The Growth of Online Poker in Spain

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Spain began its journey into legalized online gambling in 2011 with the creation of the DGOJ (Dirección General de Ordenación de Juego), the entity that regulates online gambling in the country. Sports betting, online casinos, bingo and other types of wagering were licensed. Online poker was legalized in 2012 with a few operators.

Why is poker so popular in Spain?

Poker is especially popular in a couple of countries, and Spain is one of them. To pinpoint when poker exploded among the population, it would have to be in the early 2000s when Carlos Mortersen, known as “El Matador,” became the first Spanish player of Ecuadorian origin to win the WSOP in 2001. The advent of online poker and the broadcasting of poker tournaments encouraged many young players to open online accounts and chase a living playing poker games in Spain. Online poker was estimated to have grown around 30 percent each year until 2012.

Here are some facts that provide some insights into the popularity of online poker in Spain:

  • One of the biggest tournaments from the WSOP is in Barcelona
  • Spain is one of the four nations with shared poker liquidity along with Portugal, France and Italy
  • There are 43 online poker rooms operating in Spain
  • Adrian Mateos has two WSOP bracelets and is by far one of the best online poker players in Europe under the screen name “Amadi_017”
  • David Lopez has cashed more than 1 million under the alias “davaman”
  • Sergio Aido has made more than 11 million in live tournaments

6 years of hurdles and the 2018 shared liquidity boom

The first few months of legalization in 2012 the industry saw a huge growth of 20 percent. However, this changed by Q3. The growth slowed down to 5 percent in the period 2012-2018 with the exit of poker websites that had no desire in being licensed, and were blocked by the local authorities. Many players also stopped playing within the Spanish’s territory as the new heavy taxing was not of their liking. They preferred to make monthly trips abroad to the UK, Vegas and other countries where they are not required to pay taxes or have lower fees from the poker rooms.

In 2018 shared liquidity began in Europe. This allowed sites to unite their gaming platforms from France, Italy and Spain. Portugal joined in 2019. Shared liquidity allows for online poker rooms with presence in several or all these countries to link their different geographical platforms and allow players from these countries to play together. The outcome is higher activity 24 hours a day, something that had become a problem when nationals could only play each other. There weren’t always enough players to begin a tournament, or only professionals could be found and these would scare new players away with their superior skills.

The new legislation was also an encouragement for poker sites like poker888 to enter these markets. While 888 was present in Spain since the introduction of online poker in the country, it decided to later enter Italy and subsequently Portugal in 2019. 2018 was the first year online poker grew by 30 percent in cash games and 50 percent in tournaments. Growth slowed down in 2019 but not by huge numbers, around 5 percent.

In 2020 online poker in Spain set a new unprecedented record with new active players all around the world as sporting events where paused for months and sports bettors switched to poker through their existing platform accounts. The countries with shared liquidity showed an increase of 10 percent in traffic in all poker platforms between March and April.

Online poker has always been one of the industries with the slowest growth from all the iGaming market. This is in part in its decline in popularity after more governmental control restricts websites and taxes heavily. In the United States the decline began with theUnlawfull Internet Gambling Bill. Poker does not generate huge revenue streams as online casinos and sportsbooks, so taxes scare-off poker rooms from opening in certain countries.  Calls to governments to treat poker rooms more lightly than other gambling business continue so poker players can once again enjoy this game in all its glory.