On 29 January 2019, the Slovak parliament adopted a new Gambling Act. Among other new provisions, one of the most significant announcements is that the state monopoly on online casino games has been abolished. In other words, the new Gambling Act opens Slovakia's online gambling market and allows private companies, as well as online operators based in other EU markets, to apply for licences to run online casino games.
Traditional land-based gambling and online betting have already been open to the private sector for some time. However, with the growing importance of the internet in every industry, Slovakia has now decided to further open itself to the global internet gaming market with online casinos as well. This change is subject to licensing and other generally strict regulations in order to maintain a “healthy” gambling environment in Slovakia and to ensure vulnerable persons (e.g. those under 18) are protected. A similar approach can be seen in many European countries.
In order to obtain an online licence, the gambling operator will have to meet several required standards and conditions, such as having its registered office in Slovakia or another EU member state, translating internet games into the Slovak language, checking players’ age and identity and displaying ‘warning’ messages.
On an international level, this step is welcomed as the Slovak market will be open to foreign operators, and regulating this business activity will better protect players than territory-wide censorship. The old Gambling Act may limit the well-established and most responsible operators, but it is also far less effective in shutting out the smaller and lesser known operators on the black market.
The licence fee for online gambling will vary based on the type of game being played. For example, an application licensing fee for an online casino is set at EUR 3 million, and a dual licensing fee for online casino games and online betting is set at EUR 5 million. In addition, online gambling operators will be subject to levies (a gambling tax), just like any other licensed gambling providers. The levies for online casino providers are 22% of annual Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR). The government defends this tax with the argument that it aims to license only solid and well-established operators, and that the money will go towards funding the regulation of the industry.
The ‘blacklist’ and censorship of the websites of non-licensed gambling operators, which was issued under the old Gambling Act, will remain active under the new regime.
It is expected that the Gambling Act should come into force on 1 March 2019, with licensing for online casino gambling available from 1 July 2019 (applications may be submitted as of 1 March).
Many gambling operators are already adjusting their business strategies in anticipation. In fact, the Slovak media recently reported that some online gambling operators have pre-emptively and temporarily withdrawn from the Slovak internet in order to avoid being blacklisted as a blacklisted operator is not allowed to apply for a licence for 12 months, and will be barred from entering the market.