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Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved. Poker History. Editor: Erik Smith.
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ONLINE POKER REGULATED IN SPAIN

2012 was the year when regulated online poker finally made its way to Spanish poker players. The process leading up to the release of Spanish online poker licenses was riddled with controversy and ended up costing some of the main providers enormous unforeseen expenses to the Spanish state. After the first wave of trouble, however, Spain finally got its own online poker market, opening the doors for some of the industry’s absolute biggest companies.

The opening of the Spanish online poker market under a set of newly introduced regulations was from the beginning marked by trouble and controversy. After the Spanish government agreed to open up its inner market to foreign online gambling providers, many thought that Spain would soon become a natural giant in the European online poker ecology. This would not be the case, at least not immediately.

The troubles began early, as “technical” and “legal” complications postponed the whole process of introducing the needed legislation for six months. Set to open on January 1st 2012 – the same day as a similar model launched in Denmark – Spanish legislators suddenly declared that no market changes would be introduced before June 1st 2012, meaning a six-month delay.

Back taxes and player problems

This was not the only complication operators and players in Spain were facing. In a surprising turn of events, Spanish legislators declared that player balances and loyalty statuses could not be transferred to the new regulated rooms for legal reasons. This meant that a Spanish player that had formerly played on PartyPoker.com would have to start from scratch if he wished to continue playing on the new, regulated PartyPoker.es. In addition, limits to deposits and buy-ins for both tournaments and ring games were also introduced.  

The controversy rose to unprecedented heights soon after when Spanish tax authorities announced a back tax levy on operators who had already applied for a license to operate in a regulated Spanish market. According to this, operators who had illegally benefited from unlicensed operation in Spain prior to the introduction of licenses had to pay taxes on their estimated earnings before any new license could be approved.

Among the biggest operators to have applied for such a license were industry giants like Bwin.Party and 888 Poker, who both now had to face enormous tax fines of they wished to continue their operation in Spain. As a result Bwin.Party agreed to pay a whopping €33.6 million in back taxes, while 888 gave up around €9 million in order to receive their licenses. PokerStars, too, agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Spanish authorities.

Today, the Spanish online poker market is up and running with regulations in place and a number of licensed providers offering online poker games. The biggest providers are currently PokerStars.es, Bwin.es (PartyPoker), LBA Apuestas, 888Poker.es, Paf.es and three rooms operated by Goalwin; Goalwin.es, PokerMambo.es and PokerLoco.es.

Player numbers are somewhat stabile, but concerns remain over liquidity and the overall operation of poker rooms in what is perhaps the strictest regulated market in all of Europe. The have as a consequence been debates over a possible merger of player pools with other ring-fenced national markets like Portugal, France and Italy, but as of today this has yet to materialize in any way.