Spain Prepares for Shared Online Poker Liquidity with New Gambling License Application Process

Earlier this month, Spain’s gambling regulator – Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (DGOJ) – confirmed that it would open an application process that would allow interested iGaming operators to enter the country’s regulated market.

Two important conclusions can be drawn from that announcement. In the first place, the regulatory body seems to be confident in the potential of the local market after the addition of online slot games to the list of online gambling activities allowed in the country. In other words, DGOJ believes that the market’s future expansion would only create more conditions for future growth.

In the second place, the launch of a call for tender shows that Spain is gearing up for the final stages of the realization of the shared online poker liquidity project. Last summer, DGOJ entered negotiations with the gambling regulators of France, Italy, Portugal, and the UK for the creation of an online poker network that would merge player pools of the participating countries, and would hopefully give a much-needed boost to their poker markets.

Spain’s New iGaming License Application Process – What We Know So Far

It was only several days ago when news about Spain’s new call for tender emerged, so details about the future process are still limited. It is important to note that the application process is yet to be opened officially and this can only happen after an announcement is made in the Spanish Official Gazette.

Yet, DGOJ pointed out that interested operators will have twelve months to submit their application for a license. The regulator will then review it and will issue licenses to the approved candidates within six months after their official application.

Under the Spanish Gambling Act, which came into force in May 2011, an approved operator actually needs to obtain a general license first that allows it entry into the market. The licensee next needs specific licenses for each type of service it wants to provide players with.

The first batch of iGaming licenses was issued by the Spanish regulator back in 2011, when the market was regulated. A second call for tender was launched in late 2014 and ten licensees were announced as eligible to enter the local market in mid-2015.

The regulation of Spain’s online gambling market did not immediately brought the desired results of quick growth. That only happened in 2015, when the new licenses were allowed to offer online slot games to Spanish players. That particular offering turned into the main driver of the market’s growth, while revenue from cash game poker plummeted incessantly.

What Does the New Licensing Process Mean for the Shared Liquidity Project?

Spain was one of the four countries that signed the July 6 agreement in Rome that formalized the shared liquidity agreement. Similarly to Italy, France, and Portugal, the country’s online poker market is ring-fenced, which means that players can only play on .es online poker websites. At present, there are five such websites licensed by DGOJ.

Currently, PokerStars is the only online poker brand licensed in all four jurisdictions and is a certain participant in the creation of the future online poker network. French online gambling operator Winamax announced earlier this year that it was hiring Spanish-, Italian-, and Portuguese-speaking staff, which came as a perfect indication of its intention to participate in the shared liquidity project.

888 Holdings recently announced that its online poker brand would seek entry in Italy and that the shared online poker liquidity endeavor was of great interest to it. Here it is also important to note that Italy is also expected to launch a new license application process in the days to come. Local regulators are set to issue 120 licenses to interested operators, thus expanding the local iGaming market significantly.

In other words, Spain’s upcoming call for tender could, among other things, been seen as necessary preparatory work in relation to the shared liquidity project.

DGOJ has recently restated its commitment to the scheme and has even suggested that if successful, it could be expanded to include betting exchanges and a shared online jackpot. The regulator also proposed a geographical expansion of the network, with Denmark, Germany, and Austria being the likely participants into that expansion. The UK has also previously expressed interest in joining the project, but its future participation could be hampered significantly by the pending exit of the nation from the European Union.

Although it is still unclear when exactly the four participating countries will be ready to launch the new poker network, hopes were that this would happen before the end of the year in the best case scenario. However, Italy is yet to launch its call for tender, although this was expected to happen last week. And local regulators have previously pointed out that the issuance of new licenses was its top priority before moving forward with any other iGaming-related projects.

What is more, Italy is yet to publish the necessary technical standards that poker operators will have to comply with in order to be able to take part in the shared liquidity scheme. With that said, it seems that the actual launch of the poker network is more likely to happen sometime in the first months of 2018.

The operators that will participate in the project as well as other important details about how exactly poker activities will be conducted once the network goes live are to become clear when all the technicalities are sorted out.

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