Polish State-Run Online Casino Delayed Until Second Half of 2018

(Image credit: Nicolas Raymond)

If you live in Poland and have been waiting to gamble online at the sole government-approved casino site, be prepared to wait a bit longer. The government revealed late last month that the state-run lottery is moving behind schedule in building its online casino and that it will not be ready until the second half of 2018.

Deputy finance minister Piotr Walczak confirmed the delay on 20 December. According to Money.pl, Poland’s monopoly operator Totalizator Sportowy has already begun work on the project. However, the lottery does not anticipate online casino games to go live until some point in the third or fourth quarter of 2018.

Players anticipating the ability to gamble online legally will have no choice but to wait until then. Poland has some of the most unsavory gambling laws in the world courtesy of amendments to the Polish Gambling Act approved in 2016 and implemented in 2017. Those laws mandate a government-run monopoly over all online casino games and poker.

The government explained its rationale for enforcing a state monopoly over casino gambling as being based on concerns of problem gambling. The new laws resulted in numerous big-name casino sites leaving the market entirely. William Hill, Betfair, 888 and many other sites announced their decisions to leave the market throughout 2017.

Those amendments were the latest in a series of actions taken by regulators to make Poland an online gambling wasteland. In addition to granting the state a monopoly over online casinos, the government also created a blacklist of websites that internet service providers (ISPs) are required to block. Local ISPs have been reluctant to enforce the censorship demands, but face fines of PLN 250,000 for failing to block access to blacklisted websites.

The updated laws also require financial firms to block payments to and from online casinos targeting Polish players. This measure was perhaps even more effective than the ban itself due to most gamblers relying on just a few major payment providers to make deposits and receive payments.

Individual gamblers have not escaped unscathed either. In 2014, the Ministry of Finance said it had begun collecting the information of more than 24,000 citizens believed to be visiting unlicensed gambling sites and had initiated 1,100 investigations into those players. Nothing further ever came of the threat, but the anecdote set the tone for the government’s approach to dealing with online gambling.

Online bookmakers have not fared much better under the Polish regulatory regime despite being able to apply for licenses. A 12% tax on betting turnover has kept most betting sites out of the market, as such a tax makes it all but impossible to serve the market and turn even a modest profit. The few local operators that have received licenses struggle to compete with unlicensed foreign operators not subject to the sky-high tax.

Online Gambling Still Alive and Well in Poland Despite Ban

Some casino sites remain active in Poland despite the legal issues. With the government dragging its feet in offering players a decent alternative, numerous operators are more than happy to supply the pent-up demand. Word that the government-backed casino site will be delayed even further will only embolden those that choose to serve the Polish market despite the legal risks.

Reports from 2016 estimated that more than 90% of Poland’s online gambling market is controlled by unlicensed gambling sites that operate from foreign territory. This is unlikely to change as long as Polish regulators continue to insist on funneling players to a still non-existent government-run casino site.

European gambling operator Bet-at-Home has been especially successful in this regard. In November, Bet-at-Home released financials showing revenues of nearly €110 million despite continuing to operate in the Polish market. Bet-at-Home justifies its refusal to leave by pointing to European free trade agreements that are violated by Poland’s insistence on keeping online gambling limited to its state-run monopoly provider.