The land-locked state of Serbia has been in existence since the days of the Roman Empire, with a dramatic history that can be traced back to before the fall of Constantinople. In opposition to many European nations, this lengthy and illustrious past has no record of any legal gambling right up until 1964, when the Yugoslavian government introduced casinos. By the tail end of the next decade, all casinos were under the sole control of the government, but today the picture is far more relaxed - even where online gambling is concerned.
Despite the upheaval caused by the civil wars that ravaged the former state of Yugoslavia before it broke up into six independent countries, gambling has remained legal since the initial 1964 act. Gambling licence holders are overseen by the Games of Chance Administration (GCA), a department within the Serbian Ministry of Finance and Economy. As well as insisting on a mandatory connection for all casinos to the GCA computer network for regulation purposes, the ministry also controls the national lottery, Norodna Lutrija.
Gambling has not had the same success with Serbia as it has with other nations, possibly due to its troubled past - and the fact that almost all casinos and betting shops are located within the capital city of Belgrade. As a result, the Serbian government has been slow to introduce regulation, not only for physical gambling but for online gambling as well. Up until recently there were no laws governing online gambling, allowing any foreign betting company to provide a service for Serbian players.
However, in 2011 the Serbian government started to get their act together and announced the passing of a new online gambling law, which came into effect the following year. As a result of the new legislation, any company offering online gambling must relocate its servers to Serbia or face being blacklisted and blocked by Serbian ISPs. This restriction was tempered with a gaming tax collecting just 5% of the Gross Gaming Yield over a 10-year licence, in an attempt at avoiding a total exodus of online companies. The government also gave the authorities more power to crack down on illegal underground gambling, which was still a significant problem, especially within the sports betting industry. In 2011, the police carried out a large-scale operation involving over 500 officers taking part in simultaneous raids. As a consequence, five senior gambling inspectors were arrested on bribery charges for their part in an underground gambling ring, which had cost the country millions of euros in unpaid gambling taxes
Sports betting is very popular in Serbia, thanks in part to one of Serbia’s leading operators, MaxBet, striking a deal with SBTech in 2013 to upgrade its betting platforms. This allowed the company to offer a bigger variety of sports to its Serbian customers. As with most countries in Europe, football is the most popular sport to bet on. Serbia's football team has a passionately supportive home crowd and has enjoyed moments of brilliance in recent history, including qualifying (as Serbia and Montenegro) ahead of favourites Spain in their 2006 World Cup group. The country also enjoys betting on its talented basketball team, which has repeatedly won medals in the FIBA EuroBasket competition and is currently ranked 11th in the world.
Although they have yet to host one of the biggest poker tournaments, national group Poker Saves Srbije joined the International Federation of Poker in 2010. It now organises a number of Match Poker tournaments throughout the year, working to help develop the skills of Serbian players.
Serbia’s recent move to regulate and legalise online gambling, while simultaneously making the licencing requirements attractive to potential foreign investors, is an impressive first step – particularly when compared to more restrictive, less successful rulings elsewhere in Europe. Although the country still has a major problem with illegal underground activities and websites operating without a licence, Serbia seems set on the right course to make online gambling as an industry work for the players, the operating companies, and the governments that oversee them.