Online Slots Expert’s Sarah Loom takes us on a legislative trip around the world in 80 spins.
We live in a digital age, when it’s just as easy to have a video call with someone in Australia as it is to chat to the person living over the road from you. While this offers massive advantages, particularly in the field on online slots and the range of options open to players, it can also lead to some misunderstandings. It’s understandable, for example, for UK players to work on the assumption that online gambling rules are the same across the rest of the world as they are in the UK. This assumption, however, would be incorrect. In the US, for example, there is still a degree of confusion surrounding the legality of online casinos, with some states, such as New Jersey and Delaware proclaiming it legal, the like of New York and Michigan gradually making moves in the general direction of legalisation, and others maintaining the status quo.
The prohibited nature of online gambling in some US states dates back to the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 and is a prime example of legislation failing to keep up with changes in society and technology. The result of the confusion over which members of the US population have the legal right to gamble online has led to some Europe based casinos choosing not to allow US based players to enjoy their slots and other games.
To someone in the UK, which has some of the most liberal gaming laws in the world, this may all seem a trifle quaint, but there are similar restrictions and complexities to be found somewhat closer to home.
Gambling laws in the EU
Looking at the EU it’s natural to assume that a unified system is in place across all 28 member states, but this is not the case. In another example of lawmakers being left standing by shifts in technology, the EU as a whole has yet to create a unified framework for the licensing and regulation of online casinos, with the result being that the availability of online slots and the degree to which players can enjoy them differs hugely from country to country.
The Gambling Act 2005 gave the UK Gambling Commission the power to regulate and control online casinos in the UK. Another change introduced in 2014 meant that any online casino hosting UK based players, had to apply for a UK licence. The rigorous standards applying to the licence mean that any player enjoying slots in a UK licensed casino knows that they are being treated fairly, with the highest technical standards and factors such as random number generation being rigorously enforced.
The laws which surround gambling in Germany are highly complex. The country is divided in 16 Federal States, and each of these states has its own legislation on gambling, both offline and online. In 2008 a country-wide ban on online gambling was put in place, but a challenge from the European Union resulted in the state of Schleswig-Holstein creating its own gambling legislation and making online casinos (including slots) legal. To date, the parliament there has issued more than 50 operating licences, some of them to big industry names like Bet365, Betfair and Poker Stars. With elections coming soon in Germany it remains to be seen whether the positive example of Schleswig-Holstein is adopted across the rest of the country.
It would be tempting to assume that the country which invented roulette and which, in Monte Carlo, has perhaps the most iconic casino location of them all (apologies to Las Vegas) would have a relaxed attitude toward online gambling, but that’s not the case. Pressure from bricks and mortar operators resulted in online operators being prohibited from offering casino-based games such as slots, poker and roulette. In 2010 the French Regulatory Authority for Online Games, or ARJEL, was established to issue licenses to online casinos, but the only casino game included in the licenses is poker.
The laws in Italy are relatively liberal and, as is often the case, this was a situation guided by the European Commission in its efforts to create a level playing field for operators from all countries. The first change took place in 2006, when a law was passed allowing operators to provide sports betting online. This was followed in 2011 by a further change in the law which saw casino games and poker added to the licences being handed out.
Spain is the country which most closely resembles the UK in terms of the liberal nature of its online gaming laws and the way in which the licensing system is used to uphold standards and protect the players. The Spanish Gambling Act was created in 2011 and supervises the provision of online activities such as slots throughout the entire country.
The licensing system in Austria is unique in that it offers different types of licences depending upon the size of bet which players are likely to be placing. The government draws a line between what it thinks of as ‘proper’ gambling, in which large stakes might be involved, and ‘small’ gambling, which involves stakes of 50 cents or less. In simple terms, ‘proper’ gambling is allowed in land-based casinos while ‘small’ gambling is licenced for online casinos. This means that Austrian companies are allowed to set up online casinos which only Austrian citizens are allowed to access, although, at the same time, those Austrian citizens can log on to international online casinos.
The position in Belgium is that a competitive market in online gambling was enshrined in legislation in 2002, but changes were made in 2009 with the creation of a new Gambling Act. This act stated that any online casino operating within Belgium had to offer an offline option as well, with a licence for a bricks and mortar casino in the country. Online casinos attempting to offer services in Belgium without the right licence find themselves facing large fines and being placed on a blacklist circulated to that countries’ internet service providers.
The mixed picture of legislation and provision across Europe runs counter to the prevailing trend of unification which the web drives across virtually all sectors. This is probably due to the cultural and political weight which is attached to the topic of gambling in general, and the different attitudes which can be found even in countries which are relatively close together. The situation is likely to change however, thanks to the twin drivers of technology and the ease with which online casinos can be accessed, and the ambitions of the EU to create ever more unified market places. In short, players in Berlin will, sooner rather than later, be enjoying the same slots as players in Birmingham.