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Gambling was prohibited in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, between 1940-1990, as gambling was seen by the Soviets as being something from “rotten capitalism,” although they did permit state run lotteries provided the proceeds went to the Soviet government.
When Lithuania once again achieved their independence, in 1990, the free market came to dominate, and while gambling wasn’t made legal initially, it wasn’t illegal either, and therefore the law was silent on it, which had the effect of making it legal for all practical purposes. (1)
Gambling did emerge during this time though, although it was completely unregulated and untaxed, and even children were found to participate. In spite of some resistance from the Catholic Church, which explained in part the reason why it took 11 years to finally come up with a law permitting gambling, Lithuania finally regulated gambling in 2001.
The goal here was primarily to license and tax gambling establishments in Lithuania, as is generally the case with gambling regulation, although there was also the intention to place controls on it, where the government now decides what sort of gambling will be offered, and who it may be offered to.
At last count, 17 different companies are permitted to offer gambling in Lithuania, offering a full range of gambling activities, including casinos, betting halls, and bingo halls, which at last count include a total of 271 gambling establishments. (2)
As far as live poker goes, 5 of Lithuania’s 13 casinos offer live poker, across a total of 21 poker tables. (3) 4 of these poker rooms are in Vilnius, the capital and largest city, with 1 poker room in Klaipeda. So while there isn’t a whole lot of live poker in this country, if you live in or around Vilnius, you can find some decent action.
The Online Poker Landscape in Lithuania
There’s all the poker you can handle available online though, although Lithuania doesn’t have a regulated online poker scene as of yet. This far, the company that runs the lottery there is the only licensed company in Lithuania to be permitted to offer online gambling.
Lithuania doesn’t currently license companies outside Lithuania, in other words offshore operators, nor do they seek to prohibit Lithuanians from playing at these sites, as we see in some other countries.
So for now the law is silent on whether it’s legal or not to play poker for money online, and as is always the case, anything not prohibited is therefore permitted, because you can’t break laws that don’t exist yet.
So for the time being at least, Lithuanian poker players simply play at whatever poker sites they choose to, without any interference or regulation from the Lithuanian government.
Several other countries in Europe now have regulated online poker now though, and several others are seeking to put together a framework for regulating and taxing it, and we are now seeing Lithuania move toward the same goal.
In 2014, a law was drafted which took the first step toward making this all a reality. This is set up to require both local and foreign operators to participate, although foreign gambling operators would need to set up a branch of their company in Lithuania to be eligible to apply for a license to offer online gambling to Lithuanians. (4)
It is not clear exactly how substantial this branch that is needed to be set up in Lithuania needs to be, and given that Lithuania is a member of the EU, however this all cashes out, it needs to meet the approval of the European Commission. This requirement at least in spirit may conflict with the EU’s rules of free trade, so it remains to be seen if that requirement will survive to the final version, and if so whether the EU will take action against it.
So the European Commission is seeking clarification on this and other issues in the draft of the law, but providing that the Lithuanian government is willing to move ahead with this, there shouldn’t be any real reason why they cannot come up with an acceptable set of rules, as several other countries in the EU have already done.
How Regulation Might Change The Online Landscape of Poker Here
It’s too early to predict too much here, as there are a lot of variables that go into a successful online poker regulatory framework, including the compliance rates of both poker sites and online poker players.
If things aren’t set up just right, to the satisfaction of enough of the major online sites, then the project may be set up to fail, and we’ve seen a few cases of this already. If the taxation rates are too high or the rules too stringent, then poker sites might just ignore the regulations, and offer play to Lithuanians anyway. It has to be worth their while to comply in other words.
If regulation isn’t player friendly enough, then players will ignore the regulations, and simply play at non regulated sites. In a very real sense, online poker regulation is to a large degree of a voluntary nature on all sides, even though it does seek to use law to control a given market for something. This can be done fairly successfully with land based gambling, even though black markets do exist for this.
With online gambling and online poker though, governments have little control over the black market here so to speak, given the nature of the internet, so the goal here needs to be to come up with something that everyone is going to like, both sites and players alike, or at least come up with something that most will like and most will want to partake in.
Part of the proposed law is that the Lithuanian government will be looking to clamp down on unlicensed operators but what they do need to realize is that they have no real legal power to do so as far as the operators go, as they operate in other jurisdictions well beyond Lithuanian law.
As for the players, they can attempt to block them from these foreign sites but attempts to do so aren’t that successful overall. By far the best approach here is to get the regulatory scheme appealing enough that players want to play within it. We’ll have to wait and see if they are able to achieve this or not, but they do have some real work to do yet.