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Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first casino, the Coloseum Casino, was built in 2002 in Sarajevo, the country’s capital, and host of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. They do offer a little live poker there, although they only feature 2 poker tables, so the live poker action in Bosnia and Herzegovina is limited indeed.
There is certainly potential for more casinos than this, given how popular this country is to tourists, and in fact Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very popular tourist destination indeed and is also growing at a fast rate as well, and is in fact the world’s third fastest growing tourist market. (1)
While it’s certainly true that people don’t visit Bosnia and Herzegovina to gamble, people do like to gamble, and it’s probably the case that Bosnia and Herzegovina hasn’t taken full advantage of monetizing their tourist market by not offering a broader range of places for them to gamble at.
So perhaps we’ll see an expansion of live poker one day, but for now players are limited to playing at one of these two tables in Sarajevo or playing online.
There is a second casino that is in the country, so to speak anyway, The Grand Casino in Banja Luka, in the Republika Srpska, which is technically part of Bosnia and Herzegovina but is an independent political entity.(2) So while still in the same country, Republika Srpska makes its own laws concerning gambling, and they actually have their own regulated online gambling that is limited to their residents only.
The Grand Casino does offer poker of sorts, although it’s limited to forms where players play against the house and not each other, in both Ultimate Texas Poker and Caribbean Poker formats. (3)
Sports betting is particularly popular in Bosnia and Herzegovina and there are over 250 sports betting outlets around the country where players can place their bets in person. (4)
Online Poker in Bosnia and Herzegovina
With two distinct regions of the country, operating within the same country but being politically and legally autonomous, there are two distinct entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republika Srpska. Both are of similar size, comprising about half of the country each, while the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has more people, about 2.3 million to the Republika Srpska’s approximately 1.4 million, for a total population of about 3.7 million.
So this isn’t that big of a country all told compared to a lot of other countries and even if the whole country was one legal entity, 3.7 million is not a lot of people to work with as far as regulating online poker goes.
As mentioned, the Republika Srpska actually does have regulated poker running, granting its first license to land based sports betting company Williams, and now has expanded to a total of 3 online sites, all offering online gambling including online poker.
Needless to say, with 3 sites being offered to a total of only 1.4 million people, and a lot of people choosing to play online poker elsewhere, at non regulated foreign sites, these 3 sites are not very big at all and offer very little poker action compared to sites that poker players would ever want to play at.
The 3 regulated online sites that are offered in Republika Srpska are Balkan Texas, Play Rios, and W/Win. These are all domestic sites, and banking is only available through a Republika Srpska bank account, so it’s restricted to residents of the region only. (5)
There is no online gambling regulation in the other region of the country, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, at present anyway, although the government has shown a desire to restrict players from playing online at any site, and in 2013 they sought to do just that, passing a law that would force ISPs to ban online gambling sites.
There are quite a few other countries who have either tried this or are still attempting to do it, and the ISPs generally aren’t happy to comply, but in some cases they become forced to.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina though, the ISPs complained, the players complained, the foreign online poker sites complained, and for a change all of this disenchantment was not ignored, and the Bosnian courts ended up deciding not to enforce this ban.
So players are free to play online where they wish, for now anyway, and foreign online poker sites are free to offer play to residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its not that the online sites would not have continued to accept Bosnians even if this law was enforced, but this would likely result in a loss of some of their traffic, those players that the restrictions actually blocked, which would be some players who hadn’t downloaded the software yet and were not familiar with workarounds to ISP blocks. (6)
The Future of Gambling in Bosnia and Herzegovina
In the aftermath of this court decision, what did emerge is the impression that internet freedom is taken more seriously, and in a lot of cases much more seriously than it is in many other countries.
You just don’t see laws being overturned in response to public pressure towards more internet freedom, and in fact complete internet freedom was what was being claimed actually, and it was granted, at least as far as the freedom to gamble online at any site you pleased.
Seeing Republika Srpska actually license and regulate online gambling was a rather bold move when you consider just how small this area is, at least when you look at it from the perspective of poker, but in reality the main focus here is on other forms of gambling, and poker is just along for the ride so to speak.
Traffic information from these sites isn’t even available, so it’s doubtful anyone even plays at these poker rooms, and there would be no real reason to given that players in this region can simply play at any one of many poker rooms which are much more appealing and actually have real traffic at them.
It is doubtful that the other region, the Federation, will look to do the same thing, but if they do, it will probably end up being similar to what the Republik has done, with a few sites which may offer poker as well but in name only, and players in the region will no doubt continue to play at their regular haunts as they do now.
As long as the Bosnian courts are out to protect internet freedom, and they have spoken out strongly in favor of it already, then things will remain as great as they are now for Bosnian residents who like to play poker.
(2) Republika Srpska
(3) Grand Casino