Countries across the region of Eastern Europe are opting for a policy of gambling expansion. Such a trend such not be a surprise. Countries in the region are in dire need of money, while their gaming industries are not saturated and ripe for development.
In most cases the expansion refers to Internet gambling. There is, however, one exemption: Republika Srpska, one of the entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina. In January 2011 the region launched its first land-based casino, doubling the total number of casinos in the country. Republika Srpska, in the same month, also granted the first Internet gaming licence to Williams, the land-based bookmaker and slot hall operator. Williams now offers sports betting and casino games over the Internet. Williams is also targeting players throughout the region, which the regulator does not forbid – we wonder whether this combination of a “white” and “grey” operation will prevail in the future?
On 22 November 2011 Serbia adopted a new gaming law, which, amongst other changes, finally permits Internet gambling for all licensed operators. Based on the information from JAKTA, the Serbian Association of gaming organisers, authorized technicians and producers of gaming equipment, the law will be in force from 31 December 2011 and the operators will be given six months to apply the new rules.
We believe that Internet gaming in Serbia has great potential, based on the experience from Croatia. Croatia legalised Internet gaming in January 2010 and the first two operators launched a few months later in June 2010. In September 2010 they were joined by the national lottery that offers sports betting and lottery games over the Internet. Online gaming quickly became very successful, with nearly one-quarter of the total sports betting handle coming via the Internet in September 2011.
Eastern European regulators have taken a more realistic view when it comes to setting the main rate of Internet gambling tax by comparison with their Western European neighbours, Poland being a notable exception. It is a shame that they have negated this practical approach in relation to tax by imposing high barriers to entry, such as land-based gambling requirement and high additional levies. These barriers have certainly limited the interest in the developing Croatian Internet gambling market.