The Polish Ministry of Finance has announced that seven operators have applied for permission to run online betting operations in the Polish market, a development that comes as the ministry expands its controversial blacklist of foreign gambling websites.
“There are currently seven entities that have applied to receive permissions to host betting operations on the internet,” the ministry said in a statement sent to local business daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.
“Of these, three entities have their headquarters in a European Union member state or a member state of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a party of the European Economic Area agreement, and the remaining [four] are entities with their headquarters in Poland.”
The ministry has a rigidly-enforced policy of not disclosing the names of the companies that apply for licences before they are awarded, but according to local reports the three foreign applicants are Bwin, Superbet and Unibet.
Over the past few months, the finance ministry has also been updating its blacklist of foreign gambling websites, which now consists of 825 domains as of publication date. Some of the latest additions to the register include Betsafe.com, Biwinner.com, 888casino.com and driftcasino.com.
The blacklist, which was created to block access to websites that are not run by the operators licensed in Poland, became legally binding on July 1.
Under Article 15f of the amended gambling law, which partly entered into force on April 1, 2017, local Internet service providers (ISPs) are required to block access to the blacklisted websites within 48 hours of their inclusion on the register. Failure to comply with the gambling law is punishable by fines of up to PLN500,000 (€117,500).
Poland’s latest regulatory changes have been praised by local betting operators, which claim that since the passing of the amended law, their revenues and user numbers have rapidly increased.
A number of these companies are members of the Association of Employers and Employees of Betting Companies (SPiPFB), a Warsaw-based entity that earlier this year launched its own blacklist, the so-called Illegal Domains Register, before the ministry’s website became operational.
The association’s members include local players Fortuna, STS, Totolotek and Milenium.
This said, should the companies who have reportedly applied for new licences obtain permission to operate in Poland, the market could become significantly more competitive.
The first licence applications were submitted to the finance ministry in early 2016 and the government could allocate the first of the new licences in August.
The incumbent cabinet, formed by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party in late 2015, said that the gambling law will generate additional revenues for the state budget and combat these gambling activities that the government sees as “illegal”.
Among other restrictions, the law imposed a state monopoly on operating slot machines outside casinos. These operations are to be taken over by a state-owned company under the auspices of the country’s national lottery operator, Totalizator Sportowy, but to date, no such entity has been established.
Bartosz Andruszaniec, a legal advisor at the Warsaw-based law firm Legaltube, told GamblingCompliance that “geoblocking is not an efficient measure”, and that the new law could be in breach of the EU legislation.
The blacklist has also been criticised by a number of opposition lawmakers. On July 21, three MPs from the liberal Modern (Nowoczesna) Party submitted a request for information to the country’s Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Digital Affairs.
In their interpellation, MPs Paweł Kobyliński, Paweł Pudłowski and Elżbieta Stępień criticise the use of geoblocking as an inefficient measure to restrict access to foreign gambling websites, and say that the “blockade has proven to be fictional, because, after a minor payment, it is possible to use VPN tools which allow free access the [blacklisted] websites, also from Poland”.
The three lawmakers have requested detailed information from the two ministries to “make sure that this provision [of the gambling law] is not void, and the law is successfully implemented”.
“Does the ministry possess any data that would show how many times [the blacklisted websites] have been accessed despite the ban?” the document asks.
Under Polish law, the finance and digital affairs ministries are required to provide a written response to the MPs’ queries within 21 days of its receipt.
Written by Jarosław Adamowski