The realm of online gambling within the European Union is a thriving and ever-evolving sector, boasting an estimated annual revenue of €22.2 billion in 2018 and an anticipated growth rate of 9.2% by 2020. Nevertheless, the regulation of this type of entertainment in the EU member states is characterized by a rich variety of regulations that sometimes contradict each other and sometimes conflict with each other. These disparities present a complex landscape that poses challenges for operators, consumers, and regulatory authorities alike.
This article endeavors to furnish an overview of the existing status of online gambling regulation in Europe, elucidating the distinct approaches taken by various countries. It also delves into the principal issues and emerging trends within this sector.
EU Regulations Governing Online Casinos
It’s noteworthy that there is no singular, overarching gambling law at the EU level; instead, the authority for this matter is delegated to individual member states. Consequently, each member state retains autonomy in designing and overseeing its online casino services, albeit contingent upon compliance with the foundational principles articulated in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), as construed by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The CJEU has formulated several basic rules that all member states must follow:
- Gambling-related services are considered economic activities under the TFEU and thus subject to its rules, unless compelling public interests require restrictions.
- Exercise a degree of discretion in formulating their policies and determining the degree of protection they offer to consumers and society. These determinations are influenced by the cultural, religious and social characteristics of each nation.
- Impose restrictions or prohibitions on casino gaming services in the interests of public policy, public safety, health or consumer protection, but such restrictions must be proportionate, necessary and appropriate to achieve the legitimate aims set.
- Discriminatory or protectionist measures that favor national operators or create unjustified obstacles to the free flow of services and trade are prohibited.
- Ensure effective supervision and enforcement of their national gambling regulations, cooperating with other Member States and stakeholders to prevent fraud, money laundering, match fixing and other illegal activities related to online gambling.
The European Commission lends its support to the endeavors of member states to modernize their domestic legislative frameworks for online gambling. Administrative cooperation between regulatory authorities and the enforcement of robust consumer and vulnerable group safeguards, including minors, are championed. In 2014, the Commission issued a Recommendation on Principles for the Protection of Consumers and Players of Online Gambling Services and the Prevention of Underage Gambling on the Internet. This document outlines several best practices for online gambling operators, encompassing transparency, age verification, self-exclusion tools, responsible gaming features, and equitable gaming operations, including random number generators, payout rates, and grievance redressal mechanisms.
The most recent report for 2020 discerns headway in bolstering consumer protection regulations for online gambling within EU member states; nevertheless, significant fragmentation and gaps still endure.
Approaches to online gambling regulation in other countries
Each EU member state, guided by the overarching principles of the European Commission, has crafted its distinct regime for regulating online casinos. To illustrate the variance in their approaches, let’s explore the individual characteristics of several nations.
The Czech Republic cultivates a balanced and regulated gambling market, affording both domestic and foreign operators the opportunity to cater to Czech patrons. The prevailing legal framework, implemented in 2017, aspires to foster competition, boost tax revenues, and reinforce consumer protections.
Operators in the Czech Republic are subject to the following requisites:
- Mandatory acquisition of a basic license from the Ministry of Finance, valid for up to six years. License fees fluctuate, spanning from 1.5 million Czech crowns (approximately 58,000 euros) to 50 million Czech crowns (about 1.9 million euros), contingent on the game type offered. The list of casinos with a Czech license that are in the database of the Czech Ministry of Finance can be found on their website, as it is fully accessible and open.
- Payment of taxes based on their gross gaming revenues, varying from 23% for sports betting and lotteries to 35% for casino games and poker. Additionally, operators must remit a 19% corporate income tax and a 2% social security contribution.
- Adherence to a gamut of technical and operational stipulations, encompassing the use of certified software and hardware, provision of tools for responsible gambling, identity and age verification of customers, and the reporting of suspicious transactions.
- Czech online casinos offerings encompass various game types, excluding tombola and small card tournaments. Predominantly, sports betting, and poker rank as the most favored online gambling products in the CR.
It is important to note that the rules also apply to online casino visitors, who are obliged to comply with the following provisions:
- Prior registration with an operator is mandatory to access online gaming services. Personal information such as name, address, date of birth, and identification number must be furnished, with provisions for setting limits on deposits, losses, bets, or session durations.
- Diverse payment methods can be used to fund player accounts, including credit cards, e-wallets, bank transfers, and vouchers. However, cash transactions are subject to a cap of CZK 5,000 (approximately €196) per day.
- Players are fortified by the Gambling Act and the Consumer Protection Act, which confer upon them rights to access their gaming history, review their account balances, engage in complaint procedures, employ self-exclusion options, and recourse to mechanisms for dispute resolution.
As of 2019, the Czech Republic’s online gambling market displays steady growth, yielding estimated annual revenues of CZK 8.6 billion (approximately EUR 335 million). The market is largely dominated by prominent operators such as Tipsport, Fortuna, Sazka, and Synot Tip. Nevertheless, the landscape has witnessed the ingress of foreign operators since 2017, including Bet365, PokerStars, Unibet, and William Hill.
Slovakia, akin to the Czech Republic, exercises oversight over its online gambling market. The legal framework for online gambling was introduced in 2019 with the primary objectives of liberalizing the market, enhancing tax revenues, and strengthening consumer protections.
Key aspects of online gambling regulation in Slovakia for operators encompass:
- Mandated procurement of licenses from the Ministry of Finance, with a validity span of up to ten years. License fees fluctuate, spanning from 3 million euros for sports betting and lotteries to 5 million euros for casino games and poker.
- Payment of taxes calculated on their gross gaming revenues, at a rate of 22% for all game types. Operators are also liable for a corporate income tax of 21%.
- Compliance with a spectrum of technical and operational prerequisites, encompassing the use of certified software and hardware, provision of tools for responsible gambling, identity and age verification of customers, and the reporting of suspicious transactions.
- Operators of online casinos in Slovakia may proffer a comprehensive range of games permissible in offline settings, spanning sports betting, casino games, poker, bingo, and lotteries. The most favored online gambling products in Slovakia are sports betting and casino games.
Visitors to Slovak online casinos should adhere to the following requirements:
- Prior registration with an operator is mandatory to avail online gambling services. This entails the submission of personal particulars such as name, address, date of birth, and identification number, along with the ability to impose restrictions on deposits, losses, bets, or session durations.
- A diversity of payment methods are at the disposal of players for funding their accounts, encompassing credit cards, e-wallets, bank transfers, and vouchers.
- Safeguards for online gambling customers are anchored in the Gambling Act and the Civil Code. These provisions bestow rights that include access to gaming history, scrutiny of account balances, lodging complaints, utilizing self-exclusion mechanisms, and accessing dispute resolution channels.
The Slovak online gambling market is relatively nascent, having previously been monopolized by the state-owned Tipos. The market is poised for rapid expansion as more operators enter the arena and a greater number of patrons transition from offline to online gambling.
Germany hosts a complex and multifaceted online gambling market, the regulation of which falls under the jurisdiction of its 16 federal states. The contemporary legal framework for online gambling is founded on the Interstate Gambling Agreement, which underwent revisions in 2020 to institute uniform and harmonized regulation, augment tax revenues, and fortify consumer protections.
Online gambling operators in Germany must abide by the following guidelines:
- Acquisition of a license from the competent authority in the federal state of their domicile or service provision. These licenses hold validity for up to five years, with fees contingent upon the type and scope of the license, capped at EUR 50,000 annually.
- Payment of taxes grounded in their gross gaming revenues, fluctuating between 5% for sports betting and lotteries and 5.3% for casino games and poker. Furthermore, operators must satisfy corporate income tax obligations, ranging from 15% to 33%, contingent upon the federal state.
- Adherence to technical and operational requirements, including the use of certified software and hardware, provision of tools for responsible gambling, verification of customer identity and age, and reporting of suspicious transactions.
- Operators in Germany may extend a repertoire of games, including sports betting, casino games, poker, bingo, and lotteries. Nevertheless, these are subject to specific constraints, including limits on bets, losses, stakes, or session durations, bans on live betting, jackpots, and table games, and quotas on licenses and slots.
For online gambling patrons in Germany, the following rules apply:
- Pre-registration with an operator is obligatory to access gaming services. Customers are mandated to provide personal particulars, such as name, address, date of birth, and identification number, along with the capacity to establish restrictions on deposits, losses, bets, or session durations.
- Players can employ diverse payment methods for funding their accounts, embracing credit cards, e-wallets, bank transfers, and vouchers.
- Player rights are anchored in the Interstate Agreement on Gambling and the Civil Code, conferring entitlements like access to gaming history, perusal of account balances, initiation of complaints, utilization of self-exclusion mechanisms, and recourse to dispute resolution mechanisms.
The German online casino market ranks among the most substantial and lucrative in Europe, with estimated annual revenues of €2.2 billion in 2019. It is distinguished by its competitiveness and diversity, featuring numerous operators catering to German clientele. Leading operators include Bet365, Bwin, Tipico, and Lotto24. Nevertheless, this market is not without its complexities and enforcement challenges, including unauthorized operators and violations of extant regulations. The newly amended Interstate Gambling Agreement strives to rectify these issues, fostering a more stable and transparent gambling market in Germany.
Online gambling constitutes a multifaceted and dynamic arena within the EU, necessitating a well-calibrated and synchronized regulatory framework. The examples of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany underscore that regulations tend to converge on common principles while remaining attuned to the specificities of individual nations and their citizenry. The European Commission plays a pivotal role in supporting member states in modernizing their legal frameworks for online gambling. Nonetheless, there remains scope for enhancement and further alignment of online gambling regulations within the EU, particularly in light of emergent challenges and trends in this realm.