There's something odd and interesting going on in Belgium when it comes to tournament Poker.
My latest PokerFirma.com contribution deals with the emergence of Poker clubs as serious competitors for casinos in the Belgian MTT environment.
Oostende never really had a big Poker offer. Middelkerke, a bit further on the Atlantic coast or Blankenberge also do not run significant Belgian Poker games except the yearly Unibet festival in late summer and where Kenny Hallaert is still flooring. Antwerpen, the second city of the country in terms of size still has no casino at all.
On the French-speaking side, Chaudfontaine used to run occasional Poker events in an almost distant past, 10 years ago while Liège, another one of the big cities of the Belgian nation on the German-speaking edge of the country, also has no casino. The only real Poker room of the region is at Casino de Spa which runs occasional small buy-in tournaments or cash games and a festival here and there. Prior to the pandemic, the P.R.O.S. (Poker Room of Spa) was going through a strong revival with Leandro Gaone leading the Poker troops but management considerations combined with COVID complications stopped those developments. Since the summer of 2022, the Poker room in the oldest functioning casino in the world, have resumed promoting humble Poker events with affordable buy-ins and manageable fields.
Today, most of the Belgian Poker action is concentrated in Namur, the capital of Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Namur is fundamentally Spa’s big brother in the Circus group running both casinos beside numerous gambling clubs and online casino games. Brussels, home to the glamorous Viage casino with its multi-floor infrastructure in the newly renovated pedestrian zone in the heart of the city, run decent daily cash games and a bit of tournaments. The WPTN Brussels time are gone for now though and, like everywhere in the country, there’s something odd with MTTs over here these days.
France and Germany have big Poker communities consisting of players with small or no bankroll enjoying themselves in very low buy-in tournaments with no money redistribution. The prizes are usually paid out as goods or vouchers for bigger events in some partner casino. In Belgium, MTTs can be run with low buy-ins with real money distribution. The activity is supervised by the gaming commission but these games are run legally outside casinos. Some clubs have grown so big that they have become serious actors of the national Poker scene. Among the biggest are Pokahnights in the north and Poker Belgique in the south but there are at least a dozen other relevant ones scattered across the country. Pokahnights, initiated by Belgium’s Poker Jack of all trades, Kristof De Deken , mean business and are backed by the Circus group for their Antwerpen room. Poker Belgique also run their own room in the Charleroi area and regularly engage in organising Poker Trips for the members of their community … abroad though. Local partnerships with casinos have become close to non-existent at the moment. A recent legal change allows these clubs to run games of 50 Eur with the possibility to re-enter. This poses a real threat to the daily Poker tournament operations of all casinos and the only save the casinos found for now, was to start promoting very low buy-in self-deal tournaments of their own. With almost no service given the small rake (in terms of amount). No dealers but dedicated floor staff for the supervision and ruling if necessary.
This generates a number of bizarre dynamics. To start with, the biggest and most relevant self-deal Poker rooms are the country are not in casinos. Pokahnights and PokerBelgique do quite a good job at promoting their activities and they were able to build solid communities of players in safe and sane environments without cash games and gambling. The gaming commission walks on eggshells when it comes to granting licenses but the players with little financial fire power seem to love it and some clubs are successful enough to generate enough profit in rake, food and beverages to legally employ personnel and run independent small businesses.
I recently went to play cash games at Viage during a short stay in Brussels. Since they’ve stopped to put on the cool WPTN games, Viage don’t run any relevant Poker tournaments anymore. Their weekly tournaments are self-dealt under the supervision of the cash game Poker floors who keep an eye on the tournament from afar.
Today, Namur is the only place in Belgium with a monthly MTT offer including tournaments with buy-ins of 200 Eur or more. The events are usually successes in a casino that is finally being renovated after a 10-year planning process. Outside their festivals, the Poker room is pretty quiet though but it’s possible to play Poker almost every day. There used to be partnerships between both sides but the two worlds of casino live Poker and club Poker seem to have trouble to coexist these days. Since the latter ones have grown into legit competitors fighting for market shares of a recreational live MTT Poker economy that keeps getting weaker after every macroeconomic hit, it becomes more and more obvious that the struggling middle classes cut down on fun, entertainment, holiday and also gaming or gambling expenses. On top of it, players often prefer the friendly atmosphere of their regular Poker club where they can have a beer with the buddies. Also, these players are the center of all the promoter’s attention since they are the only players he can have while casinos usually don’t excel at welcoming low-stakes players and the gambling houses of Belgium are being given back to whom they were initially built for: the gamblers.
Action and reaction seems to be the name of the game. The turbulent evolution of the national Belgian Poker scene is interesting in the sense that this could be part of the process of the transition to a Poker environment including more relevant Poker specific clubs rather than Poker rooms in casinos. Also, some casinos might decide to improve their Poker and hospitality offer to regain lost market shares. In both cases, it should be good news for the low stakes MTT grinders.
Poker Belgique is soon traveling back to Bratislava after the first leg of their France/Benelux Masters this summer. The next dates are set for the 7-14 November and more info should be available soon on the Banco Casino website. There’s a #BEATHERAKE promo available in my blog for those who care to join for the Main Event with no rake.
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