Online poker is rarely more popular than in Europe. The largest player pool exists for Europeans playing on PokerStars, but not all countries have that luxury. Much like PS New Jersey’s player pool that only consists of people within the state, PokerStars France is restricted to people in the country. With recent proposals in the French Senate, however, that could change and France could soon open up to an international player pool.
ARJEL, the gaming regulatory body in France, has now been given the authority to construct agreements with other European nations to share liquidity. According to a translation of the amendment, poker revenue in France has been steadily declining due to the ring fenced nature. Since 2010, the economy as a whole has shrunk and only $70 million was collected in 2015. That number is disappointing given the amount of revenue other nations in Europe are collecting, since more and more players are currently turning to illegal sites where there are larger player pools.
There are, of course, some French sites that are larger than many ring fenced poker rooms, but in order to keep up in the competitive European market, a decent sized player pool isn’t enough. Players want to have thousands of people to compete against. The largest French site averages around one thousand players at any given time. PokerStars.fr increasingly has fewer players than even American sites that operate in a legal grey area.
Interestingly enough, the only games allowed under the new amendments are Hold’em and Omaha, the two games that have been previously approved by ARJEL. It also implies that French PokerStars players will only be able to share a player pool with other European licensed rooms, not the large .com site as it is not licensed by a European Union regulatory committee. This could be a problem, since PokerStars.com does in fact share liquidity with the UK room, for example. Players would have to be weeded out based on location, complicating the shared pool. There is also the matter of sharing all data between countries. France does not want to open the country up to money laundering and fraud, so information will have to be readily available between all other EU countries and the regulatory commission in France. No word yet on whether or not more changes are expected in terms of the games that are going to be offered. Mixed games are becoming more and more popular and French players will not want to be left behind.
This alone will not solve the problem that French poker players face. Even with larger player pools, the tax situation in France is not currently very friendly for gaming operators. Online poker rooms, in reality, only showed growth this past year by cutting the bonuses that were offered to players, effectively meaning that the online poker world has not grown at all in recent time. It is certainly a step in the right direction, although French players will still have a fight ahead of them. Stay tuned to see if more changes come that will make France more enticing to online poker rooms.