The home of sun, sea and the all-important siesta, Spain has been a popular tourist destination for decades. Its relaxed culture also extends to its attitude to gambling, with many land and online casinos going largely unchecked and unregulated for years. The Spanish have a penchant for gambling, with estimates suggesting that more than €1.9 billion is spent on the pastime each and every year. Things have changed since the financial crash in 2008, though, and the Spanish government has started to take a much more controlling attitude towards gambling within its borders.
In 2006 the Spanish government passed its first Internet gambling laws, which legalised sports betting both online and in licenced betting outlets. Physical casinos across the country are overseen by the 17 distinct regional governments, with the central government in Madrid taking responsibility for national regulations. The first legitimate betting shops were opened towards the start of 2008, with British companies including William Hill pairing up with Spanish firms in order to open up a large number of locations in a relatively short space of time. Smaller autonomous regions such as Catalonia began licensing casinos in their districts, although online poker, slots and blackjack remained illegal.
Despite the slow start, the Spanish government quickly began to revolutionise the country's online gambling laws, with a 2010 commission created in order to work out the finer points of how a well-regulated online gaming sector would operate. The subsequent 2011 Spanish Gambling Act then formed the backbone for the entire country’s regulation in this area, including online poker and sports betting in both physical and digital forms.
The government now uses a 10-year licencing scheme for casino operators in the country, although the regulatory body does request that providers house their servers in Spain itself.
Football betting has always been a popular market in Spain, with La Liga attracting millions of viewers each week. The sport achieved even more coverage after Spain's victory in both the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2012 European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine. Regulated online sports betting company BWIN has sponsored Spanish team Real Madrid since 2008, and other football clubs are attempting to follow suit by attracting sponsorship from a range of online gambling firms.
Other popular gambling activities include the Spanish state-run Christmas lottery - it currently offers the world’s biggest lottery prize known as “El Gordo", which pays out as much as €2billion in various prizes to thousands of winners each year.
Whilst Spain’s legalised gambling framework is relatively new, it has already attracted a number of major events that have raised its standing as one of the gambling capitals of Europe. The European Poker Tour will open Season 10 in Spain, and this is set to be the country's largest ever poker tour when it kicks off on August 28th. The country will also host the World Gaming Summit in July 2013, which will see over 300 delegates from 90 offline and online casinos meet to discuss the future of gaming.
In April 2013 the Spanish Gambling Authority moved ahead with plans to allow online betting exchanges and online slots, which will likely bring more revenue to the country once the changes are approved by the Ministry of Finance later this year. Whilst these changes have been broadly welcomed by the international online gambling community, the government is already facing a strong backlash from its land-based casinos - these operators have expressed a great deal of concern over the growing dominance of digital casinos, forcing the government to reconsider its approach and balance the two sides.
Due to the tight regulations, Spanish gamblers are quite restricted in their choice of online casino, although some of the best operators are still welcoming players onto their site. As time goes on and taxes from gambling increase, the restrictive licencing system is likely to ease, paving the way for a more varied market in the future.