The Act of 19 November 2009 on Gambling Games (the Act), which is the main act regulating gambling activities in Poland, specifies four forms of 'gambling games': games of chance, betting, card games and slot machine games.2 Each of these forms is further defined in the Act.3
Games of chance cover all 'games, including games organised via the internet, for cash or in-kind prizes, the result of which depends in particular on chance, and the rules of which are specified in the terms and conditions of a given game'.4 It is often difficult to distinguish whether a game involving both elements of skill and chance should be considered a 'game of chance' (and therefore regulated by the Act). It is widely understood that even a minor element of chance is sufficient for the game to be considered a 'game of chance', although not all court judgments follow this principle. Skill games are not expressly defined in Polish law; however, it is understood that competitions in which exclusively the skill of participants is assessed (competitive sports included) do not constitute an act of gambling and are not bound by the Act's restrictions.
In practice, games of chance cover lotteries, roulette, dice games and bingo. The Act further regulates various subtypes of most of these games.
Lottery-style games include:
- 'number games' – lotteries where the participants choose specific numbers or other marks and the prize is related to stakes paid (e.g., the national lottery);
- 'cash lotteries' and 'raffle lotteries' – similar to number games, but where purchase of coupons or other game tickets is required, with cash or in-kind prizes offered;
- 'promotional lotteries' – where an acquisition of a specific product, service or other proof of participation is required to participate, but the participation in the lottery itself is free of charge; and
- 'audiotex lotteries' – held via premium-rate phone calls or SMS messages.
Roulettes (or 'cylindrical games' under the Act) are defined as games where the 'participation consists of choosing numbers, signs or other distinguishing marks, the value of the prize depends on a predefined ratio of the stake and prize, and the result of the game is determined by a rotary device'.5 Cylindrical games, as well as 'dice games' – not further defined in the Act – may only be held in casinos.
Finally, among games of chance there is bingo, in three variants: cash bingo, raffle bingo (depending on the type of prizes) and telebingo (with the draw broadcasted via television).
Betting constitutes another form of gambling regulated by the Act. Betting only occurs when cash or in-kind prizes are offered. Bets that do not involve such prizes are outside the scope of the Act. There are two subtypes of betting available in Poland: totalisator systems and bookmaking.
Totalisator systems are a form of pool betting, where the winnings depend on the sum of stakes paid by all participants. Totalisator systems are only available for results of sports competitions.
Bookmaking is a form of betting in which there is no 'pool' of bets (as in totalisator systems); instead each prize is calculated on the basis of a fixed ratio of the stake paid (fixed-odds betting). Bookmaking, as opposed to totalisator systems, may cover betting for the occurrence of any events. These may or may not be related to sports; bets may also be accepted for 'virtual events' – computer-generated results of sports competitions. It is prohibited to accept bets regarding the results of number games (the national lottery). Betting on the results of other lottery-style games is not explicitly prohibited, but due to the mechanics of these games it is unlikely that it could be accepted to place bets on their results.
Polish gambling law does not recognise spread betting systems, where prizes are adjusted depending on the scale in which the result exceeds a specific value.
Card games – consisting of games of blackjack, poker, and baccarat – are another category of gambling games. Only card games for cash or in-kind prizes are regulated in the Act – other forms are outside the scope of gambling and permitted.
Slot machine gaming constitutes the final major form of gambling as understood by Polish law. The definition of slot machines is particularly confusing. The Act states that these are 'games played with the use of mechanical, electromechanical or electronic devices, computers included, as well as games that reflect the rules of slot machine games held via the internet network, for cash or in-kind prizes, where the game features an element of chance'.6 Therefore it may seem that games with no cash or in-kind prizes (such as computer games) do not fall into this category. The definition is expanded, however, as the in-kind prize also constitutes additional play time or the ability to start a new game free of charge. Moreover, in some cases even games with no prizes at all may be considered as slot machines, because under the Act, 'games played with the use of mechanical, electromechanical or electronic devices, computers included, as well as games which reflect the rules of slot machine games conducted via the internet network, organised for commercial purposes' are also considered as slot machines, 'even if there is no possibility to win any cash and/or in-kind prizes, but the game is of random character'.7 Read literally, this definition may sometimes even cover typical video games, which often feature gambling-like functionality, such as 'loot boxes'. However, the authorities have not, thus far, pursued the video game market. In a press statement in response to complaint filed by an individual against the use of loot boxes in the FIFA 19 video game, the Ministry of Finance stated that 'the current wording of the Act on Gambling Games, which provides an exhaustive list of such games, does not allow for the recognition of loot boxes as gambling as they don't meet the statutory criteria for being considered as such'.8
As a result of those problems in distinguishing between games of chance and skill, as well as the broad definitions of games in the Act, it is often difficult to assess whether or not certain activities constitute gambling. There is also a problem with games that would constitute games of chance were it not for the fact that their characteristics do not correspond with all the features of the specific games of chance included in the definitions given in the Act. As the provisions of the Act mostly relate to these specific games, such activities are effectively unregulated, while still fitting within the definition of games of chance (which may only be held in accordance with the Act). For example, it may be argued that free prize draws, which are similar to promotional lotteries but where making a purchase is not required, still constitute games of chance. There are disputes regarding the legal assessment of this situation. It can be argued that because all games of chance have to follow the Act, and if the Act does not explicitly allow such games to be organised, then they are illegal. On the other hand, free prize draws, in general, do not expose their participants to significant danger – therefore, it is reasonable to expect that they are not outlawed. The latter stance seems to be supported by the reasoning presented in the press statement of the Ministry of Finance quoted above. Furthermore, in a recent judgment,9 the Supreme Administrative Court declared a free prize draw held on Facebook to be a promotional lottery. The court held that the requirement to acquire a proof of participation in order to participate in the lottery is met if there is a requirement for the customer to 'like' a specific Facebook post, and that the term 'to acquire' in this context does not necessarily refer to making a purchase. In effect, according to the court organising a free prize draw on Facebook requires a promotional lottery permit, despite the fact that customers do not have to pay anything to participate in it. The judgment is considered controversial, and it is in conflict with earlier judgments of lower courts held in similar cases.
Similarly, 'fantasy league'-style contests are also not defined in Polish law. While in general these resemble skill games more than gambling, such assessment may depend on the details of a particular contest.
In order to address such issues, the Act offers the possibility to obtain a binding interpretation from the minister in charge of public finance in which a game may be assessed on whether it should be treated as a gambling game as understood in the Act.10
Gambling and financial markets are regulated by different legislation and should be considered as separate establishments, although there is no explicit distinction in the Act in this regard. While it can be argued that financial products resemble gambling games in some aspects (the results of both depend on factors outside of participants' control), it appears that in practice this issue has not caused controversy.ii Gambling policy
The current state of gambling regulations is mostly the result of the 'gambling affair' – a political scandal of 2009, where it was revealed that some prominent politicians of the government and the ruling party were cooperating with gambling business owners and tried to amend the laws on gambling in their favour. In response to the affair, the government introduced the Act, which was meant to show that the government is not influenced by lobbying. The Act is therefore very strict, with major areas of the gambling business outlawed.
The government remains opposed to gambling in general, seeing it as a dangerous addiction and a questionable business. It is not outlawed, however, as it is a source of national income. Still, numerous restrictions on gambling are widely considered a significant burden on the development of the market.iii State control and private enterprise
Until recently, only number games, cash lottery and telebingo were reserved to the state monopoly (in practice, telebingo games are not currently organised). However, from April 2017, the scope of the monopoly has expanded substantially. The state-owned company Totalizator Sportowy sp z o.o. now offers casino-style games online and operates slot machine parlours.11 Both areas are exclusively granted to Totalizator Sportowy. Moreover, in April 2017, Totalizator Sportowy was allowed exclusively to organise multi-jurisdictional lotteries in Poland12 – such games were not present on the Polish market before.
Private entities operate in other areas regulated by the Act, by managing casinos, betting shops, betting websites, most types of lotteries and bingo. There are some quantitative restrictions regarding particular licences; the number of casinos and bingo saloons across Poland is limited.iv Territorial issues
All laws regarding gambling in Poland apply to its whole territory. Municipalities participate in regulating the market only to a very limited extent, by issuing opinions on placing a casino or a bingo saloon on their territory. A positive opinion of the municipality's council is one of the prerequisites of obtaining a licence.
While the law remains the same for the whole of Poland, the process of its implementation and licencing is decentralised to some extent. While casino licences or betting permits are issued by the minister in charge of public finance (a central authority), several less prominent issues, such as registering slot machines, issuing permits for raffle lotteries and collecting gambling tax, are the responsibility of tax authorities of varying degrees of seniority at the local level.v Offshore gambling
Offshore gambling is illegal in Poland. The only gambling activities that may be conducted online by private entities are betting and promotional lotteries. Both require obtaining a prior permit. Other forms of online gambling are either restricted to the state company or banned altogether, with no distinction as to whether operations are conducted within Poland or abroad.
It is illegal to participate in unlicensed gambling in Poland. It is also illegal to participate in any gambling held abroad while the player is located in Poland. Both acts are prosecuted as fiscal criminal offences,13 but in practice this mostly concerns prosecuting participants, which is much easier for the authorities.
From 1 July 2017, a new measure is used against unlicensed (mostly offshore) operators. The government enforces a blacklist of websites used for offering unlicensed gambling. As at 29 March 2022, over 22,000 addresses (URLs) have to be blocked by Polish internet service providers, almost doubling the total number of addresses blocked a year before. Payment service providers in Poland are also required to cease providing their services for such blacklisted websites. These measures are often criticised for being too restrictive, but licensed betting operators commend them as they have reportedly observed a significant increase in sales and decrease of the grey zone.
Legal and regulatory frameworki Legislation and jurisprudence
The legal issues applicable to gambling are mostly regulated in the Act. Criminal sanctions for illegal gambling are provided in the Penal Code and the Fiscal Penal Code.ii The regulator
There is no separate specialised regulatory body designated to govern the gambling sector in Poland. The main responsibilities regarding gambling (such as issuing casino licences or betting permits) are granted to the minister in charge of public finance.14 Some less prominent powers (such as issuing permits for organising promotional lotteries, registering slot machines etc.), as well as enforcement measures are delegated to the National Revenue Administration (an administrative body responsible for issues connected with tax and customs duty) and its officers, such as the directors of revenue administration chambers and heads of tax offices.iii Remote and land-based gambling
The Act does not distinguish between online and land-based gambling in detail. The Act simply includes provisions that apply specifically to forms of gambling conducted 'through the internet' – a term that is not defined further. Audiotex lotteries, which require a phone call or an SMS message to participate, are also a form of remote gambling, but these may not be conducted online.
Most forms of online gambling in Poland are either prohibited or restricted to state monopoly. The only exceptions are betting and conducting promotional lotteries, which can be held online, but each of them requires a prior permit.iv Land-based gambling
In general, gambling may only take place in specific locations as indicated in a relevant licence or permit. There are different restrictions regarding each type of venue.
Casinos are venues where the following games may be played: cylindrical games (roulette), dice games, card games and slot machine games.15 Casinos are limited in number. Only one casino can operate in a single location (village or city) of up to 250,000 inhabitants. For cities of more than 250,000 inhabitants, the maximum number of casinos is increased by one per each 250,000 inhabitants (two casinos are available for up to 500,000 inhabitants, three casinos are available for up to 750,000 inhabitants and so on), but there cannot be more than one casino per total population of 650,000 inhabitants in a single province.16 As at March 2022, there were 50 casino licences active in Poland. There are currently seven tenders pending for applicants for a casino licence.17
Cash bingo is only allowed in bingo halls.18 These are also limited in number, similar to casinos, but with the threshold of one bingo hall per 100,000 inhabitants, with a maximum of one per 300,000 in a province.19 In practice, no bingo halls currently operate in Poland.
Betting shops are entitled to offer two forms of betting: totalisator systems and bookmaking. There is no limitation on the number of betting shops in Poland, and as at March 2022, 11 land-based betting permits were in force, although some operators were inactive.
Slot machine gaming is restricted to casinos (privately operated), and slot machine parlours operated by Totalizator Sportowy. There is a limitation on the number of slot machines operating in slot machine parlours: there can be no more than one per each 1,000 of inhabitants in one district.20 These establishments must be located at least 100 metres from other gaming venues, as well as schools, churches, etc. According to the operator's data of November 2021, there were approximately 810 slot machine parlours operating across Poland, but the number is dynamically increasing. In addition, on the Polish market there are still numerous unlicensed, privately owned slot machine parlours that the authorities are trying to close down, with stricter penalties introduced against their operators in 2017.
Venues that sell national lottery and other state-run number games tickets are not strictly regulated in the Act. In practice, they are operated by private entities acting as agents of the state-owned company, usually at newsagents or other similar locations. There are no restrictions on their number.v Remote gambling
Both betting and promotional lotteries (the only forms of online gambling available for private entities to organise) require obtaining a prior permit to be organised. It is effectively impossible to pursue these operations from abroad, because of the requirement to establish either a branch office or a representative in Poland (for companies incorporated in the European Economic Area (EEA)) or a Polish company (for other entities).21
For betting, all data related to operations is required to be located within the EEA, with remote 24/7 access provided for tax authorities.22 A remote betting permit is separate from a land-based one, therefore operators who wish to offer both forms of betting have to obtain two permits (a basic betting licence and a separate licence for each website they want to use for online betting).
The Act does not distinguish between regulations on land-based and online promotional lotteries. For betting, most provisions apply to its both forms, with some of them applicable only to online or land-based forms because of their nature. Online betting operators are also required to adopt a responsible gaming policy.
The state-owned company Totalizator Sportowy operates Total Casino, the only legal online casino in Poland. Private operators are not allowed to conduct casino-style games online. Totalizator Sportowy also sells lottery tickets online.vi Ancillary matters
Certain activity related to gambling, while not constituting gambling per se, is also regulated in the Act. In particular, certain restrictions apply to manufacturing or owning slot machines. Their manufacturers are required to notify the tax authorities of their scope of business, and keep records of the machines they produce. Moreover, every slot machine has to be registered with the tax authorities before being deployed. Performing technical inspections for the purpose of registration is restricted to entities authorised by the minister in charge of public finance. Similarly, it is also required to register equipment used for gaming, such as randomising devices.23
Other types of gambling equipment are not directly regulated in the Act. Businesses such as gambling software developers do not need to obtain any specific licences.Training
Natural persons are required to undergo training in order to perform some specific tasks related to gambling operations. Training is required for persons directly involved in gambling operations (such as croupiers) as well as supervisors of gambling games, such as directors of gambling venues. Some tasks, notably assisting customers in making bets in a betting shop, are exempt from this requirement. Training may be held internally by a gambling operator or an external training facility; it covers gambling regulations and terms and conditions of games, and has to be repeated after three years.24vii Financial payment mechanisms
Online gambling operators may only conduct payment transactions using specific types of providers, namely:
- domestic banks;
- branches of a foreign bank;
- credit institutions;
- e-money institutions;
- payment institutions; and
- savings and credit unions.
Online betting operators may not accept payments directly in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, but some e-money institutions that are permitted to operate on the Polish market offer the ability to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. Thus, it is possible to pay for a bet in Poland using bitcoin, but not directly.