Largest UK online poker sites
The largest online poker room in the UK is PokerStars. It averages 17,500 players at any given time. That is seven times its next largest competitor. This player pool gives PokerStars the ability to offer tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed tournament prize pools each week.
It is also home to the highest limit poker games on the Internet, as well as a massive selection of mixed games.
888 is the next largest poker site that accepts UK players. It offers more than $1 million per week in tournament pools. Its game selection is not as plentiful as PokerStars, but most players will find the availability to be adequate. This applies to those looking for No Limit Texas Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha High/Low.
iPoker is the next largest site that accepts British players. It is powered by Playtech. Major skins on iPoker include Bet365, Betfair, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, William Hill and Genting. iPoker averages about 1,500 cash game players. It offers more than $1 million in tournament prizes each week. The main games are No Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha.
Inside the UK online poker market
UK online poker regulator
The UK Gambling Commission regulates the country’s online gaming industry. This includes poker, as well as sports betting, casinos and games of chance. The UK Gambling Commission was created in 2005. It only enforced online gaming policies in its early years.
In 2007, regulation of bricks-and-mortar shops was added under the commission’s umbrella. In 2013, the national lottery was added to the list of games regulated by the Gambling Commission.
The original online gaming policies were not effective. Sites were only required to receive a UK Gambling Commission license if they were physically located in the country. This motivated companies to move offshore to tax havens like Malta, Isle of Man and Gibraltar. This left the commission unable to tax these companies. It was also impossible to resolve disputes. Players were left with no recourse if they were scammed by a site in another country.
Regulations were changed in 2014 to address the taxation and dispute resolution issues. Any company that operates in the United Kingdom is required to receive a gaming license. Companies could no longer avoid this process by operating from another country. This process forced multiple companies from the UK market. Some did not want to submit to government scrutiny.
UK online poker tax rates
Online gaming sites licensed to operate in the UK pay a 15 percent point of consumption tax. Most companies were not paying any taxes before December 2014 when these laws went into effect. Some were paying a fraction of the 15 percent rate in alternative gaming jurisdictions with low taxes and often lax regulations.
Others did not feel that the tax rate would make the business profitable. Companies with multiple brands decided to limit the number of licenses required.
UK online poker market versus other countries
While the British online poker market is regulated, it does not set strict guidelines that other EU countries require. UK poker sites are able to network with others in the world.
There is no requirement that these sites are a part of the EU or even that they are licensed in other jurisdictions. The only demand is that a license is obtained from the UK Gambling Commission. This compels sites to pay a 15 percent point of consumption tax to the country. This tax hurt promotional offers available at some sites, while others chose to leave the UK, but in the big picture it did little to change the complexion of the online poker industry.
Several EU countries took a different route. France, Spain and Italy do not permit outside player pools to access those countries. The tax rates in each of those jurisdictions are higher than it is in England. This creates an unfavorable poker environment in those countries due to high rake and fewer promotions.
The lack of liquidity from other countries also makes poker a difficult segment in France, Spain and Italy. The U.S. has a completely different poker environment. Online poker regulation is left up to the states. Only three have explicitly legalized it at this point, while it is clearly illegal in about a half-dozen states. Offshore sites service most states that have not legalized the activity.
Live poker market in England
The live poker market is very healthy in England. There are more than 30 cities with live poker rooms in England. These locales host more than 1,000 poker tables across about 100 poker rooms.
The rake is higher in the UK compared to the U.S. but it is lower than other countries in the world. Low limit games often rake 10 percent up to £5. Higher limit games may lower the percent to 5 percent but raise the cap to £10.
The top cash games in terms of blinds usually use a time charge of about £10 per half hour. Low buy-in tournaments usually have an admin fee of 30 percent. This number drops as the buy-in rises.
Tipping dealers is a debatable topic in the UK. Some tip on every hand as players do in the U.S. Most only tip on large pots, while there are players that do not tip at all except when service goes above and beyond expectations.
Future of online poker in UK
The world’s online poker market continues to decline. Networks consolidate and reorganize to address this situation.
The UK online poker market is no different. The Gambling Commission determined shared poker liquidity was the solution to keep the market viable, as opposed to the ring-fencing tried unsuccessfully on other countries. This should help keep the UK market competitive.