Estonia has been working hard this year to change its gambling laws and to open up its online gambling industry to foreign operators. Unfortunately, things are not working quite the way many have hoped. While the government has begun offering licenses that allow foreign gambling groups to offer internet gambling in Estonia, they have also begun to block any sites that continue to accept Estonian players without first obtaining a proper license.
The blocks are happening at the level of ISPs, so players can’t do much to get around them. Local internet service providers have been provided with a list from the Estonian Tax and Custom Board naming about 200 online gambling sites, and have threatened ISPs with fines in excess of $15,000 if they fail to block them. Many of the largest and most popular online gambing sites in the world are listed on the roster, including Unibet, Full Tilt Poker, Poker Stars and Party Poker.
To date, the only online gambling site in Estonia that is operating within the law is Olympic Casino, a Playtech site that is operated out of Estonia. The site was launched during the first phase of the country’s gambling legalization scheme.
Authorities insist that the blocks are only temporary, and have put into place while gambling regulators work out the details of the upcoming licensing system. Once the new rules are ready, probably sometime in 2011, the blocks will be lifted – provided the sites are willing to comply with the new regulation schemes.
Players are of course frustrated by the recent blocks. Estonian professional poker player Imre Leibold says: “The possibility that online poker gaming could be restricted is not good news for us.” He even says pro players like himself might have to consider moving abroad, to places where online gambling laws are less restrictive. Hopefully, the Estonian government will loosen up on the issue, but only time will tell.