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Andorra is a very small country between France and Spain, consisting of about 180 square miles, with a population of about 85,000. In spite of this very small size, they attract a huge number of tourists, over 10 million per year in fact. (1)
So while their population isn’t that much as far as supporting much land based gambling, when you look at how many tourists visit here, and especially given that tourists do tend to like to gamble, this is a bigger potential market for gambling then it would appear to be at first glance.
So while there’s no land based gambling in Andorra as of yet, plans are in the works to change that, and the plans not only include the building of a casino to try to attract tourist dollars in addition to those from the affluent Andorran residents, they also want to legalize and regulate online gambling here as well. (2)
The plan here is to look to attract even more tourists than they do now, and a casino may indeed accomplish that, as people don’t go to Andorra now to gamble but if they offered it, more would likely come.
This has all been in the works for a few years now, but it wasn’t until 2014 that support for legalized gambling in Andorra gathered enough momentum to make this a likely reality.
Rather than just going after casino games and perhaps sports betting, the proposed bill specifically mentions online poker as one of the games it hopes to see regulated by the country’s new proposed laws and regulatory framework.
They are also said to be looking to attract foreign operators as well, through offering what they term competitive tax advantages, in the way that some other very small countries in Europe have done. Whether or not their advantages will be significant enough to attract the companies they are hoping for remains to be seen, but they are interested in regulating both domestic and offshore players in this scheme. (3)
Andorra’s taxation rates are indeed pretty competitive, although it may not be likely that they can sway the bigger companies away from the tax friendly locales they now reside in, such as those licensed in Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, and similar countries.
How Well Could This All Work Really?
Andorra may be able to support a casino of a fairly small size, at the very least, and perhaps even one of moderate size. The Isle of Man has one, and it’s about the same size population wise, and gets far less tourists. This may give Andorra residents the opportunity to play some live poker.
Should the bill pass and this all become a reality, one of the requirements is that the land based gambling here will be restricted entirely to the casino that gets built, and that would certainly be a good thing for the viability of this casino, rather than having gambling more scattered around the country, at other establishments in other words, making it more difficult for the casino to be profitable. (4)
So that part will probably be fine, but there are a lot bigger questions when it comes to being able to come up with regulated poker in this country. This is where their very small size comes into play a lot more.
There are a lot bigger countries than this who have struggled to get online poker to work, and there are several big challenges that Andorra will face in trying to pull this off, and they have to meet all of these challenges for this to work.
The first, and perhaps the biggest one, is finding an operator or operators that would be willing to go to the trouble of segregating Andorran players to some degree. This surely would not be ring fencing, but it would need to involve separating the regulated players, the Andorrans, from the non regulated ones, and that does involve some work on the part of the poker rooms, in addition to paying licensing fees and any other additional costs involved.
In addition to that, even if they do manage to get a site or a few sites up, and they are probably only looking at a single one, these sites will have to be competitive with the existing non regulated ones. So if they get Poker Stars for instance then it would be, if they end up with a small site or come up with one of their own then it’s a different story.
Then, if they are able to pull all of this off, the profit derived from this regulation would have to be big enough to be meaningful once all the administration costs are deducted. This is surely the case with their neighbors for instance, France and Spain, but these countries are hundreds of times bigger.
So this does look like it’s not even close to being realistic, their best hope to regulate poker is to look outside their borders and look to regulate and license offshore poker, but we’ll have to see how it all plays out. In the mean time, Andorrans still have the freedom to play at whatever poker sites they like, so there are no issues here to fix for players anyway.