Online Gambling Law in Europe
It would require an encyclopedia to cover all the gambling laws across all of Europe in full detail. Depending on how you define "Europe," the region consists of at least 50 nations. Each nation has a unique set of gambling laws and some nations are further divided into smaller regions with their own laws.
Instead of trying to cover every last nation, we're going to look at the big picture in Europe. This should give you a pretty decent look at the overall legal climate for gambling in Europe. From there, we recommend digging deeper in to the laws of your specific country.
We would also like to warn you up front that we'll be making a few generalizations about gambling in Europe. Most countries fall in line with these generalizations, but there are always exceptions. It's best to consult a lawyer if you have any questions about the legality of placing bets or getting involved in the business of gambling where you live.
The EU itself has addressed some e-gaming issues but individual member states are mostly free to pursue their own gambling destinies. It will probably be a long time (if ever) before we see any sort of blanket EU-wide framework for gambling.
Further complicating matters, there are numerous well-documented instances of the EU conflicting with individual member nations. In 2013, the EU opened infringement proceedings against six countries for their anti-competitive gambling laws. The rules of the EU allow member states to draft their own gambling laws, but up to the limit free movement of goods and services within the EU.
You can read more about the EU's role and stance on gambling at the European Commission website on gambling here.
The Big Picture
Although most European nations have at least addressed internet gaming, most nations don't care much about anything the individual gambler does. If your only goal is to play a few games or bet on a few matches, you're most likely not going to get in trouble. The majority of European nations simply don't care what you do as an individual.
What European countries do care about is the business of gambling. What this means is most nations have a strong stance on those who run bookmaking or casino operations. If you're interested in starting your own online casino or bookmaker, you most definitely need to consult with an experienced attorney before you do anything of the sort.
In some countries, the market is open to private enterprise provided operators qualify for the required licenses. This is the case in the UK, which has a healthy and robust gambling industry. Other countries criminalize everything except state-owned monopolies.
Countries that use the state monopoly system tend to have weak gambling industries and poor options for players. The monopolies have absolutely zero competition and therefore have little incentive to innovate or provide customers with anything other than bare-bones gambling games.
Let's take a closer look at a few of the bigger markets in Europe.
The United Kingdom has the freest gambling industry in all of Europe. Private operators can obtain licenses and offer all forms of gambling to people inside the UK.
Read more here.
Up until 2010, Italy blocked all access to online gambling sites other than two sites managed by national sports and racing organizations. The EU launched proceedings against Italy in 2003 and seven years later, Italy opened its doors to online gambling. The government licensing committee (AAMS) is responsible for granting licenses to operators that show they can run a safe and stable gambling site.
Germany's online gambling regulations are a mess right now. The country bans most forms of online gambling, although at least one state within Germany started issuing licenses and then revoked those licenses a year later and started over the process. It's a mess on all levels in Germany.
Everything except sports betting is officially banned in Poland. Since 2011, local companies can apply for a license to provide online sports betting within Poland. Only a few companies have actually gone through the process and received licenses. Despite Poland's harsh stance on online gambling, it's a massive industry there with many citizens playing at foreign gambling sites.
Gambling licenses are granted in France to companies that wish to offer sports betting, horse betting, and poker. The licensing process is rigorous, and it doesn't include casino-style gaming, but most major poker sites do have a presence in France.
Those Who Live Under Prohibition
Many European countries have at least partial bans on certain forms of online gambling. The problem is that these bans aren't effective. Anyone in Europe can visit any number of foreign gambling sites to play in real money games. It's as easy as running a few searches on Google. In fact, several of our top gambling sites accept players from most parts of Europe.
We can tell you this much: online gambling is a multi-billion dollar a year industry in Europe. What we won't tell you is that it's OK to break the law. We don't know the laws of your home country so we don't want to give you bad advice. You need to read about the laws of the country in which you live so you can determine if it's safe to gamble online.
Having said that, most of you are perfectly safe betting online at any of the major sites mentioned above. Most governments have no interest in going after people who merely place bets online.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015