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The government of Macedonia takes an active role in licensing and regulating their legalized gambling, and gambling is very popular in this country. In spite of only having a population of about 2 million people, there are 7 casinos in the country, 4 of which offer live poker, although there’s only a total of 9 poker tables in the country. (1)
These aren’t large casinos by any means, and there’s less than 9,000 square feet of casino floor space in total in Macedonia, so these are fairly small operations by global standards, but the action is widespread, covering 5 different cities.
Gambling is very popular in Macedonia, especially among people under 25, although people of all ages gamble here. (2) Sports betting is particularly popular, with countless betting shops scattered throughout the country.
Macedonia has heavily bet upon gambling to look to improve their struggling economy, starting back in 1991 when the country achieved their independence during the breakup of Yugoslavia. They brought in a big investor from Sweden, Lars King, who built their first casino and the government was pretty excited about the benefits that gambling would bring to their economy. (3)
King has since been kicked out of the country for cheating the government out of millions of dollars, although his family still runs the casino. Since then the government has set their sites on other international investors and companies which has resulted in an expansion of the gambling scene here, with further expansion set in the coming years.
The casino gambling here is particularly targeted towards tourists, especially those from Turkey and Greece. Locals are allowed to play as well, although they do require special passes from the casino operators, which limits playing at casinos to the more wealthy f Macedonians.
Since Macedonia is a fairly poor country, this does tend to exclude most of the population from casino action, but fortunately there are a lot of other opportunities to gamble in Macedonia, especially online, where all you need is an internet connection, a computer or other device to connect to it, and of course the cash to play, and you are good to go.
Macedonia Seeks To Restrict and Regulate Online Gambling
Macedonia is one of the many countries concerned with the outflow of money from their residents to foreign online gambling companies, which actually takes two forms. The first form is governments not wanting money spent on gambling to flow out of the country at all, where the strategy becomes simply to try to block people’s access and participation in offshore gambling as much as possible, which in practice can only be achieved to a limited degree due to the nature of the internet.
This does serve to work fairly well though as in order to play at an offshore gambling site you either have to download their software or play directly at their website, and both require access to an offshore gambling site’s website.
So many countries seek to block access by disallowing internet service providers to provide access to either specific gambling websites, in other words blacklisting them, or by providing filters where certain websites captured by the filters will be blocked.
The second approach seeks to tax online gambling and only block operations outside the sphere of taxation and regulation that is used, in other words you can play but we only want you to play on the websites we regulate so you can pay tax to us.
Some countries have this regulation in place without looking to prevent anyone from going outside the system, but others look to both tax and block so to speak, and this is the road that Macedonia is going down.
So they have set up a partnership with Casinos Austria, a leading provider of land based casinos in several European countries, and granted them a monopoly to provide online gambling in Macedonia, and are looking to block access to all other online gambling sites. (4)
This is an ambitious project in fact, perhaps more so than the officials in Macedonia originally realized, as it’s not as easy to keep people away from online gambling as some people think.
This has also managed to get them out of favor with the European Commission, who have already expressed their displeasure with this scheme, and while Macedonia isn’t currently a member of the EU, they are hoping to be admitted soon, and this will not help their application, nor will it be tolerated if they are admitted.
There are also concerns about excessive use of censorship here, as there always is when people are denied access to websites, so this may end up being more of a political issue than the government of Macedonia would want.
Online Poker in Macedonia
One of the features of this monopoly with Casinos Austria is that this will tend to focus on casino games primarily and not on online poker, and even if they were interested in setting up a vibrant online poker site, they simply do not have the means to pull this off.
There’s no way a country like Macedonia could manage a thriving online poker scene with the focus just on domestic players, as the market is simply way too small for that to work out very well at all.
They could manage a small poker room perhaps if people were successfully kept away from the much larger offshore online poker sites, but this isn’t even reasonable to expect, and those who really wish to play poker will simply find a way to do it, and it isn’t even that difficult to do, as players have found in even more restrictive countries such as China, where anyone who wishes to play online poker can manage to do so by connecting to the internet outside China though a virtual network.
So while there is a storm of sorts brewing in Macedonia on the online poker front, with some thunder clouds on the horizon, players need to realize that in the end it’s mostly thunder with very little lightning and if they wish to still play online poker they can still do it without a lot of inconvenience.
The major weapon countries have in this battle is on the financial side, as what happened in the U.S. and is still going on, but even that can be overcome, and it hasn’t come to that yet in Macedonia.