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PokerStars Launches Shared Liquidity Games in Europe

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  • Shared online poker player pools between France and Spain have finally become a reality.

In a milestone moment for shared liquidity platforms in Europe, and potentially worldwide, PokerStars has launched its French-Spanish site with combined player pools from both countries.

It had originally been announced in early January that the player pools would be combined "in the coming weeks," so this move appears to have occurred on the front end of that timeline, a surprise to many who expected clearance of regulatory hurdles to take some time.

PokerStars was expected to be the first operator to launch, given that they already had licenses to operate in both countries and were the first to get approval from French regulators on a shared liquidity license.

Just days ago, the final steps were taken ($) when Spanish regulators cleared the way with a resolution allowing international player pooling, according to Poker Industry Pro. All that remained was for operators to receive technical approval and inform the regulators of the launch dates.

Pro predicted a "late January" launch, but it appears PokerStars has acted hastily and quickly checked off the final boxes in advance of launch.

"This will be great for players and great for the poker category," said Guy Templer of The Stars Group before he went on to praise the work of regulators. "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 unlicensed and potentially unsafe sites."

A Boon for Players

Indeed, liquidity begets more liquidity, and this should make the games more attractive for players from both countries. Players will see bigger prize pools and more options for games, thus enticing more participation.

According to PokerScout, the Spanish PokerStars client ranks 10th in the world at the time of writing with a seven-day average of 1,000 cash game players, while the French client ranks 12th with 900.

Put the two together, though, and a combined French-Spanish room would rank all the way up at third in the world, ahead of widely recognized and respected operators 888poker and partypoker.

Furthermore, PokerStars has already demonstrated what kind of prize pools the boosted ecosystem will be able to support, with the announcement ($) of the upcoming French Espana Hold'em Series — tabbed FRESH, according to Pro.

FRESH will run from Jan. 28 to Feb. 11 and boast €5 million in guarantees, including a €1 million guaranteed Main Event. There will also be a €20 multi-flight event dubbed "Hercules" with a €300,000 guarantee.

Two lucky winners during the course of FRESH will join the ranks of Platinum Pass winners — the Main Event champ and the winner of a special freeroll.

Weekly Sunday tournaments will also get a major boost. For example, the low stakes, large field weekly will be a €10 buy-in with €75,000 guaranteed. The Sunday major will be a €100 buy-in with €150,000 guaranteed. Each of those numbers is €10,000 better than the combined guarantees in the old French and Spanish standalone clients.

Challenges Ahead

Despite the great news for players that shared liquidity has finally come to fruition, this is still but the first step in the continued efforts to unite player pools in Europe.

The original shared liquidity agreement called for combined pooling between not just France and Spain, but Portugal and Italy as well.

Italian regulators have been dragging their feet on getting up to speed with their French and Spanish brethren, but some good news may have finally arrived on that front. According to Poker-Red, Italy has opened up the process for accepting new online gaming licenses once again.

Operators can file in mid-March. A strong boost to the Italian government's coffers — prospective licensees will pay €200,000 apiece — could be the prodding needed to get things moving on the online gaming front, although that wouldn't happen for several months.

Templer called on regulators in Italy and Portugal to continue the push.

"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," he said.

The Stars Group owns a majority shareholding in iBus Media.

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