Online Poker – Gambling with the Future in Europe

As the fallout from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act starts to take shape, the poker gaming and gambling industry is now shaping itself for unprecedented change to regulations, stringent restrictions and further legal remonstrations.

The recent change to the US Act saw share prices across the globe slashed by up to 75%. The Gambling Market itself provided the biggest drop on the stock markets of 2006, more than any other product or market area
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It is clear that the year ahead is a very important one for online poker gaming.

European gaming operators are treading carefully as recently, some EU states have seen changes to what is being described as an unregulated industry. Countries such as Germany and Russia have been attacking both sportsbook networks and casino and poker infrastructures, and Italy saw the banning of two ISPs from gaming operators, while France arrested two senior executives from Bwin (formerly Bet and Win). Add this to the removal of gaming from the EU Services Directive and it is clear that the industry is treading on shaky ground.

The best case that Europe and the rest of the world (away from USA) could hope for is further clarity of legal guidelines. The UK is set to implement new gaming regulations in September 2007, following the release of the recent Gaming Commission Act and, it could lay the path by which other countries in Europe may follow. The hope is that this will then fuel growth in a largely untapped market.

Clarity is required in a market where rumours are rife and changes and deals are being made or broken on a weekly basis. Recently Ladbrokes had brokered a deal with the Italian government to operate land-based and online based betting and casinos, while Russia closed around 70% of its land-based casinos as the first stage of a prohibitive bill that will see gambling being taken out of the cities and pushed into four unspecified regions.

The lack of clarity is clear within approximately seven EU states, requested by the EU Commission to verify whether they have restrictions in place which contravene the EC treaty (which guarantees the freedom of movements of services).

A Legal Gaming Summit in London in 2007 will deliver case studies, roundtable discussions and debates from legal experts and major operators together with Parliament, in the hope of clarifying the very issues that poker operators must understand in order to operate in Europe.

One thing is for sure, Europe will be as big as the US in a couple of years as operators are swiftly moving into countries yet to have a decent online poker product. The Polish market, Ukrainian markets and others will soon have quality products that will fill a gap in online gaming in those regions. Sweden is currently seeing massive growth in numbers for its bingo and poker products and Spain is also (though slowly) converting to the need to implement online gaming regulations as its players are finding poker sites like ever more popular.

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