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Serbia has had legalized gambling since 1964, when it was part of Yugoslavia. Prior to that, gambling has always been popular in Serbia but it was limited to what took place on the black market, and even after the new laws were created, black market gambling continued to flourish alongside the new casinos, whose reach did not extend as far as many gamblers would like.
This ended up seeing gambling being pretty much confined to its capital, Belgrade, where many betting shops and several casinos opened up, however these betting shops and casinos did not experience the same degree of success as in some other countries, possibly because casinos are often targeted more toward the tourist traffic, and Belgrade isn’t exactly one of the world’s top tourist destinations, especially during the years that the country experienced political upheaval. (1)
Up until recently, while Serbia has allowed land based betting for a long time now, there hasn’t been any regulation by the government and anyone wanting to set up a gambling venue was free to do so. Recently though gambling establishments are required to be licensed by the Serbian government, through its Games of Chance Administration.
The new law in 2011 that allowed for this also sought to heavily crack down on black market gaming, and now anyone without a license would not be allowed to offer gambling. This resulted in several big raids of gambling establishments and also resulted in the arrests of five senior gambling inspectors who were found to be taking bribes.
On the positive side of things, this new law had the benefit of putting into place a very reasonable tax structure, where a 5% tax was imposed on gambling, a fairly reasonable rate comparatively speaking. The goal here was not to dissuade companies too much and see them pull out of the market, especially since most gambling in Serbia was foreign owned.
There are a total of 42 land based casinos in Serbia at this time, which is quite a few indeed for a country of this size, with most being located in the Belgrade area but a few others found elsewhere in the country. (2) Most of the casinos here focus on slot machines and there are much fewer table games than you see in casinos in other countries.
There are a few places to play live poker in Serbia but the action is pretty limited. Only a few casinos offer poker and there are also a couple of poker only clubs but the total amount of live poker locations in Serbia is very few in number. (3)
Almost all of the poker in Serbia is played online, even more so than in some other countries, although online poker constitutes a huge percentage of the overall poker market due to its vastly superior reach and ease of play.
Online Poker in Serbia
Prior to the 2011 Serbian law regulating gambling in the country, players simply played all they want at international sites, and there was no regulated gambling in Serbia so there was no reason why online sites would seek a license in the country since none were offered or required. (4)
However, this new law did require licenses for online sites to offer play to Serbian residents, but the Serbian government certainly takes a practical approach to regulating gambling, and this extended over to the online site as well.
So the idea here was to raise some tax revenue, and the 5% tax that they levied on land based gambling extended to online gambling as well, however this doesn’t measure up at all with tax rates in genuine tax friendly jurisdictions where online gambling companies prefer to operate, and they seem to have missed taking that into account.
The other requirement of obtaining a Serbian license to offer online gambling in this country was that the company had to locate its servers in Serbia, which seems reasonable enough if the market was big enough to justify this additional expense, but this seems to be another mistake that the authorities have made in assessing things.
The new law also stipulated that non licensed online sites could be blacklisted, as it turned out, a lot of online gambling sites showed no interest in it and therefore became blacklisted.
This list included some sites that offer poker as well as other forms of gambling, and it’s said that the relative smallness of the Serbian market ended up serving as a deterrent to these companies to seek a license. (5)
So the idea of licensed online poker in Serbia sounded like a great idea on paper but so far that’s as far as the idea has gotten, and blacklists don’t work particularly well in stopping people from playing online poker anyway, as this has been attempted in quite a few other countries with limited success.
In looking at Serbia’s blacklist, there are a lot of online poker companies that aren’t being blacklisted as of yet, and among the top sites, only 888 is on the list right now, so that means that there isn’t even anything standing in the way of Serbians accessing a lot of different poker sites and therefore they still have a pretty good selection to choose from without even having to worry about workarounds to downloading software from poker sites even if their access is blocked by their ISP.
Keep in mind here that a country merely blacklisting a poker site doesn’t even mean a player can’t access it from their normal internet connection, as the blacklist must be enforced at the ISP level to have any effect, and there are no indications that anyone is being prevented from playing anywhere in Serbia right now.
So we’ll have to see where this all ends up going as time passes, and while it’s clear that Serbia wants to tax online poker, they are certainly more concerned with other forms of gambling such as casino and especially sports betting, so poker is a fairly low priority right now anyway. In the mean time, if you are a poker player in Serbia, you continue to have no trouble finding all the online poker you desire right from the comfort of your own home.
(2) Serbia Casinos