PokerStars launched its online casino in Spain on Tuesday, marking the first time the operator has diversified its offering beyond its core poker product. In June, Stars’ parent company the Rational Group announced it had received provisional approval from Spanish regulators to offer online blackjack and roulette via its PokerStars.es site. Gino Appiotti, Stars’ president of Southern Europe, said the addition of casino games was necessary in order to compete with the broader offerings of other Spanish-licensed operators.
Rational’s other poker brand, Full Tilt, beat Stars to the diversity punch by launching its own blackjack and roulette offering in January. Rational was officially acquired by Canada’s Amaya Gaming Group this summer, and Amaya CEO David Baazov immediately vowed to “accelerate growth into new markets and new verticals.” The next Stars platform to spread its wings will likely be Italy, where Amaya has just installed former Eurobet gaming director Marco Trucco as chief of PokerStars.it.
Given Amaya’s existing library of online slots titles, Stars will likely be adding slots to its Spanish offering early in the new year, assuming Spanish regulators can finish dotting i’s and crossing t’s on the new slots regulations. Stars is Spain’s unquestioned top poker operator, accounting for 70% of all online poker hands played in 2013, according to stats released by the Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego (DGOJ). But the overall poker market continues to shrink, falling 5% in Q1 2014 and 6% in Q2.
In September, Spanish online gaming association JDigital said the tight market meant operator margins averaged a mere 4% before taxes and marketing expenses. JDigital’s Miguel Ferrer argued that without some reduction in Spain’s much-loathed online gambling tax rates – the new slots offering is facing a 25% GGR tax – the majority of Spanish-licensed operators would struggle to match the more attractive rates of return offered by internationally licensed operators and would continue to operate at a loss.