For residents of Poland, playing blackjack, slots, poker and other forms of gambling over the internet for real money at any website that lacks Polish regulation has been considered illegal for the last five years. However, despite strong criticism from the European Union, officials are planning to take it one step further. Where the government originally chastised illegal offshore operators for accepting Polish players, authorities are now threatening to penalize the players themselves for accessing illegal online gambling sites.
The Ministry of Finance issued a statement on its website that revealed the results of an in-depth investigation into ‘illegal’ online gambling. According to that statement, they’ve complied information on approximately 24,000 people they say gamble over the internet. Of those 24,000, nearly three-fourths of them (17,700) have won a combined total of PLN 27 million (USD $8mm). The Ministry further asserted that they are already in the early stages of a criminal investigation in hopes of prosecuting at least 1,100 of the country’s largest winners who partook in illegal online blackjack, slots, poker and other gambling related websites that aren’t regulated in Poland.
This news comes 5 years after an online gambling scandal that rocked the government to its core in 2009. At that time, legislators were looking to amend the current gaming laws, including those related to interactive gaming. However, it turned into a huge debacle, now known as the ‘Blackjack Scandal’, wherein certain ministers and political figureheads were fired by Prime Minister Tusk for attempting to earn payoffs by swaying the literature of the new bill in favor of the gambling industry.
By the time the year was out, Poland had passed a law that made it illegal for any iGaming operator to accept Polish players without first obtaining a proper license from the Ministry. There were lots of requisites attached the regulations. The operator must be physically located and headquartered in the country, and the websites must end in the region’s .pl domain suffix. Any monetary transaction would be required to facilitate through a Polish bank. Moreover, a tax rate of 12% was imposed for all licensed operators. At that time, it was the highest online gambling tax in all of Europe.
Due to the strict regulations, only four operators (Fortuna Entertainment, Milenium, STS and Totolek) bothered to apply for a license to deliver interactive blackjack and other gambling activities within the country. Ever since, the European Union has condemned regulators in Poland and other regions with similar legislation for what it calls a breach of free trade agreements among EU states (Article 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
In the meantime, it’s been estimated that just 9% of the Polish online gambling community actually plays among the four sites regulated in the state. The Polish market is said to be valued at approximately $1.5 billion per annum, which translated to $178 million the government is losing in tax dollars each year.
A bill that circulated in June could have worked to help solve the problem more amicably, being geared towards permitting offshore operators to accept Polish players, so long as they maintained an office in the region for tax purposes. That bill since stalled, resulting in the Ministry’s use of scare tactics to threaten individuals into obeying the law. Whether the state will actually follow through with the prosecution of individual online gambling winners is unknown.