For the better part of the 20th century, gambling has been banned in Switzerland, as the government passed a law back in 1921 outlawing it in all forms. This isn’t to say that no gambling took place during this time but it certainly wasn’t permitted out in the open.
As more and more countries liberalized their stance toward gambling, a change finally took place in 1993 where limited amounts of gambling were permitted by the passing of a new law by the Swiss government. This new law allowed for limited stakes casino gambling, and seven years later, we saw another law passed, in 2000, which opened things up for unlimited stakes casino gambling. (1)
There are now a total of 19 different casinos in Switzerland, spread around the country in 19 different cities, and 8 of them offer live poker, although there is only a total of 15 poker rooms in the entire country. (2)
So aside from home games, which generally are informal and for fairly small stakes, which take place under the radar, Swiss residents have very limited access to live poker, even though poker is a very popular game in the country.
The people of Switzerland do love to gamble and over half of the population do so regularly, and almost half have played at a casino before. This does extend over into playing poker for money and the interest here is pretty broad based as well. (3)
Thus far, live gambling in Switzerland is limited to casinos which do attract a fair bit of interest and business but are nowhere as appealing overall as online poker is. So the live poker rooms have had to compete over the past decade and a half with online poker rooms and while the two don’t necessarily compete with each other very much, as casinos do appeal to a certain clientele, and offer a unique experience that isn’t really available online, for whatever reason live poker hasn’t really grown much at all in this country.
Online Poker in Switzerland
Online poker, on the other hand, is very readily available to anyone in Switzerland with a computer and an internet connection. While it’s not exactly legal to partake in online poker for money in Switzerland, the government has come to the very sound realization that they aren’t going to be able to stop it anyway, so they don’t even try, unlike we see in several countries where the government seeks to block access, which may slow it down somewhat but doesn’t serve to influence the degree of its participation very much.
On the other hand, there has been a lot of resistance by the Swiss government to regulate online gambling as the feeling has been that this will negatively impact its land based gambling, and in particular, reduce overall the tax revenues that they collect. (4)
So there’s now a movement to look to legalize and regulate online gambling, including online poker. The Swiss government is currently in the drafting stage where the details are being worked out, and the thinking now is that online gambling regulation will likely increase and not decrease tax revenues overall, and that online gambling goes on anyway, so they might as well collect some additional revenue from it.
Their view here has been colored a lot by their focus on casino gambling and they therefore aren’t accounting for or being able to appreciate the particular dynamics of online poker, which are quite different from casino gambling.
With casino gambling, it is the player against the casino, so the player pool doesn’t matter, for instance it doesn’t matter if an online casino site just accepts players from Switzerland.
So that does seem to be the goal thus far, to limit licenses to Swiss companies and only allow Swiss players to play on these licensed sites. (5) That might make sense for casino games but with poker, this country does not have the population and the player pool to allow for a vibrant enough poker scene to be able to compete with the international sites, and that’s exactly who they would be taking on here.
What The Future May Look Like For Online Poker
If there’s nothing to stop Swiss online poker players from playing at sites like Poker Stars, and especially if they aren’t prepared to let these big sites even try to come up with a viable Swiss only site, as Poker Stars has done in other countries, albeit significantly larger ones like France and Italy, then Swiss regulated poker will be going head to head with these big sites, and there’s really no reason why anyone would choose to play on a Swiss regulated online poker site.
So this idea is pretty much dead in the water at the drafting stage, or at least the idea as it’s currently put forth. The Swiss have already accepted the fact that they can’t really stop online gambling and online poker playing at international sites, so unless they can come up with a viable alternative to this, then there’s really no chance the poker end of things will work, even though the casino side of things might work at least reasonably well, due to the increased ability for these domestic casino sites to promote themselves in Switzerland.
The only solution that makes any sense really in a country the size of Switzerland, with a population of only about 8 million people, is to look to come up with a scheme similar to what Denmark has, which allows for players to be tagged for taxation purposes but does not limit them to playing against one another and therefore provides them with the access to the large player pools they want and need.
Whether that happens at some point is yet to be determined, and it very well may be that Switzerland will proceed with their current plans to regulate online gambling and limit it to Swiss companies, something that the EU will not be fond of by the way, and then learn the hard lesson on the poker side anyway that this simply is not a workable solution.
It may also be that they will ignore poker entirely and therefore just let things proceed as they are now, with players playing anywhere they want, without the government even trying to restrict them. That’s probably the best result from a Swiss online poker player’s perspective anyway, although this is going to deny the government some potential tax revenue, but players aren’t lining up to pay more taxes so they are pretty content anyway now.
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