There’s no question about it, over the last couple of decades the world of gambling has undergone some huge transformations. In general, attitudes have softened towards the activity and the arrival of online gambling has had a major effect on this. This has led to many countries reviewing their gambling laws, with some being considerably more liberal than most.
Even for the countries in Central Europe, there is considerable variation when it comes to the legalities of betting and the way it is perceived. So here is a guide to how four of the biggest countries in the region approach it.
The Czech Republic
Gambling is big business, and getting bigger, in the Czech Republic. Figures released by the country’s Ministry of Finance showed that the gross gaming revenue for 2019 was at 36.3 billion Kc, a 16% rise on the year before.
This figure has risen steeply ever since 2017, when new legislation came into force allowing online gambling businesses from around the world to apply for operator licences for the country.
The legislation was partly intended to counter the perceived problem of illegal online gambling in the country. Although this was seen as a positive step, as “black market” sites were seen as costing a great deal in lost revenue, the new rules were not universally welcomed. It was felt that licences were too hard to get and that the 35% tax rate was too punitive to attract many online casinos when there were more lucrative places to begin operations.
Slovakia’s latest gambling legislation came into force even more recently that its neighbours in the Czech Republic. In 2019, laws were passed that allowed online casinos to apply for licences to operate in the country. The intention of the new legislation was to free up the market and allow genuine competition for the state-owned operator TIPOS.
Although it’s still relatively early days, the take-up of the opportunities has been lower than anticipated. This may be partly due to the fact that adults in Slovakia are not expressly forbidden from playing on offshore sites, so there is little incentive for operators to go through the process of applying for licences that would cost them €3 million and need to be renewed every ten years.
The laws currently in place in Poland date back to 2009 and effectively forbid all forms of unlicensed online gambling in the country. At the time, there was considerable controversy when several ministers were forced to resign following inappropriate lobbying designed to weaken the restrictions.
Today, there is an online casino available for Polish residents, but it is a state monopoly called Totalizator Sportowy. As part of the legislation preventing incursion from other operators, the government has blacklisted a number of casino sites. Internet service providers are forbidden from allowing access to any sites on the list and the fine for failing to do so is set at €58,000. There is a right of appeal for casinos placed on the blacklist, but few do appeal as the Ministry of Finance does not often reverse its decision.
In contrast to Poland, Hungary takes a distinctly liberal approach to online gambling. Back in 2013, they passed a legislation that permitted any operator the opportunity to apply for an official licence.
Throughout the campaign to change the laws to specifically allow online gambling, a more libertarian approach was taken, something which placed the country at odds with other, stricter, EU countries like Germany.
For example, the proposed tax rate for online operators was reduced from 20% to just 15% and the cost of a licence to operate was cut from an intended €650,000 to €160,000 in a bid to encourage more smaller operators to apply.
It was by no means an easy process to arrange and agree to all the laws. As a result, it wasn’t until around 2017 that the first online casinos specifically aimed at Hungarian players were launched. Since then, many more have opened for business.
Should countries follow the UK model?
Even though Poland seems resolutely opposed to open up its market, the other three countries have shown that they see the potential of online gambling as an important source of revenue.
So, questions are starting to be raised about whether they should follow the lead of the UK. This is the country that, according to official figures, generated €6.5 billion in revenue from online or remote gambling.
It’s surely no coincidence that the country has some of the most liberal laws on gambling, which have created the perfect environment for online casino sites to grow and thrive. This makes it the sector that the rest of the world should watch with great interest.
Top-tier UK operators such as 888 Casino have millions of players across the country and worldwide, and their site leads the way in technology and innovation. They are also committed to providing safe gambling practices while offering an impressive selection of exclusive and popular casino games on their UK online casino site.
By adopting a similar approach to the UK, under the close watch of an independent and powerful regulator, any one of these Central Europe countries could be the next leading market for online casinos. Whether there’s the political will to do this isn’t certain. But for any country willing to push the requisite measures through, the rewards will certainly be great.