Portuguese Poker Advocacy Group Urging Boycott of Nation’s Poker Sites

Last month, officials of Portugal’s gambling regulatory body surprised the poker world by announcing that its new online gambling regulations were going to ring fence Portuguese online poker players from the rest of the internet poker world. The decision came as a shock to most and now one group of poker players is taking action.

In blog post earlier this week, ANAon, the Portuguese Player Association, announced that it is encouraging its members to boycott all online poker sites in the country as long as the sites are only permitted to have Portuguese players.  A meeting of ANAon partners was held on January 5th, 2016, and as a result of a member vote, the group agreed to publish a statement which includes the following three points:

•    Portuguese online poker players will refrain from playing on Portugal-facing sites if those sites are not open to players from other countries.
•    An online poker market with only Portuguese players will not work for the game.
•    The boycott is intended to let the Portuguese regulatory body, the Serviço de Regulação e Inspeção de Jogos (SRIJ) that players will not use such rooms or rooms that are in the “style of the French model that foreigners provided they register at the Portuguese platform.”

Portuguese flagSRIJ Director and Head of Online Gambling Manuela Bandeira revealed the ring fencing plans at a GamblingCompliance Regulatory Briefing in Lisbon, Portgual in December. Prior to this, there was no indication that internet poker would be limited to people within the nation’s borders. In February 2015, the SRIJ announced that new regulations would require online poker operators to be licensed with the regulatory service, but at no point did anyone from the SRIJ say that licensed operators would only be allowed to take action from people located in Portugal. At that point, Portuguese players could play with players from around the world.

Portgual’s neighbors, Spain, France, and Italy have all already restricted online poker to country-only sites and now Portugal is going to follow suit. For whatever reason, Portuguese officials fail to recognize that online poker has declined in those countries as a result of the ring fencing and so it will in Portugal. Perhaps the SRIJ doesn’t care.

The reason ring fencing severely damages the online poker industries of the countries where it is practice is simple. Poker players compete against each other and therefore poker rooms need a steady flow of active customers to remain viable. At an online casino site, players compete against the house, so it doesn’t matter if tables are full. The competition remains exactly the same whether there is one person at a blackjack table or five (well, aside from the times that idiot in the first seat hits on 19 and takes the King that would have been dealt to me). If a player logs on to an online casino and sees little activity, he won’t care – he’ll just play craps by himself.

But an online poker room needs players. A poker room that is hopping, that has tons of full tables at every stakes level, will draw more and more customers, as they will see that there are lots of opportunities to sit down and play. But an online poker ghost town, one with a couple people at a table here, someone waiting at a table there, will repel potential players. When there’s no action, nobody is going to want to visit. Thus, a vicious cycle begins: a lack of traffic begets a further lack of traffic until the site dies.

And that’s why the members of the Portuguese Player Association are so upset. They know that online poker won’t work if their country is quarantined from the rest of the world. Spain has 46.4 million residents. Italy has 60.7 million. France has 66.5. Online poker is struggling in all of them, largely because of ring fencing policies. Portugal has just 10.4 million residents. If its residents are not permitted to play on sites with players from around the globe, online poker is likely already finished.

The SRIJ has not issued any licenses to any operators yet and operators who were previously accepting Portuguese players stopped doing so months ago. The upshot of this is that players have resorted to either playing on “black market,” unregulated sites or using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access regulated sites in other jurisdictions. Of course, the former solution, in particular, makes players vulnerable to unscrupulous providers and players, something Portugal’s regulations are trying to avoid.


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