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Spain is one of the countries that does allow online poker to be played legally, with similar regulations as France and Italy which Spain followed as the third country in Europe to regulate online gaming.
Spain has a long and rich gambling history, and prior to the current regulations and laws, gambling was regulated at the regional level, with all 17 of Spain’s regions having different laws pertaining to it. (1)
Things started to take shape in 1977 when games of skill were legalized by the Spanish government, followed by games of chance becoming legal in 1981. (2) This opened the door for the casino business to really take off there and there are currently 33 land based casinos in the country, and many are of the large variety. (3)
Spain does offer live poker and Spaniards are avid poker players, and even have their own variation of poker which is unique to Spain, called Spanish or Synthetic Poker, which is a lot like Hold’em other than a flush beating a full house. (4) So it’s a game that players from other countries who have never played it before will find it easy to adapt to.
Spain also hosts a very popular poker tournament called the Estrellas Poker Tour, which is sponsored by PokerStars, and takes place at three different venues in Spain each year. (5)
Online Poker In Spain
Online poker in Spain had been unregulated up until the passing of the Spanish Gaming Act, which was passed in 2011 and came into effect in 2012, and sought to regulate online poker that was being offered to Spanish residents.
The conditions to get a license are the strictest anywhere though and among other things it required poker operators to meet certain conditions and also of course submit tax revenues to the Spanish government.
The taxation scheme in Spain is based upon profit and not revenue which is seen as friendlier than how it is done in some other countries such as France where poker sites are taxed based upon revenue. Taxing according to profit allows poker rooms to be more generous to players, especially when it comes to rake rebates such as frequent player rewards which are net of profits and therefore not taxed.
Spain has also set out strict penalties for poker sites who offer play to their residents without a license, although this has not served to deter them all, and in spite of it not being legal for Spanish residents to play on these unlicensed poker sites, 43% of Spanish online poker players still play on these sites. (6)
This is one of those situations where being against the law and being something that can easily be prosecuted are two separate things. Whether there is a will to prosecute these offenses or not, generally these laws only serve as a deterrent, and from the numbers, a lot of Spanish poker players aren’t really being deterred very much.
The state does have a vested interest in getting as many online poker players to comply with the law as they can though, so we’ll have to see if they are able to come up with some changes that may reduce the number of players who play on these unlicensed sites.
The Regulated Online Poker World in Spain
As is the case in other countries that have regulated poker, PokerStars’ site dominates the market, and their Spanish site does boast a lot of traffic, placing them consistently in the top 10 busiest poker sites in the world, in spite of the site being limited to Spanish players only. (7)
PokerStars.es is four times larger than their nearest competitor in fact, 888 Poker’s Spanish site, and 888’s site is several times larger than the number 3 and 4 Spanish sites, provided by iPoker and Party Poker. Neither of these other two sites have been able to build up a significant amount of traffic as of yet, but this may change as time goes on.
Licensed poker sites in Spain are limited to offering play to Spanish residents only, something that a lot of players aren’t too fond of, although as more poker sites come on board in Spain, this serves to reduce the options out there for players and this may result in a higher level of compliance as time goes on.
Spanish poker sites are also more heavily taxed than offshore poker sites tend to be, and in fact these poker sites tend to intentionally set up shop in locations which are the most tax friendly, so this is also perceived as a disadvantage to players, although not as big a one as some players may think.
So there are certainly some good options out there if you are seeking to play regulated poker in Spain, particularly at Poker Stars, and while it might not be the main Poker Stars site it still has a lot of traffic.
As time goes on it is possible that Spanish authorities may change their strategy to allow their players to compete against players from other countries on a poker room’s main site, although there isn’t any plans to do so at present. Things are still pretty good for Spanish players right now regardless.