Online casinos, sports betting and poker are all legal in Poland but are subject to extremely strict regulations that have limited the full potential of the market. Recent amendments to the law made Polish casino sites legal for the first time in years, but then lawmakers added a caveat that only the state-owned lottery may offer real money casino games and poker online.
As we know from experience, online gambling monopolies rarely benefit the end user. The absolute lack of competition invariably results in a poorer experience for customers because there is no pressure on the monopoly provider to offer a high quality product. Thus, it is no surprise that large numbers of players have turned to international casino sites headquartered in foreign countries.
Before we make any recommendations, we should tell you up front that the government may be willing to charge individual players for visiting unlicensed casino sites in Poland. In 2014, the Ministry of Finance published a notice on its website that it had collected the information of tens of thousands of residents who were known to be visiting offshore gambling sites and was planning to proceed with 1,100 investigations.
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There have been no updates regarding the investigation in the years following the announcement and we haven’t heard of any other similar moves by the Ministry of Finance. We are unable to determine if the government was bluffing, if the cases were dropped or if the players did end up paying a fine. What we do know is the threats have done little to dissuade the vast majority of players from looking to offshore casino sites.
We have seen numerous reports that as much as 90% of the gambling activity in Poland occurs with unlicensed providers. A total lack of online casinos in Poland (apart from the state-run monopoly) combined with weak enforcement mechanisms have crippled the market and deprived the state of significant tax revenue.
What’s frustrating is this would have all been preventable had lawmakers pursued sensible legislation. Their effort to protect the state monopoly has only resulted in the government taking in way less than it would if it supported a free market with many Polish online casinos paying taxes and licensing fees.
Polish Gambling Law
Online casinos in Poland operated with near-impunity throughout the early 2000s as there was no effective legislation in place to regulate the activity. This all began to change in 2009 with the enactment of the Polish Gambling Law (full text – PDF). This piece of legislation dealt with gambling in the real world, but the law’s restrictive nature served as a sign of things to come for online casino regulation.
An amendment to the law passed in 2011 finally took up the issue of online gambling in Poland. The Act on the Amendment of the Gambling Law and Some Other Acts (full text – PDF) outlawed all forms of online gambling with the exception of sports betting. The law did technically open the market for licensed bookmakers, but it implemented licensing standards so rigorous that only a handful of domestic companies have earned a license to date.
Even with sports betting, the law has mostly failed to achieve its aim of creating a robust domestic online sports betting industry. High taxes and stringent regulations have made it difficult for licensed betting sites in Poland to compete against unlicensed operators based out of countries with lower tax rates and less onerous regulations.
The Gambling Law and its subsequent amendments have also failed to put a dent in the demand for online poker and gambling in Poland. One of the problems is that although the Ministry of Finance can theoretically prosecute players for participating in unlawful gambling, there are no mechanisms in place to block internet access to those sites or to prevent the movement of money between Polish players and international gambling sites. Thus, many players choose to play with unlicensed providers.
In 2016, lawmakers announced plans to relax the gambling laws and begin issuing licenses for Polish casino sites and online poker. Players’ hopes were dashed when the Council of Ministers approved certain amendments that would restrict online casino games and poker to the state-owned lottery provider, Totalizator Sportowy. The amendments went into effect on April 1st of 2017.