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Gambling is fully legal in Austria and is also very widely available, and Austrians are known to be particularly fond of gambling. Gambling used to be less regulated prior to 2010 when the Austrian government passed a law which tightened things up quite a bit, although only by more permissive Austrian standards and not compared to many countries that are less tolerant of gambling in general.
A lot of the new regulations pertain to who may operate gambling facilities, and only licensed operators are permitted, although this stipulation has already seen them run afoul of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which Austria is a member.
In a case where a pub was busted for running unlicensed slot machines, owned by a Czech company, the machines were seized and patrons were charged as well. One of them ended up appealing his case all the way to the EU Court, who ruled in his favor and against the restrictive Austrian laws which were found to excessively restrict competition. (1)
While this court does not have jurisdiction per se, meaning that they can’t set precedents which make Austrian law, the EU in general is influential and the EU itself can bring pressure to bear upon its member nations to comply with its regulations.
This case has to do with allowing foreign companies to operate gambling facilities in Austria and there are several countries in the EU which restricts access to companies from other countries but ones in the EU, and this certainly frowned upon by EU officials, so we may see the market open up more in the coming years which may lead to an expansion of gambling in Austria.
The whole point of the EU is to provide its members a free trade area and countries aren’t permitted to restrict competition to just domestic companies, and gambling does not constitute an exception to this in spite of many countries either wanting to maintain a state monopoly or even want to restrict access to companies residing in their own country.
Gambling Access In Austria
In spite of these restrictions, it’s not difficult at all for Austrians to find places to gamble, and this includes playing poker for money. This is particularly the case with what the government terms “small gambling,” which involve wagers of 50 cents or less, and such wagering isn’t restricted in the same way as “proper gambling” is, gambling with wagers over this amount. (2)
There are also a total of 15 casinos in Austria where one may partake in “proper gambling,” with 8 of them offering live poker, with a total of 48 poker rooms spread across them. (3)
The dress code is still pretty strict at these establishments, even though it’s been loosened up lately, formal attire is no longer mandatory but it’s suggested that men wear a suit and tie, and the dress codes here are certainly still more strict than you see at casinos in other parts of the world. (5)
In spite of not allowing foreign companies to operate casinos in Austria, Austrian gambling companies are not restricted to just offering gambling in Austria, and land based Casinos Austria is one of the largest casino operators in the world, with 32 casinos in 11 different countries. They also have an online presence as well. (4)
Online Poker In Austria
Austria’s regulations do permit Austrian based online gambling, subject to licensing restrictions, which include the stipulation that these companies may only offer play to Austrian residents.
That may be fine when it comes to casino or sports betting action, but this does not fit particularly well with online poker, as Austria does have a decent sized population of 8.4 million, but that’s still a long ways off from countries like France, Italy, and Spain who have managed a somewhat workable domestic online poker market.
Players in these countries are also restricted to playing against players from their own country only, but the countries are much larger, and some say still not large enough though to provide the player base that a lot of players require, particularly very active ones who like to play a lot of tables at once.
So even in these situations, a lot of players do not find regulated poker to have an appealing enough player base, and about half of all players balk at it and play at unregulated foreign sites instead.
So when you take a country the size of Austria, this magnifies this problem, and when you add in the fact that, while these other countries do their best to restrict their residents from playing at these foreign based poker sites, blocking access at the ISP level and the like, it’s perfectly permissible for Austrians to play at these offshore poker sites, there’s actually no reason why anyone would want this.
So given all of this, and the fact that if a poker company were to offer licensed online poker in Austria they would be subject to a higher taxation rate than they enjoy by operating in the most tax friendly of jurisdictions, it’s no surprise that regulated online poker in Austria exists only in theory.
Austria has certainly won favor with the EU for not looking to restrict online poker play to Austrian licensed online poker sites, which there are none, but in doing this, there is no reason at all for companies to seek Austrian licenses nor is there any reason for players to want this to happen either, or to want to play at such poker sites if they did exist.
So the situation here, from the perspective of Austrian players, is actually perfect. It probably doesn’t hurt that some of the biggest online gambling companies in the world are Austrian, such as Bwin, and these companies no doubt have some real clout, and they would prefer things to stay just as they are as well.
So in this case the pressure to maintain the status quo and to keep what is essentially an open market isn’t just coming from outside the country, from the EU and from these foreign companies, it is to an extent coming from within Austria as well, which may influence why the government has taken a hands off approach to offshore gambling.
In any event, no change is needed here as the online market operates beautifully right now and Austrian players can simply play poker wherever they want with no restrictions. This is as good as it gets.
(5) Austria Casinos