Online Poker Industry Regionalization Continues
Regionalization is not a new trend, but it has gained significant momentum over the last few years. France and Italy now have ring-fenced markets serviced by dedicated French and Italian versions of operators like Party Poker and PokerStars, rooms that easily rank in the top 10 in terms of overall global traffic.
Spain is set to introduce a similar scheme in the weeks ahead, and much ink has been spilled over the prospect of the United States doing the same within the next year or two. Obviously the case of the United States is somewhat different, as much of their market is artificially depressed thanks to laws such as the UIGEA - witness the ever-shrinking list of what poker sites accept US players - but it will be interesting to see how the subtraction of Spain from open player bases impacts the online poker industry.
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the global online poker market? Do moves by these countries indicate an inevitable trend that will eventually leave all countries or regions with walled-off online poker networks, relegating players from smaller countries to smaller player pools and less competition? Unfortunately, it seems as if this might be the case in the foreseeable future.
This is obviously a massively negative trend for players, who tend to benefit from aggressive competition and the innovations that come from several large companies attempting to create the ideal software for online poker. With smaller, segmented markets comes less innovation and decreased competition for players – especially when these markets are controlled by monopolistic regulatory structures.
The trend of regionalization may well come to define the online poker industry in the years ahead. If this is indeed the case, the chance for online poker to evolve into a truly global phenomenon will diminish significantly.