Euro Online Casinos
There is a big gap between how European gambling laws should work in theory and how they work in practice. Within the EU, countries are supposed to open their markets to each other to stimulate cross border trade. The reality for casinos is that many of the larger countries have done the opposite, and completely isolated their own markets. Meanwhile, some smaller countries are prevented from following suit by Brussels.
This article gives you and overview of the complex and often contradictory world of online casinos in Europe. First I have looked at the big closed countries, which are France, Italy and Spain. After that the pragmatic approach of some smaller European countries such as Denmark and Belgium is covered. Germany, Portugal and Switzerland are all looking into their own legislation. I have wrapped up this page with some thoughts on whether Europe will ever manage to get its act together and become a ‘single market’ for online casino gamblers.
European Online Casino – The Big Closed Markets
Several countries have already defied EU law in closing their gambling markets off from competition. These are France, Italy and Spain. These are the larger European countries, and (correctly) assume that due to the political sensitivity of online gambling, there is no appetite in Brussels to move against this individual country legislation.
France has gone down the license and high-tax route. This has caused some difficulties with poker games in particular. Their regulatory system has been a success, with casinos which are licensed globally and not holding a French license refusing to take deposits from France. There are plenty of offshore sites, which are licensed in the Caribbean or Central America which continue to take deposits from France. Following the same model, Italy (which requires servers in the country) and Spain have segregated their own populations.
Licensed and Open Countries
Many smaller countries are now following on with gambling legislation of their own. It seems like they have calculated that the cost of enforcing a ring-fenced gambling regime is high, and have opted for a system which allows them to collect taxes from the casino operators, while keeping their markets open. A great example of this in action is Denmark, Belgium has recently put plans to follow suit in motion, as have the Netherlands. The governments of these countries use ISP blocks of the main gambling domains and advertising bans as quick and easy tools for enforcement.
Some smaller countries have recently tried to introduce licensing, for example Hungary. The complex and expensive licensing process has been ignored by the casino operators, who continue to offer their games to players in this and many other smaller countries. ISP blocks of the main domains are already occurring in many jurisdictions.
As you can see, the legal situation for online casinos in Europe is as much of a mess as the centrally planned economic model.
Countries Considering Legislation
Germany is the single biggest economy in Europe and their gambling laws are very uncertain at the moment. The individual states within Germany are able to license gambling operators, with the central government having a generally anti-gambling stance. There have been court battles over recent years to establish who has the real authority in this area. It seems like it is only a matter of time before some kind of regulation appears from Germany. Whether, as the lead country in the EU, they open their market to free trade will be an interesting thing to look out for.
Switzerland is has also announced that they are considering legislation of their own. Portugal recently completed discussions on this subject.
Playing at European Online Casinos
One thing that all the mixed up legislative efforts have in common is that individual players are not criminalized for accessing unlicensed casinos. No individual has been prosecuted (or even arrested) only for gambling online at casinos which are not licensed by their country of residence. Instead the operators of these casinos can be fined, banned from a specific country – or both.
Gambling Licenses in Europe
Many of the top jurisdictions for the licenses given to the big global casino brands are based in Europe. These include Malta, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and Alderney. These are considered to be the some of the most reputable places for casinos to get licensed in. The rules of conduct and fair play at these casinos are very strict, meaning that it is a trust-signal in itself to see a casino licensed in one of these places.
The legal situation for online casinos in Europe is a patchwork of different rules which depend on which country you are in. The larger countries get away with flaunting the open markets rule, while smaller countries are not allowed to break these rules. The interesting question moving forward will be how and when Germany handles its own legislation.