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The Need for Free Trade

Advocates of a Free Market preach that unrestricted international trade will benefit consumers, with lower prices and wider consumer choice. For online poker that translates into lower rakes, a superior choice of games, better support & superior poker software. However beneficial this may be, an international standard for regulating the poker platforms is needed. This will relieve consumers concerns about depositors’ safety, collusion, and insider cheating. It must also make sure the algorithms and random number generators used are producing legitimate card sequences from the shuffle to the show-down.Yet a global free market determined by supply and demand can never develop naturally, because of import tariffs, barriers, quotas, taxes and national laws seeking to prevent what is too corrupting to allow.Online poker was virtually unknown as an industry before the year 2000.  Since then globalisation and innovations in information technology services have allowed it and all internet gaming to grow exponentially year on year throughout the world until this growth was checked on April 15th 2011, when the US Justice Department closed the American online poker sites.Trying to regulate this new international industry has presented European legislators, with their different cultures, economies and legal systems in the European Union ‘free trade’ zone, with unique problems. A glance at the national laws surrounding the registration, legality, licensing and use of online poker sites within the EU shows that there’s currently no common, free or single market for online poker, but instead a mix of prohibited markets, monopoly markets, insulated markets and free markets.

Free Markets

The UK has an open & free market for online poker; both resident and overseas companies may apply for a licence. Anyone over 18 is allowed to play and UK sites accept international players. Internet poker is also legal in Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia, and Romania and players in these countries play against international competition.

Online poker will be legalised in the Czech Republic very soon, & is definitely not illegal in Slovenia.

Insulated Markets

In France, Spain, Italy and Denmark, online poker has been legalised, licensed and is being ‘taxed’ but the markets are ring-fenced. Companies offering online poker in each of these territories must be located there and poker players can only play against their compatriots.

Spain does allow its residents to play against certain Italian and French players who they consider safe and are committed to letting Spanish players compete against a full international playing pool in the future.As all the players in these countries want to play against the best in international competition, VPN use is very high; Denmark has the highest number of online poker players in Europe as a percentage of its population so likely has the highest percentage of players using VPNs to play online poker.Monopoly & OligopolyIn Belgium a relationship with an existing bricks and mortar casino is required to obtain the Belgium Gambling commission licence and offer an online poker service. Playing on one of the 97 black-listed sites operating that include William Hill, 888, Titan and Bet365 is prohibited.

There is some good news as a Belgian can play against international competition; their market isn’t ring-fenced, just limited to a choice of three.

The biggest spenders on online poker per capita in Europe are the Finns, even though playing against players from outside the country is banned, and there are only two legal ring-fenced government-controlled sites in the country. In Sweden there is also a state-controlled monopoly which is the only legal place to play. The Greeks have their own monopoly, that has the sole licence to offer online poker there until 2030. So any Belgium, Finn, Greek and Swedish residents currently playing against international competition within their countries are breaking the law.

Portugal also has a state-controlled monopoly but has announced that it will reform the online market. It currently allows Portuguese players to access overseas poker sites without fear of prosecution.

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Image ‘European Union Flag’ by Yannis Koutsomitis

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