Poker is a very popular game in Germany, even more so than in a lot of other countries. There is said to be about a quarter of a million Germans that play live poker regularly, which is a very impressive number considering the relative lack of ability to play live poker compared to, say, online poker where anyone with internet access can partake in it.
There are a total of 17 different poker rooms spread across Germany, although most of them only have one or just a few poker tables. (1) Not long ago, live poker was limited to play at one of these casinos, and casino gambling is pretty big in Germany as they have a total of 76 of them.
The authorities in Germany haven’t been shy about looking to bust up unauthorized poker games though, which was any game that didn’t occur at a licensed casino, until recently that is.
In early 2014 the German courts ruled that while gambling outside of casinos is illegal generally, small buy in tournaments of €15 or less do not violate the law and can be now considered to be legal. (2)
The ruling did stipulate that the buy in money must mostly be used to run the event and not be primarily redistributed among the players, but anyone that knows anything about poker tournaments know that most of the money does get redistributed, as that’s the point of playing in them basically, to earn prize money for finishing well. However in practice this point doesn’t matter as these small buy in tournaments are now permitted regardless of any such technicalities.
So this has resulted in an expansion of poker now beyond what the casinos offer and live poker has now become even more popular in Germany overall. In spite of the smallness of the stakes, the growth of these tournaments has been pretty impressive and they have caught on pretty well already.
Online Poker In Germany
Gambling law in Germany has been decided and implemented historically at the state level, as it is in the United States as well for instance. Among the 16 states, it is said that 15 of them do not permit online poker, even though online poker may not specifically be mentioned in the laws.
This is most often not necessary though as if there is a law that states that playing poker for money is illegal, the fact that you played it online rather than at a live event is generally not material, unless the laws specifically defined the illegal playing as requiring live play or its elements.
Generally though, prohibitions against gambling are more general, for instance it may state that it is illegal to wager on a game of chance or games that involve chance, poker involves at least an element of chance, therefore it is illegal to wager at poker, and this would be true regardless of whether it was done online or not, since you’re still wagering on this game if you do so online.
In the end though it’s not what the law says, it’s how the law is applied that matters. So no one has ever been charged with playing online poker for money in Germany, and this is an extremely difficult thing to enforce, and we could even say that these laws are virtually unenforceable in normal circumstances anyway.
If a German resident claimed income from playing online poker though that might be a different matter, as this would amount to an admission of guilt, and while up until recently residents did not have to claim gambling revenue as income, professional poker players now do, given that it is seen as an act of skill in the way that other professions are.
However, it’s unlikely that anyone would be charged by this by virtue of reporting income as this would clearly serve to discourage others from claiming this income, where if they don’t they might get charged with a crime but if they do they will get charged and have to pay the taxes as well.
So in spite of this change, there still hasn’t ever been anyone charged with this in Germany, and that is likely to continue as the country continues to work out possible further changes that may enhance their ability to obtain even more tax revenue from this market.
The Future of Online Poker in Germany
At the present time, German online poker players simply play wherever they want and online poker sites are more than willing to accept their business. This is really a non issue right now in spite of whatever laws the state that you live in may have on the books regarding this.
German authorities would like to block access to online gambling sites, however, ISPs generally are not fond of doing so although in some other countries the courts have forced them to comply. This is not the case in Germany though as the courts have come in on the side of the ISPs who claim they are not responsible for the specific content they provide. (3)
So Germany decided to come up with federal legislation to look to bring things together, which has resulted in the Interstate Treaty On Gambling of 2012. This is more of a treaty than a law, thus the name, and the states do still retain the final say on these matters although the aim of this was to get them to agree on certain common standards and rules. (4)
There have been many criticisms of this treaty, notably the European Commission as well, due to it being too narrow in scope and in particular only really dealing with sports betting and not even concerning itself with online poker or online casino games. It also does not appear to be effective even within the sports betting market.
Given the fact that gambling in Germany is still predominantly a state-legislated affair, this makes a comprehensive country wide regulatory scheme much more difficult than in other countries where the federal government solely controls it and can create and enact regulations and laws without having to gain the agreement of anyone else.
German players aren’t complaining at all though as this is probably as close to an ideal situation as you could ever ask for, with them being able to play online unfettered by government interference and for the most part not having to pay any taxes at all as a result of their play. So players in Germany are certainly in no hurry for changes and relish the idea that such changes would be so difficult.
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