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Thursday, July 25, 2024

A close examination of Poland’s gambling industry

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Although some laws across the countries of Europe are roughly in line with each other, there are many areas in which individual nations choose to set their own. This can make it a little confusing for anyone trying to navigate their way through the different legal systems in play.

One area in which there is very little agreement between countries is gambling. In some, like the UK and France, the laws are reasonably liberal. In others, the regulations are far more restrictive.

There is no doubt that Poland finds itself more at the tightly regulated end of the scale. But the irony of this is that the revenue being generated by the industry greatly outstrips that of near neighbours like Croatia and Russia. This is remarkable because the former takes a far more liberal approach to gambling than Poland, while the latter’s population is almost four times the size.

Growing fast

Source: Pexels

To give some figures to back up these facts, in 2020 the Croatian gambling market generated around €350 million in revenue, while Russia generated around €600 million. But in Poland, it was estimated to be a staggering €5 billion.

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The National Bank of Poland’s president Adam Glapiński may have made a very optimistic speech in October 2021 about the strength of the Polish economy but, even so, this is a remarkable figure. What’s more, it was only as recently as 2018 that the value of the industry was thought to be around €1.8 billion, so the growth has been quite phenomenal.

Looking to the future, this expansion of the market may well accelerate even faster, so fast that many observers are unwilling to make predictions. But we can fairly safely assume that things are only going to go one way – and that’s up.

The laws that apply

But what makes it all the more incredible is that this has happened in a country that has some of the most draconian laws around gambling.

For many years all gambling was banned in Poland. But following the passing of a couple of new Acts in 2017 and 2019 respectively, the situation has been eased slightly. The 2019 Act in particular did loosen matters considerably, by opening up the possibility of gambling on slots, bingo, casino and lottery games, scratch cards and sports betting. The one caveat is that they all have to be licensed for operation in the country.

Every one of these, with the exception of land-based casinos, are state-owned, which has created a number of monopolies. For example, the very popular area of sports betting is controlled by Totalizator Sportowy, a body that also holds the only licenses available for – lotteries.

There is a rising feeling that if gambling could be freed from the shackles of state ownership then its rise could be even more meteoric, thanks to the arrival of global gambling businesses. Not only will this introduce a level of competition, but it will also provide greater choice for players.

The online question

Unlike many countries whose legislative systems are yet to really get to grips with online casinos, at least they are accounted for in Polish law.

While this might seem like good news for their fans, it only allows for the state-run versions to operate.

This means that those based outside of Poland, including many of the most respected names in the industry like 888 online casino, are technically illegal and find themselves on a blacklist of around 7,000 sites drawn up by the government. This is despite the fact that casinos like this are fully licensed and tightly regulated by their own governing jurisdictions.

It also denies players in Poland the ability to enjoy the widest possible range of games to play, as well as experience the most up-to-the-minute technology.

That said, the borderless nature of the internet does mean that many millions of Poles are able to access sites that are based outside of the country even though it is technically against the law. Fortunately, the efforts of the government seem to be more directed at limiting the operators’ activities than pursuing players who are enjoying using their services.

The UK model

Source: Pexels

There are some who believe that Poland should try to emulate the gambling model of the UK. This is one of the most liberal of regimes, as well as being very closely regulated.

The overseeing authority is called the Gambling Commission, and this has the powers to fine, and even close down, operators who are falling short of the standards set for them. In doing this, it proves that it’s possible to combine a thriving online gambling sector with close regulation.

The health of the industry in the UK is underlined by the latest figures released by the Commission for annual gross gambling yield between April 2018 and March 2019. Particularly notable is the total revenue from the online sector of £5.7 billion (€6.75 billion) – over a third of the total figure for the industry of £14.2 billion (€16.8 billion).

Looking to the future

So, while Poland may have a fair way to go before reaching these levels of revenue, the potential is definitely there. But first it will be a question of relaxing the laws considerably. Whether there is the political will, or economic impetus, to do this, we’ll just have to wait and see..

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