Famed for its stately castles, picturesque landscapes, and delicious food, the Republic of Poland is home to one of the most restrictive gambling regulations in the whole of Europe. Despite the harsh regulatory regime in the country, players from the birthplace of Chopin love to gamble recreationally.
A report published by the Polish economic newspaper Puls Biznesu showed that Polish residents were spending more money on gambling than on medical services and alcoholic beverages in 2008. The Warsaw newspaper predicted the local gambling industry’s worth will equal that of the mobile telecommunications sector in the years to follow.
Slot machines are the most widespread form of gambling in the country but lotteries also enjoy huge popularity among Polish gamblers. Lotto.pl is the most popular gambling site in Poland, with over 3.7 million registrants as of March 2020.
Both online and landbased gambling are legal on Polish soil. However, the tough regulatory framework has driven most betting operators out of the country and has hindered the development of the entire gambling sector. From the perspective of private gambling operators, the vague, yet harsh requirements of the Polish regulators are next to impossible to abide by.
Laws Governing the Landbased Gambling Sector in Poland
All forms of legal gambling in Poland are governed by the Act on Gambling Games that was enforced in November 2009. The Act (known as Ustawa z dnia 19 listopada 2009 r.) regulates casino gaming, slot machines, bingo games, lotteries, and mutual wagering on sports, or zakłady wzajemne in Polish. Games that lack an element of chance are not within the scope of this Act.
Online Gambling Regulations in Poland
Offering online gambling services to Polish residents was illegal until amendments were made to the 2009 Act on Gambling Games. Prior to the legalization, local players resorted to gambling online at offshore websites. Online gambling enjoyed such immense popularity that the country’s Ministry of Finance even threatened to prosecute nationals who engaged in such activities on foreign sites.
However, the threat was aimed at Polish residents who gamble professionally and not at those who play recreationally as a hobby for nominal prizes. So far there have been no reported instances of Polish players being penalized for playing at offshore online casinos. The changes were introduced on December 16, 2016, when interactive gaming became legal in the country. Under the new rules, arranging chance-based games over the Internet is subject to a state monopoly.
Exceptions are only made for betting and promotional lotteries. These can be operated by private entities as long as they obtain valid licenses from the Polish authorities. It is the Polish Prime Minister’s responsibility to exercise the state monopoly.
Also specified in the amendments are the requirements operators must meet to organize online gambling, along with the taxes they must pay. Licenses for online gambling are granted to joint-stock or limited-liability companies that have registered offices on the territory of the Republic of Poland.
Polish authorities issue several types of licenses for the provision of gambling products. Running landbased gambling operations requires a separate license and so does offering sports betting products. As for online gambling, private companies can offer only mutual wagering and lotteries upon receiving their permits, as required. At the present moment, there is a single operational online casino in the country. It is called Total Casino and is run by the government-owned Totalizator Sportowy.
When applying for a license, online operators are required to provide the Polish authorities with a set of documents. However, the Polish Act on Gambling Games does not contain clear information regarding the content of these documents. The licensing process itself is cumbersome and time-consuming. Formally, the procedure takes around half a year although there is a good chance this period can be extended by the local regulators.
Another condition that must be met is for the applicants not to have had their permits revoked for violations within the past six years before the submission date. The Polish regulator also considers the reputation of the applying companies’ board members and shareholders. Permits are not granted to individuals who have criminal records in member states of the European Union.
Legal Gambling Age and Protection of Vulnerable Players
As is the case in all jurisdictions where such activities are adequately regulated, the Polish authorities strictly prohibit the provision of gambling services to underage individuals. The legal age for gambling in this jurisdiction is 18 years old. The requirements for ensuring responsible gambling are listed under Article 15 of the Act on Gambling Games (page 15).
Licensed operators are expected to provide information about the dangers associated with gambling alongside information about the organizations that can help vulnerable customers to overcome their addiction. Mechanisms should be in place to help players exercise greater control over their gaming sessions.
Another requirement is to have tools that prevent players from continuing their sessions after they have exhausted their entire budget. Of course, the operators, both state-owned and private ones, are expected to conduct detailed verification to ensure each customer is of legal age before they are granted access to the gambling services. Notices should be displayed in prominent locations to warn patrons no individuals under 18 years old are permitted on the gaming floor.
Rules on Advertising
According to Article 29 of the Act on Gambling Games (page 40), it is “forbidden to advertise or promote cylindrical games, card games, dice games, games on gaming machines and betting.” The next section of the article clarifies that exceptions are made for the advertising of betting activities with a permit on condition the ads do not target minors.
Also, the ads should not present gambling as a way to relax or solve one’s financial or personal issues. Another condition stipulates the operators’ advertisements should not encourage citizens to make larger bets for the purpose of increasing their odds of winning cash prizes. Gambling commercials on radio and television are strictly prohibited between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm. No such ads can be printed on the covers of magazines and newspapers.
The advertising of such products can be conducted only on condition it contains clearly displayed messages that warn about the social and financial risks associated with participating in gambling activities.
Measures against Unauthorized Gambling Operators
The Polish government takes the violation of its gambling laws extremely seriously. The local authorities are ready to go to great lengths to restrict the access to unauthorized gambling sites that target players from the country. One very good example of this is a measure that came into force in the summer of 2017.
The Polish authorities launched a public register that contains the domains of offshore operators that service local players without permits. Access to the register is readily available to all Polish nationals. The local Internet service providers are bound by Polish law to restrict the access to all gambling sites that have been added to the public register.
Article 15 of the Act on Gambling Games (page 21), states that the block should occur within a period of two days following the domains’ entry into the database. With that said, offshore operators are granted the right to submit objections within two months after their domains have been added.
Special measures are also in place to prevent the funding of terrorist organizations and money laundering. Under the provisions of the Act on Gambling Games, all authorized gambling companies are required to present anti-money laundering documents to prove the legality of their funds.
Remote gambling operators must offer only banking solutions that allow for the verification of the transferred funds’ sources. These include debit and credit cards and bank transfers. There are no specific regulations on cryptocurrencies for the time being.
Gambling Regulators in Poland
Online and landbased gambling forms are regulated by the Minister of Finance. The Polish market lacks a separate gambling regulatory entity for the time being. It is the Ministry of Public Finance that issues casino and betting licenses to the approved operators. The Minister of Finance has the power to revoke licenses upon establishing gambling businesses operate contrary to Polish law.
The Minister of Finance also has the right to interfere upon request and determine whether a given activity should be considered a form of gambling or not. Lesser regulatory powers are also assigned to the National Revenue Administration (NRA). The latter is an administrative body mandated with the oversight of tax and customs duties. The NRA also deals with the issuance of most of the administrative penalties in case of breaches of the licensing conditions.
Poland has an underdeveloped gambling sector that largely remains closed to foreign competition. As a result, Polish gamblers have no other choice but to resort to gambling on offshore websites, provided they have not yet been added to the blacklist of the Ministry of Finance. Most private gambling operators are reluctant to apply for valid Polish licenses because of the severe regulatory conditions in the country. Hopefully, Poland will amend its harsh stance on gambling in the future and give local players a choice from a greater number of locally authorized websites.