PokerStars Kicks Off Spain and France Shared Liquidity
Though it is at the extreme low end of the word’s definition range, technically two to three weeks counts as multiple weeks, right? At the end of December, France’s Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne (ARJEL), the country’s gambling regulatory agency, said that shared online poker liquidity with Spain would start “in the coming weeks.” Today, January 16th, PokerStars announced that it has become the first online poker room to combine players from both France and Spain at the same tables, heralding a new shared liquidity era in European online poker.
Said Guy Templer, Chief Operating Officer of Stars Interactive Group, which is the gaming division of The Stars Group (read: PokerStars):
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.
France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy are miles ahead of the United States in that they have actually legalized and regulated online poker, but they stopped short of actually implementing good online poker industries, as they ringfenced themselves from each other, Europe, and the rest of the world. As we know, player liquidity – that is, the flow of player traffic – is vitally important for online poker, as there are no games if there are no players. And the fewer players a site has, the more likely it is to actually see those numbers decrease, as new players don’t want to register and current players will leave because of the lack of games. Thus, intentionally limiting player pools as those four countries did was just stupid.
Fortunately, back in July 2017, the four countries announced that they would cut the fences down and share player liquidity (though just with each other and not with the rest of the world). Recently, it was revealed that France and Spain would be the first two to combine player pools with Portugal following shortly thereafter. There is some question as to Italy will still get onboard, but its neighbors are hopeful that it just needs to take care of some internal matters.
PokerStars also announced that it is instituting “Seat Me” on the combined Spain/France online poker room. Seat Me was introduced nearly a year ago on PokerStars.es, the Spain-only site as a way to protect recreational players from the predatory behavior of some pros and more experienced players. In a nutshell, Seat Me removed the ability for players to select their own tables and seats, instead having players choose the game type, stakes, and max players and then automatically getting seated by the software. In a blog post at the time, Director of Poker Innovation and Operations for PokerStars Severin Rasset said:
Seat Me will:
• Greatly reduce the ability to bumhunt
• Prevent seating scripts and level the playing field by undermining those few players using software that allows them to unfairly prey on less experienced players
• Mimic the live poker experience of random table and seat selection
• Introduce potential time penalties to reduce game disruption caused by players constantly switching tables, stealing blinds or refusing to play certain opponents
Earlier this month, Rasset said that the year-long test of Seat Me in Spain was a success, so it was rolling out to France. He said the time penalties – that last bullet point above – was the most challenging part of the implementation.
“Finding rules that prevent abusers without penalizing legitimate players required a few iterations over the course of 2017,” he said. “The only behaviour that we wanted to limit was the bumhunting and use of seating scripts against casual players, not multi-tabling or the ability to switch tables for legitimate reasons. Overall, I feel that we are close to this goal as the larger proportion of our players, particularly the recreational players, are rarely, if at all, exposed to the time penalties implemented, while the more experienced players can also continue to showcase their talents at the table.”