Unibet, a large international gambling group offering online casino, poker, and sports betting services, has decided not to move to Estonia. The Malta-based company was considering moving its computer servers to the northern Baltic country, along with 170 jobs, officially making Estonia its new home base.
The Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, along with the foundation Enterprise Estonia, have been in discussions with Unibet for several weeks regarding the possible move. Estonia’s internet infrastructure is outstanding, and Unibet was interested in taking advantage of it.
When the Maltese government heard of Unibet’s plan, however, they provided a competing offer, and Unibet found it to be more attractive. The decision seems to be fiscally motivated, but details about exactly why Unibet chose to remain in Malta have not been announced.
Estonian gambling laws have undergone some severe changes in recent months. Last year the country legalized locally-hosted internet gambling sites. Then in early 2010, they announced the arrival of a licensing scheme to allow internet gambling groups based in EU Member States to offer their services to Estonian players.
Before foreign-hosted companies can offer internet gambling in Estonia, they must obtain a license, meet certain technical requirements, and pay a fee of 1.3 million EEK (€83,000). When this steep fee was announced a few months ago, the industry responded negatively, and experts felt it would be responsible for driving companies away from the Estonian market. Such a huge fee, they say, is simply not justifiable given the size of Estonia’s online gambling population.
Unibet now faces a further decision whether to offer their services to the Estonian market at all. The Estonian Free Press speculates, “Unibet is likely to decide against spending that since Estonia is too small a market.” Today, the only legally-operating internet gambling site in Estonia is the local Olympic Casino, which may well end up lacking competition if Unibet’s move becomes a general trend.