Europe is a massive and very lucrative market for online poker. It is also an extremely complex market that forces poker sites to navigate through a maze of varying laws, regulations and licensing requirements. Topping it all off are a myriad of cultural, language and currency considerations that must all be understood and accounted for.
Nevertheless, the best European poker sites are more than happy to tackle these problems head on. Nearly 743 million souls call Europe home and that, my friends, is a lot of potential poker players. We will begin today with a list of the best places to play online and then continue below with a general overview of the European market as a whole.
This is the best possible list of poker sites that I can recommend to Europeans in general. However, it is far from comprehensive. With something north of 50 countries making up the landmass that we call “Europe,” there’s not a single poker site that hits every single country. These are just the biggest and safest sites that have a presence in the greatest number of European countries.
One thing that these sites all have in common (besides being safe places to play) is that they all accept deposits in Euros and host tables in Euros. You can also deposit in other currencies, but you’ll find that most tables are played with euros, US dollars or British pounds. If you deposit in some other currency, the poker site will convert your deposit into one of those three currencies for the duration of your stay.
Gaming laws also vary across Europe. Most Western European nations have at least fairly pro-gambling attitudes. Some nations even have licensing schemes complete with government oversight and player protections. Others have attempted to prohibit online poker, but you’ll come to see that trying to ban online poker is a fruitless endeavor. It doesn’t matter where you live; there’s a poker site somewhere that would love your business.
As a whole, Eastern Europe is less developed on the regulation front. We do have a few licensing systems in place, but many Eastern nations leave the issue open for debate or completely unaddressed. A small number of countries attempt to outlaw online poker entirely.
Before we get into country-by-country discussions, I need to let you know that I am not a lawyer. The following summaries are based on my own research. I’m confident in what I talk about, but nothing can beat getting qualified legal advice. It would be best to talk to an attorney if you have any question about the legality of poker where you live.
Countries where Online Poker is Licensed and Regulated
A small number of European nations have formally legalized and regulated online poker in recent years. Players who live in these nations may play online poker at safe, licensed sites without fear of legal consequences.
The United Kingdom is the most populous European nation to have an effective licensing system in place. Poker sites that wish to serve the UK market can apply for licenses and must submit to regular testing and oversight. Licensing fees and taxes are reasonable, so all the world’s major sites have a presence in the UK.
From the player’s point of view, the UK is a great place to live. Licensed poker sites in the UK are required to keep minimum levels of financial liquidity, monitor the games for fairness, adhere to advertising standards and more. Unlike many other nations in the world, poker laws in the UK are clear and poker is unambiguously legal.
Regulations enacted by France in 2009 created the Autorité de régulation des jeux en ligne (ARJEL) to license and regulate online poker. At first, French players were happy to see the end of a 40-year-old state-run monopoly. However, the regulations have since proven to be burdensome and not conducive to maximizing the health of the industry.
It has been reported that nearly half of France’s poker players visit offshore sites. The problem with online poker in France is one of overregulation and punitive taxes. Currently, operators are required to collect a tax of 2% on all ring game pots in addition to paying up to 33% in corporate income taxes.
Furthermore, sites were required to ring-fence players from the rest of the world until recently. What this means is that players in France are prevented from playing at tables with people from other nations. This has had a detrimental impact on liquidity and limited the full potential of online poker in France.
On a more positive note, French regulators have reached an agreement with regulators in Spain, Italy and Portugal to begin sharing tables across all four countries at licensed poker sites. This means players may finally begin playing with players from other countries once again.
Online poker is legal and regulated in Italy, and the market is currently ring-fenced from the rest of the world. However, Italy reached an agreement with France, Spain and Portugal to roll back the ring-fencing policy and allow customers from all four countries to share tables.
Licensed sites are required to operate on a .it domain and pay all applicable taxes. Most of the world’s largest names in poker have an operating license, with the largest of these being PokerStars.it.
Although there are still plenty of legal options, poker revenues have fallen year on year since 2007. A struggling economy, high taxes, ring-fencing of Italians and competition from traditional gambling games have all made it difficult for online poker to reach its full potential in Italy. The elimination of the ring-fencing policy is expected to provide a significant boost to the poker economy in coming years.
Spain has a lot of potential as a poker market thanks to a large population with a relatively high disposable income. In 2011, the Spanish Gambling Act was introduced and allowed operators to apply for licenses and operate on .es domains. Players in Spain have access to a variety of safe and regulated options.
The only problem, as we’ve seen with other countries, is the government’s insistence on ring-fencing players from the rest of the world. As a result, the poker industry has struggled to show the growth once promised by legalization. It was revealed recently that 43% of current online poker players play at sites not licensed in Spain. If the government ever revises its stance on ring fencing, we can expect to see significant growth.
The good news is Spain has changed its stance on ring-fencing. In 2017, Spain teamed up with France, Italy and Portugal to allow poker sites to share liquidity across all four countries.
Online poker is legal in Portugal, but like several other countries described on this page, a ring-fencing policy hamstringed online poker from reaching its full potential. The ring-fencing policy was rescinded in 2017 and Portugal is now set to join an international liquidity-sharing pool with France, Spain and Italy.
In 2012, online poker in Denmark became regulated under the Act on Gambling. Operators that wish to accept Danish players may apply for licenses and host real money games with few restrictions. The best part of all this is that Denmark follows the UK’s lead in not ring-fencing players. Overall, the regulation and licensing system in Denmark is a model that the rest of the world should look to for inspiration.
Estonia is home to a simple licensing system with low taxes and no ring fencing requirement. Overall, Estonia is a good place to live as a player. You have access to most of the world’s major poker sites and will have no problems signing up or funding your account.
Online poker is legal but highly regulated in Belgium. A limited number of companies have operating licenses to offer real money poker while all others are blacklisted and subject to internet censorship. Players are encouraged to stick with licensed sites because Belgian law does impose penalties on those caught playing at unlicensed sites.
Poker sites may operate in Greenland if they already have a Danish license and pay an application fee of 50,000kr. With a population of fewer than 57,000 people, Greenland is not high on the priorities list of most international poker sites. Some sites block Greenland entirely while others still accept players despite lacking the proper license. Currently, there are no laws against individual players visiting any poker site they wish.
Countries without Effective Licensing Systems
The remaining countries on this page either do not have fully address online poker or have laws that are hostile to online poker. In most cases, the legality of playing is questionable and people continue to play online without any issue. However, a handful of countries actively pursue and punish players.
There’s some debate as to whether or not Russia is even a part of Europe, but we’re going to group it here for simplicity’s sake. Russia accounts for a large chunk of Europe’s population with more than 143 million people. It would be a market ripe for the picking if it wasn’t such an anti-gambling nation.
Online poker has come under attack in Russia in recent years with the government attempting to prohibit most forms of online betting. The government is in the early stages of implementing a countrywide blacklist that would require internet service providers to block access to known gambling and poker sites. Many Russians play online poker today, but the future looks troubling. If Russia is ever able to fully control the flow of information on the internet, it could be dark days for poker players.
I’m unable to find any evidence that Russian authorities bother with individual players. All the latest news from the country revolves around the efforts of authorities to prevent access to poker sites. Most citizens are able to play online today, but recent developments are concerning.
Germany is home to some of the most confusing poker regulations in the world. Individual states have the autonomy to somewhat regulate online gaming while the federal government has its own take on the activity. It is a nightmare for operators and players alike to make sense of it all.
What we do know is that there are many successful German poker players. At one point, the state of Schleswig-Holstein opted for regulation and allowed a handful of international poker sites to obtain licenses. The state government was thrown out of office in the following year’s elections and the new government ended the licensing scheme. However, the new government respects the previously issued 6-year licenses. These are set to expire in 2018 unless something changes before then.
It is unclear if it’s even legal to play online poker in Germany. Many people do play online every day, but we’ve also heard one story of a PokerStars player from Saxony had a large win confiscated by his bank. The odd thing about this story is that PokerStars does have an operating license in Germany.
Turkey is quite hostile to online poker. Gaming laws in the country threaten players and operators alike with severe punishments for offering or playing poker over the internet. Operators and payment processors face jail time if caught providing services to Turkish players, while the players themselves appear to face financial penalties.
The current legal environment for poker in Ukraine looks a lot like what we see in other countries. Online gambling and poker are prohibited by law, but there appears to be little enforcement. Many of today’s online poker players hail from Ukraine and I have heard of no arrests for the mere act of playing online poker. Although it is illegal to operate a poker site from within Ukraine, many international sites headquartered elsewhere continue to accept players from the country.
Poland is not a good place to play online poker. The country has long prohibited the activity but until recently, it failed to enforce laws that specifically make it a crime to play online poker. This changed in 2014 when the government announced it had collected the names and information of 24,000 people who were suspected of gambling online.
A small handful of Polish companies are licensed to offer certain forms of online gambling, but it is widely reported that 90% of gambling activities take place with unlicensed offshore operators. The good news is that we’re starting to hear rumors that a new Polish gambling act may eventually open the market to international operators.
Other Unregulated Markets
Below is a list of the remaining unregulated countries in Europe. I’ll come back some day and provide more information for each country, but for now the main thing to know is that online poker is either unregulated or prohibited in the following nations.
|Portugal||Bulgaria||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Slovenia||Iceland|