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man are the biggest of these. Each of these places has a thriving economy thanks to the headquarters of the biggest global gambling brands being based there. Smaller licensing jurisdictions around Europe include Alderney and Jersey.
Most Popular European Poker Sites
Two sites seem able to rise above the noise and complexity that is the ‘Single Market’ of Europe, and remain popular in many countries.
888 Poker are the fastest growing major site, and offer their software in all of the main languages. As well as their main site with players from all over the world, 888 offers sites in the 3 ring-fenced markets of Spain, Italy and France. As well as smart software, which is available via apps for iPhones and Android smartphones (in addition to downloads), the opposition at 888 is among the easiest you will find anywhere online!