Online Gaming Jurisdictions – Europe

Online Gaming Jurisdictions – Europe

Just a few years ago, Europe looked like a paradise for all fans of online gaming, be it casino games or betting on sports. However, that situation is quickly changing and many European countries are now trying to harshly regulate the online gambling services that can be offered to their citizens.

In some countries, the changes have already been put into place, while other countries are still contemplating how exactly they should look like, but the overall trend seems to be a negative one.

That said, we would say that the situation in Europe is still much better than in most parts of the world and that it’s virtually guaranteed that players will always be able to play online – the only question is how limited the selection of online casinos and sportsbooks will be.

The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is one of those countries in which online gambling is incredibly popular – and it’s also one of those countries in which you can see plenty of casino and sports betting adverts everywhere.

And, well, that does indeed translate to players having an incredibly good time, as they can play at virtually all of the online casinos and bookmakers out there without any restrictions on any front. All the deposit and withdrawal methods tends to be available – and many operators also offer special promotions and higher deposit bonuses for UK players.

In order to be legal, operators just need to have a license from either the UK Gambling Commission or one of its white-listed jurisdictions, which is virtually no hassle at all for the vast majority of them.

That said, it seems that there might be tougher times ahead for both the customers and the providers, as the government looks pretty keen on pushing the gaming taxes a bit higher. We’ll see how far it all goes and what the eventual results will be, but, if things go too far, the providers could strive to keep their profits intact by lowering the payouts of their games and decreasing the odds in their sports betting products.

Ireland

Ireland is pretty similar to the United Kingdom when it comes to online gaming – all of its forms have always been very popular in the country and that certainly isn’t going to change anytime soon.

The market is fully liberalized and operators don’t need to have any hard-to-get licenses in order to be able to offer their services to Irish players, which means that those who play from Ireland can choose from a massive range of online casinos and bookmakers. No websites are being blocked and virtually all the different deposit and withdrawal methods are available – there’s just nothing that we could possibly complain about.

In 2015, the Irish authorities started a big push for a tax increase in the gaming sector and that’s something that providers won’t be too happy about, but we don’t believe that much is going to change in the near future, as the Irish market is just too important for online casinos and sportsbooks to abandon it completely. If you’re just a player, there’s absolutely nothing to be worried about.

Italy

Italy is one of the European countries in which online gaming is being strictly regulated, with the year of 2010 basically sealing the deal with new pieces of legislation coming into force. Without going into the tiniest of details, we’ll just say that online casinos and bookmakers that want to offer their services to Italian players have to get a special Italian license, which naturally comes with its own obligations. What’s more, the number of licenses that can be granted is limited.

It should also be noted that Italy is currently one of the few European countries that are forcing internet service providers to block the websites of online casinos and bookmakers that don’t have the official license. We haven’t had the chance to try every single internet service provider in Italy to check whether this actually works well or not, but the odds are that you won’t be able to access your favorite accounts while visiting Italy.

As always, there are ways around these things and many unlicensed operators will allow Italians to open accounts, but the overall level of freedom is far below many other European countries.

France

Although France is considered to be the original home of roulette, the most popular casino game of all times, it’s recently become much more famous for its online gambling laws. Some even argue that they are the worst on the entire continent, as they have been made with only the state in mind.

Put simply, operators need to have a special French license in order to be able to offer their services in France legally. As one would imagine, that wouldn’t be a massive problem – but the taxes, which are in the region of 33%, are. Some online casinos and bookmakers have tried their best to remain available for the French, but most of such attempts ended with them offering very low odds and payouts, which makes the entire deal very bad for the players, who obviously aren’t all that keen on playing against such a big house edge (perhaps the term state edge would be more appropriate here).

Internet service operators are also actively blocking access to foreign websites, which makes France one of the worst European countries as far as online gaming is concerned. There might be ways around everything in this day and age, but it’s probably best to just move to another country if you want to bet big or live off sports betting. The most popular sports betting provider, Bet365, currently won’t even allow you to open an account with a French address.

Germany

To outsiders, Germany has always looked like a country in which everything is required to be clear-cut – and, to some degree, there is indeed a lot of clarity when it comes to the online gambling laws.

The bad news is that, at the time of writing, online casino and poker games were officially illegal in Germany, while the sports betting market was heavily regulated with only a handful of sports betting providers having licenses for the German market. There is some confusion as to whether the rules actually apply, as one of the federal countries, Schleswig-Holstein, granted licenses to online casinos before they were outlawed – and those online casinos are fully legal despite online casinos being illegal on the whole. Confusing? Yes, we think so.

Players are therefore currently in some sort of a vacuum and we aren’t even considering the fact that it’s incredibly easy to play at unlicensed operators from Germany, which means that it’s basically a free-for-all market. You should have no problems getting to your accounts while staying in Germany anyway, as the internet service providers aren’t forced to block the websites of unlicensed operators, but there have been sporadic cases of players being prosecuted for playing at them (in fact, it is possible to get both fines and jail time).

We should also note that the German gambling laws came under heavy fire from the European Union, so chances are that we’re going to see some dramatic changes in the near future, although online gambling wasn’t particularly high on the priority list of the government at the time of writing.

Spain

The situation in Spain somewhat resembles what we can see in Germany and France, although it is arguably slightly closer to the French one.

Operators need to have a special Spanish license in order to be able to offer their services legally and they also need to fulfill some other conditions, including using a dedicated .es domain for the services they’re offering to Spanish players.

The biggest issue, however, are the big taxes that are imposed on gaming revenues. In fact, they seem to be the main reason for many operators not being keen on applying for a license. They are a bit smaller than in France, however, so a few of the bigger names in the industry are open to conducting business in Spain.

What about the players, however? Well, at the time of writing, playing at an unlicensed operators wasn’t considered to be a criminal offense. That said, you might have plenty of issues getting to their websites, as the Spanish internet services providers are actively blocking them.

Portugal

At the time of writing, Portugal was going through a major shakeup in the online gaming department, with many online companies deciding to leave the market after the government announced much higher taxes and stricter licensing conditions.

The fact that so many of them decided to join forces and abandon the Portuguese market could force the government to backtrack on those changes and the situation could return to where it was before, but we have to say that players will be in for a very tough time if that doesn’t happen.

To fully realize how crazy things are over in Portugal, you should know that the changes were announced quite abruptly and that all previously-held licenses were withdrawn almost immediately, which created a vacuum in which even the previously-legal operators became illegal without any chance of remedying the situation quickly.

All in all, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from wagers from Portugal until the dust settles a little bit.

Greece

Although the Greek authorities decided to issue licenses for foreign companies in 2011, they decided to revoke all of them soon after in order to boost the one state-owned company in such a way that it would basically have a monopoly on the market. The monopoly situation was still in place at the time of writing, but the early months of 2016 saw the Greek government announcing new licensing plans that could somehow normalize the situation, allowing online casinos and sportsbooks to come back to the market under certain tax conditions.

So far, so bad – but we have to say that the monopoly situation didn’t do anything to prevent Greek players from enjoying the services of the best providers out there, as their websites aren’t being blocked and as most of them are accepting wagers from Greek customers.

Deposits and withdrawals could be a thorny issue with all the banking restrictions in place, but it seems that players have always been able to find ways around that by using alternative payment methods.

Poland

Poland has officially opened its online market in the year of 2011, but it seems extremely reluctant to hand out licenses to foreign companies, which means that there are only a handful of fully legal providers at the moment.

Since Polish customers don’t really like what’s on offer at those companies, they often decide to visit foreign firms and there’s currently nothing that can stop them from doing so, as the internet service providers aren’t required to block their websites and as the banks aren’t required to block gaming transactions either. The government did propose a plan to punish players with fines and even jail time, but it seems that it was eventually scrapped.

It should be noted, however, that the 2015 elections brought major changes in the overall political situation, so it seems likely that we’re going to see something new on the online gaming front in the next couple of years. Whether the changes will be good or not for the players remains to be seen, but we’re afraid that foreign companies won’t have it any easier.

Finland

Finland is one of the few markets in which there’s a complete monopoly, with each of the gaming sectors being dominated by just a single company that is the sole holder of the license that’s required for an operator to be able to offer its services legally. It is also said that all the companies might soon merge into just a single one, which would then become a one stop shop for all the gambling needs.

However, Finnish players that aren’t keen on supporting that have always been able to play at foreign operators and the year of 2015 saw the Finnish authorities stating that doing so isn’t considered to be a criminal behavior. At the same time, they reiterated that they might consider blocking certain websites and payment processors in the future.

Sweden

It is often said that the Swedish authorities are yet to adapt to the realities of the online market and we are convinced that you’ll agree with that if you ever start to explore the situation of the country’s online gambling laws.

Put simply, Sweden believes that it is able to hold a monopoly on the market through a single state-owned company without having any blocking of internet websites in place. At the time of writing, the only legal entity was the Svenska Spel company, but it was estimated that it held less than fifty percent of the market, with most players deciding to abandon it in favor of the somewhat better foreign companies.

Interestingly, the country’s laws were also challenged by the European authorities, but the Swedes are yet to really respond to all those criticisms, deciding to focus on other issues instead. The plan seems to be that new laws should get passed before the next general elections in 2018, but the rumor is that the matter will actually be delayed and that nothing is going to change in the near future.

Norway

Norway is one of toughest European countries when it comes to the online gambling sector and it needs to be said that there have been no signs of that changing in recent years. Only a single state-owned company can legally offer online casino and sportsbook services to Norwegian citizens and the country is actively cracking down on both foreign companies and their ambassadors.

You might be able to access your favorite online casino from Norway, but you should know that, since 2010, the banks are required to block all transactions to and from casinos, so that’s something that could cause you a few headaches. The problem is that this ban is applied not only on bank transfers, but also on the use of debit and credit cards.

Denmark

Although Denmark is similar to the other Nordic countries in that its online gambling market is fully regulated, it is slightly more open and the authorities are happy to grant licenses to foreign companies, which means that those who want to stay fully in the legal zone have a fairly decent range of online casinos, sportsbooks and poker rooms to choose from nowadays.

The operators do have to face high taxes, but the situation seems to be somewhat better than in countries like France or Spain and the end of 2015 saw the government making new amendments to the law that should make the market more open to smaller companies, so chances are that we are going to see more companies getting Danish licenses in the near future.

Interestingly, Denmark has also become one of the first countries to specifically legalize fantasy sports operators, which could have some implications for the entire European market, although it remains to be seen whether fantasy sports will indeed gain real traction in Europe.

Czech Republic

At the time of writing, the Czech Republic had a fairly strict legislation concerning online gaming – only online casinos and sportsbooks that were granted a license by the local authorities were legal. What’s more, local players could also be punished for playing at providers without that special license.

That said, the truth of the situation was such that there was only one public case of a player getting a fine and the fine was actually dismissed at the end of the court case, so it seems that customers really have nothing to fear when playing from the Czech Republic. Interestingly, many Czech lawyers believe that the legislation that forbids locals from playing at online casinos that are legal elsewhere in the EU is actually not compatible with the European laws that are considered to be above local ones, so chances are that it’d actually be impossible to punish anyone for breaking them.

New pieces of legislation are in the pipeline and things could go either way really, but the most likely option is that not much will change anytime soon, as the Czechs seem to love their online gaming and are spending a lot of money at foreign casinos and bookies.

Slovakia

The situation in Slovakia is somewhat similar to the situation in the Czech Republic, as the local authorities aren’t keen on fully liberalizing the online gambling market. There is an official institution that can grant licenses for online gambling, but it is virtually impossible to get them for foreign companies.

However, Slovakian players are free to access all the online casinos and sportsbooks out there, as recent proposals to block their websites were dismissed following harsh criticism from many different groups.

Put simply, it is incredibly easy to play at your favorite provider when in Slovakia – and it doesn’t matter whether you are just visiting it for a brief time or whether you are a long-time resident of the country. Not only is there nothing to prevent you from making an account, but it’s also possible to use nearly all the different deposit and withdrawal methods.