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EU online gambling regulation: What you need to know


Casino tokens with two red dice placed over a keyboard.

Gambling has always been a controversial topic around the world. It is now becoming more and more an online activity.

According to the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), the EU is a world leader in digital entertainment, with a 49% share of the global online gambling market.

However, there is no single EU online gambling regulation that standardizes betting and gaming throughout Europe. Different countries and even certain regions apply different laws.

Most allow at least some games of chance to be offered online. Some countries allow all games, while others only allow certain types such as betting, poker or casino games.

The European Commission supports EU countries’ efforts to modernise their national online gambling legal frameworks and provides support to ensure a high level of protection for consumers, minors and other vulnerable people.

In this article, we will look at the big picture in Europe, which will give you a general idea of the legal climate for (online) gambling there.

EU online gambling regulations

The EU law has addressed some e-gaming issues but individual member states are mostly free to apply their own gambling laws and regulations. There isn’t any sort of blanket EU-wide framework for gambling, and it is unclear whether there will ever be one.

In 2017, the European Commission closed its infringement procedures and the treatment of complaints in the area of gambling. It is not a priority for the Commission to use its infringement powers to promote a EU Digital Single Market in the area of online gambling services. National courts are now responsible for resolving such disputes in each country.

However, one common law is the strict Know Your Customer (KYC) requirement, which means that every player must be properly identified before playing.

In addition, the Anti-Money Laundering Directive requires gambling operators to implement a risk-based assessment on all players to mitigate the potential for money laundering and crime risks.

Overall, there aren’t many strict laws against individuals who wish to gamble online. The online gambling regulations are usually applied to the business of gambling, with consumer protection as the main goal.

If you’re interested in starting your own online casino or bookmaker, it is of utmost importance to consult with an experienced lawyer in advance to make sure you avoid hefty fines.

In some countries, the market is open to private enterprise as long as operators qualify for the required licenses. This is the case in the UK, which has a thriving gambling industry. Meanwhile, other countries criminalize everything except state-owned monopolies.

Here are the 3 categories to consider:

  • Open licensing

A license is granted as long as numerous specific licensing criteria are met. An example is Malta.

  • Restricted licensing

The number of licenses is limited, but the process allows for gaming companies (Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece).

  • State monopoly

Licenses are granted to only one (government owned) entity (Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland).

Now, let’s look at some of the bigger markets in Europe.

Do you need legal advice and assistance? Contact our experienced lawyers.

Bulgaria

Online gambling was officially legalized in Bulgaria in February 2008. The detailed regulations on the matter were enacted in 2012.

Any gambling games allowed by the Gambling Act can be organised online via the internet or other electronic means of communication (mobile phones, radio, TV, satellites, etc.), except for raffles and instant lottery.

There is no limitation on the number of licences, and the features and duration of the licences are identical to those of land-based games. The duration is usually five years.

Operators have to pay a one-off fee of BGN 100,000 for the issue of the licence in the case of a successful application.

The legal gambling age in Bulgaria, as in most other countries, is 18 years old.

Moreover, there is now a gambling website blacklist to fight against illegal operations.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has the freest gambling industry in Europe. Private operators can obtain licenses and offer all forms of gambling to people inside the UK, including casino games, sports-betting, bingo and gaming machines, online and offline.

However, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) has been one of the strictest in gambling regulations within the EU, and there have been a lot of heavily sanctioned companies.

The minimum legal age for online and most other types of gambling in the UK is 18 years old.

Italy

Up until 2010, Italy blocked all access to online gambling sites apart from two sites managed by national sports and racing organizations. Seven years after the EU launched proceedings against Italy in 2003, Italy welcomed online gambling. The government licensing committee (AAMS) is responsible for granting licenses to online gambling operators that prove they can run a safe and stable gambling site.

Nowadays, the gambling laws in Italy are fairly liberal compared to other European countries. Moreover, what distinguishes it is that Italian players are not taxed on their winnings. Instead, the operators are responsible for taxes on revenues, as well as licensing fees.

However, Italy’s advertising and communications regulator AGCOM has recently stated that direct and indirect advertising, sponsorship or promotional communications regarding gambling will all be banned across the country.

Germany

Germany’s online gambling regulations are more complex. They have changed several times over the last years.

The country bans most forms of online gambling, but there are different rules in some German states. At least one state within Germany started issuing licenses, then revoked those licenses a year later and started over the process.

Spain

Spain has amended its gambling laws several times recently. Since 2012, operators can apply for licenses to operate in the region subject to certain conditions. Several companies have been successfully awarded licenses by the Spanish National Gaming Commission and are able to operate accordingly.

Currently, it’s legal for Spanish residents to bet and play at any of the sites licensed in the country. Many of the biggest and most popular brands, such as Bet365 and William Hill, have dedicated Spanish sites for betting, poker, and some other forms of gambling.

Poland

Everything is officially banned in Poland, apart from sports betting. Since 2011, local companies can apply for licenses to operate online sports betting within Poland. Only a few companies have gone through the process and received licenses.

Despite Poland’s rigid stance on online gambling, there is a massive industry with many citizens playing at foreign gambling sites.

France

In France, many forms of gambling are legal, and there are three main bodies responsible for its regulation. Gambling licenses are granted to companies that wish to offer gambling services such as sports betting, horse racing, and poker. The licensing process isn’t easy and it doesn’t include casino-style gaming, but most major poker sites do have a presence there.

Belgium

Belgium has been among the strictest countries when it comes to the off and online gambling regulation.

The advertising of online casino games on TV has been banned throughout Belgium as slots are seen as promoting gambling. Sports betting adverts are allowed but are heavily restricted.

Netherlands

The state monopoly on online and land-based casinos has finally been broken in the Netherlands, and foreign operators are entering the market this year.

However, they will be met with high taxes, as well as obliged to pay 1.5% to fund the local regulator and 0.5% to support anti-gambling programs.

Do you need legal advice and assistance? Contact our experienced lawyers.

Sweden

Sweden has brought a new set of laws aimed to end the state-run online gambling company’s monopoly. The goal now is to open up the market to private operators and help expand the gambling market in the country while protecting the public against any actions from the gambling companies.

Switzerland

There are 2 levels of gambling laws in Switzerland — federal and cantonal (state).

Casino licenses are obtained through the Swiss Federal Casino Commission (ESBK). Lotteries and sports betting are managed through Comlot, the Swiss Lottery and Betting Board.

In 2018, the Money Gaming Act was passed to block the IP addresses of foreign gambling sites. This had to force operators to pay their fair share of taxes. As of the end of June 2020, all unlicensed gambling options are blocked.

Conclusion

Many European countries have at least partial bans on certain forms of online gambling, but often these bans aren’t effective.

The EU online gambling market is growing at about 10% per year, and the EU sector’s gross gaming revenue is expected to rise to €29.3 billion in 2022 (according to EGBA). It is expected more and more countries to allow online gambling or ease regulations.

Now you have a good idea of the overall EU online gambling regulations. However, it’s best to consult an experienced lawyer regarding any questions about the legality of placing bets or getting involved in the business of gambling in chosen EU countries. Dig deeper into the laws of the specific country you have in mind and make sure you stay informed because the legislation is constantly changing.

If you need legal consultations in the field of online gambling, such as issuing licenses in Bulgaria, consultations on tax and regulatory aspects, and other similar services, contact us.


If you need help and more information, contact our highly qualified and experienced lawyers. We will help you with all legal matters.

 

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