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New Colombian Gambling Regulations Affect Multiple Online Poker Sites

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PokerStars, the largest online poker site for real money in the world, has announced its departure from the Latin American nation of Colombia effective Monday, July 17. This move follows the adoption, by the Colombian government, of measures to block gambling websites that haven't gone through the proper licensing procedures. Columbia became the first jurisdiction in the region to set up a regulated internet gambling environment in October 2016 with the approval of an EGaming Act.

About Colombia's Online Gambling Framework

Logo of Coljuegos Colombian Gambling Regulator

The EGaming Act contains rules governing the operation of virtually every type of online cash gaming activity that currently exists, including poker, casino games, and sportsbetting. Rather than obtaining a separate license for every style of gambling they wish to offer, providers will have all their products covered by a single license. In order to operate legally in Colombia, they have to pay a tax of 15% on gross gaming revenue and a fee of about $200,000 per year. Entities that run skill games, as opposed to games of chance, will have some of these expenses waived. It's not clear what activities will fall into the skill games category, but it's highly likely that it will include daily fantasy sports.

The first license under the terms of this legislation was granted in June to Aquila Global Group, which runs WPlay.co, an online sportsbook based locally in Medellin. Coljuegos, Colombia's gambling regulatory body, has received dozens of other license applications, and it expects to approve as many as seven by the end of the year.

Website Blocking

Access to Blacklisted Websites Denied

In March, Coljuegos released a list of more than 300 online gambling domains that it determined were serving Colombians in contravention of the law. The list contains such well-known names as Unibet, Betfair, PokerStars, and Intertops along with many smaller companies, like iNetBet and Challenge Casino. The document has a few…peculiarities. Many subdomains and directories are present without listing the main domain. For instance, www۔pokerstars۔com/espanol is deemed an illegal website, but the English-language www۔pokerstars۔com is not. An individual's Facebook profile is included – but only the mobile page hosted on m.facebook.com, not the regular profile on FB's main site. A few of the URLs appear to be direct affiliate signup links. Could several Machiavellian affiliates have “reported” their own landing pages as violations of the law in order to place themselves on the blacklist and thus increase their marketing exposure? Well, we wouldn't put it past them. The overall composition of the list suggests that the Colombian authorities have about as much experience with combatting internet gambling as you would expect any out-of-touch, desk-bound bureaucrats to possess.

On July 11, Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas announced on Twitter the first of the prohibited organizations to be blocked: Play2Win Casino. There was no justification given for why this company was targeted first, but its website has been blocked by TigoUne, one of the major ISPs in Colombia, and Colombian users can no longer access it. We can expect the restriction of the remaining sites on the list and compliance by other ISPs in the months to come.

PokerStars' Response

Exit Sign

PokerStars, following its abandonment of the U.S. market in April 2011, has attempted to remain in full compliance with local laws wherever it operates. This involves exiting gray markets after restrictive legislation is passed and obtaining the proper licenses wherever needed. As part of this strategy, it often stops serving a specific geographic area, files a licensing application, and then reenters that location once it is approved to conduct its normal online gambling activities. This is what the firm did in Portugal and the Czech Republic. It's therefore no surprise that Stars decided to stop serving Colombian players. The company sent the following email on Friday, July 14:

 

PokerStars will be withdrawing the option of real money poker play for Colombian residents from Monday, July 17 due to local licensing requirements.

PokerStars has been, and will continue to be, in positive and proactive discussion with Colombian government officials on this issue, and we hope to offer real money games again in the future.

PokerStars would like to assure any players affected that their funds are protected and available for withdrawal. Please remember to open any Stars Rewards Chests that you have received before any withdrawal so that any rewards inside can be converted. We also recommend that you spend your StarsCoin balance in the Rewards Store where we have made available a $1 Cash Rebate if you’d like to convert your StarsCoin to cash.

For more on the withdrawal of real money games - including answers to questions you may have - please visit our FAQ page.

 

The fact that players will be able to exchange their StarsCoin rewards for cash is a nice touch. Oftentimes when online poker organizations restrict access from a country, they fail to adequately compensate the affected customers for points and other loyalty perks that they had accumulated. PokerStars has always tried to make its users whole, and it sometimes even picks up the debris left behind by its competitors, like it did when it bailed out players of the busto poker site PKR. It's important for Stars to retain the approval of Colombian users, even while it bans them from its platform, so that they will be ready to redeposit and play again if the poker room eventually reopens in their country.

Colombian Flag Banner Divider

If you live in a country other than Colombia, you may wish to check out our PokerStars review for more info on this reputable poker site. Colombians are now prevented from accessing the Stars player pool, but even as the fates take away with one hand, they tend to give back with the other. Bodog may be able to step up to the plate and fill the space formerly occupied by Stars because it has recently opened its doors to around a dozen markets in Latin America, including Colombia. If you're a Colombian who's searching for a new place to play, then Bodog may appeal to you. Read our Bodog page to learn how you can obtain a 100% up to $1,000 bonus on your first deposit.