There are 28 nations in the EU and they all have their own gambling laws which makes for a very
complex market that is anything but harmonized
It is quite a simple matter to identify the various jurisdictions for gambling and online gambling in
the EU, just look at a map. There are 28 member nations in the EU, that’s 28 separate countries with
their own language, culture and attitudes, and their own taxation authorities. It is these authorities,
for various reasons, that have restricted the full imposition of the Treaty on European Union that is
supposed to provide for a free flow of services across borders, but in reality does nothing of the sort.
The revenues from all forms of gambling are sizable, the number of casinos now littering the north east
of the US a testament to this, and the governments of Europe as in nearly every case loathed to provide
opportunity these revenues to be directed anywhere but towards their own coffers. This has led to some
protecting their own state run monopolies with a fearsome array of legal and technical measures, and
others throwing open the doors to one and all in a free market free for all.
To understand the complex situation for EU internet casinos we will have to look at the nations
involved and why their regulations and taxation frameworks are as they are, which is usually a mixture
of ideological bent, domestic political expediency and economic necessity – just the same as it is in the
US states that chase the bricks-&-mortar gambling tax dollar. The place to start will be with those few
EU nations that have a forward facing attitude to the industry, those four being Lativa, Malta, Finland
and the UK.
The UK is the biggest of these four leading lights, with its 2007 Gambling Act often held up as being
an example of sensible government regulation of both domestic operators and remote service providers.
These regulations provide for service provision of internet betting in the EU and specifically omits
a blacklist of nations to which UK registered operators cannot provide service. Oddly Malta, on the
other hand, is more than happy to license operators (at very reasonable tax rates) as long as they don’t
provide the service domestically.
Prohibition And Apathy
At the other end of the scale several EU nations prohibit online gambling entirely, for example
Hungary and Greece, but these are just extreme protective measures to ensure their own state monopoly
operations are protected from the competition that online casinos in the EU represent. They are by
no means alone in this desire to protect domestic, state run, gambling operations with numerous other
nations imposing various regulations negating Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union.
Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands all ban foreign operators but whilst Spain and
Belgium do so because their nations restrict gambling as a whole, in the case of France and the
Netherlands it is merely more protectionism of their own internal pre-existing gambling framework,
and the tax revenues they derive from them. Belgium protects its national lottery, France it’s “Francais
de Jeux” operation, but it amounts to the same thing.
Jurisdictions in EU varied
• More legal jurisdictions for gambling in the EU than nations
• Some prohibit online gambling entirely
• Some provide mobile casino gambling
Italy’s ban on foreign operators is technically designed to protect the state concession to the land-based
Lottomatica franchise that runs its national lottery and similar games, however there is neither the
will nor the means for this law to be enforced and is almost universally ignored. Thus it is that foreign
operators still provide services to Italian users, regardless of the law, with some even advertising their
opportunities to Italian citizens on Italian television.
In Germany the situation is even more complex in that each region of Germany is responsible for its
own gambling policies and these vary widely depending on local attitudes and regional political whim.
Many of these provide lotteries under monopoly to the authorities but there has been a move towards
a less monopolistic attitude federally in Germany as the rise of the internet so evidently isn’t to be
stopped by tiny-minded localism, however this process has proven politically tricky.
Patchwork Politics And Policies
Ireland and Sweden both allow for cross-border gambling services provided by remote or foreign
operators, but in very different ways. In Ireland the adoption of the internet by the national lottery
and the nation’s bookmakers has allowed them to enter into the market as competitors not merely
spreadsheet fodder, whilst in Sweden the activity of placing bets with foreign sites is not illegal, but
nor is it condoned, with Svenska Spel and Trav Och Galopp keen to try and retain as many domestic
players as possible.
The tiny country of Luxembourg, population barely half a million, has, when it comes to the online
world, some of the toughest EU gambling laws, with the national lottery providing games on its
website that must only be played for fun, and all other internet gambling opportunities strictly verboten.
Meanwhile Denmark has expressed concern at the possibility that foreign and remote gambling site
operators undermine their domestic taxation regime, which is diplomatic code for not wanting to lose
the money abroad.
Cyprus is almost schizophrenic in its approach in that the high rates of taxation placed on gambling
per se has led to a rise in illegal gambling over the border in the Turkish north of the island nation. The
popularity of this variety of sports gambling especially has led for calls for reform and regulation but
the austerity imposed after the fiscal collapse of 2013 means it has neither the resources or will to begin
that process of modernization as yet – although it will surely only be a matter of time given the number
of visitors that come to gamble in the Turkish sector.
The EU then is a patchwork of jurisdictions that range from the repressive to the impressive, from the
deliberately awkward to the awkwardly deliberate. The Treaty on European Union might well provide
for a harmony amongst nations of service provision, but when it comes to online gambling the sheer
quantities of money involved have made many governments loathed to get with the programme rather
than sticking with their protectionist instincts.