Gambling in Poland really took off after the breakup of the USSR, where it flourished for a number of years without really much impeding it in the way of laws or regulations. Then, in 2010, the Polish government passed a pretty restrictive piece of legislation which still permitted gambling but did so under fairly tight restrictions.
The 2010 legislation primarily targeted land-based gambling operations, but it was quickly followed by further legislation in 2011 which dealt with online gambling more specifically. (1)
So there still are casinos operating in Poland, a total of 25 in fact spread around the country, with 20 of them offering live poker across a total of 55 poker tables. So we’re talking very small poker rooms in general, but Polish residents still do have access to legal and regulated live poker if they choose. (2)
The current law in Poland does not sit well with the European Commission though, and since Poland is now a member of the European Union, they are at least subject to the opinion and the rulings of the European Commission.
The Commission has been active in the last few years in looking to convince other member countries to loosen up their gambling laws, especially in countries that have set up monopolies on gambling, as this is seen as an undue restraint on the free trade atmosphere that is at the forefront of the European Union.
The main problem that officials have with the Polish regulations is that they have been found to be too restrictive as far as the issuing of licenses is concerned, particularly the requirements for companies to essentially be Polish to qualify. (3)
There’s little doubt that current regulations have stifled the Polish gambling market, and pressure has been brought to bear on the Polish government for them to relax this, and there has been some success that has been achieved here.
Countries in the EU don’t enjoy quite the autonomy here that countries normally enjoy, meaning making whatever laws pertaining to gambling that they see fit, as the EU does have some latitude in prescribing how business is conducted in a member country, to some degree, even though countries affected often object to this. Over time though the pressure that the EU can bring to bear is something that at least has an influence on things and ultimately they can force the countries to comply, although the process is usually a pretty lengthy one.
So it’s been over 4 years now since the new Polish regulations have been in effect and some progress has been made already. In 2014 Polish officials relented in allowing payment processors such as Neteller and Skrill to be used as payment processors for online gambling transactions, which at least made it more convenient for Polish players to move money in and out of gambling sites, so some progress is being made here at least. (4)
Online Poker in Poland
The Polish Gambling Act of 2011 prohibits online poker altogether and the only online gambling it permits is sports betting at one of four licensed online sites. While they did relent lately as far as what payment processors they allow for online gambling, the regulations do not accommodate licensing any Polish sites for poker, as poker is seen as a game of chance as casino games are, as opposed to sports betting which is seen as more of a game of skill.
People have argued that poker should be seen as a game of skill as well, although thus far these arguments have fallen upon deaf ears in the Polish government. While this debate goes on, less than 10% of Polish players play at Polish licensed online sites, and it is said that the government is missing out on about €142 million in lost tax revenues due to their unwillingness to regulated and tax online gambling in general. (5)
The regulations concerning the expanded list of payment processors don’t just apply to Polish licensed online sites, they apply to any site in the European Union, as this change was brought on by pressure from the EU and the EU’s stance has always been to open up markets to any EU company, and this applies to online gambling as well.
So the Polish government is now placed in a situation where almost all online gambling in Poland, including all online poker, takes place at sites outside the country, and they not only have to tolerate it and miss out on potential tax revenues, they now have been forced to assist them in making it easier for Polish players to move money in and out of these foreign gambling sites.
As far as Polish online poker players go, they couldn’t be happier with the way things are now really, or at least they should feel this way, as this is really the best of outcomes for them. They can now have their transactions processed more easily, play where they want, and not have the sites they play at be subject to either ring fencing where they would then only be able to play against other players from Poland, severely effecting the player pool available in a negative way, and/or have the poker sites they play at be subject to the higher tax rate that Poland would certainly impose over the tax rate that the poker sites pay now in their much friendlier tax jurisdictions that they are currently in.
So Poland may continue to “ban” online poker as it does now, but this ban really has little practical effect, as players continue to play on these sites, and there’s not a whole lot that the Polish government can do to stop them. As long as people have an internet connection and poker sites will accept them, as they do now, they will play and play when and where they want.
So whether or not the EU continues to put pressure on Poland to relax their stance on online poker, or whether or not the government comes to their senses more and realizes that they are the real loser here, online poker is very alive and well in Poland and there’s no reason why this won’t continue to be the case regardless.
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