Over the last few decades, the Republic of Poland has managed to shed its former communist identity and embrace the ideals of democracy, becoming a fully-fledged member of the EU in 2004. Unfortunately, its principles of freedom and democracy haven't fully extended to the realms of online gambling, with many of its restrictions coming under fire from both its own citizens and the EU Commission.
Whilst the situation is certainly different now, Poland took a rather lax attitude towards gambling in all its forms throughout the '80s and '90s, with the industry developing largely unregulated for a number of years. Even when laws were pushed through in 1992, they only tightened up the rules regarding the opening of new casinos, restricting them to cities with populations of at least 250,000. The same hands-off approach was also taken with regards to online gambling, until a scandal involving Polish Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki shed light on a corrupt pro-gambling lobby within the government in 2009. Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Donald Tusk launched an all-out war against online casinos, drafting a law that would have seen all forms of online gambling outlawed.
Stringent anti-online gambling laws were eventually passed in both 2009 and 2011, with the Gambling Acts making all forms of online gambling illegal with the exception of sports betting - the rationale behind this being that the result depended on the performance of the teams and could not theoretically be rigged by either side. Poland currently operates a licencing system for online sportsbooks, which are generally granted on a six-yearly basis to companies located within the country's borders. Whilst the penalties for breaking these laws are severe, they are rarely enforced by the authorities, and online gambling has become an enormous industry in Poland - in fact, the latest figures indicate that the Polish market alone is worth a staggering €1billion.
As sports betting is the only legal form of online and mobile gambling in Poland, enthusiastic gamblers largely satisfy their passion by betting on a number of popular European sports. Football has become a particular passion, with the recent Euro 2012 tournament jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine driving the number of football bets to new heights - the government even took the unusual step of issuing an online gambling licence to Czech firm Fortuna Entertainment to handle the extra demand, and that company has now gone on to become the market leader in Poland with a 29% market share.
Formula One has also been rising in popularity since 2006, after BMW Sauber and Renault driver Robert Kubica became the first Pole in history to enter the race. In addition to these, both basketball and martial arts are also starting to draw in both the crowds and the betting slips, along with boxing and cycling. Whilst online gambling may be illegal, physical casinos still freely operate across the country, creating a huge demand for classic casino games like roulette and blackjack - adventurous players are still welcomed on sites such as Mr Green casino, who even offer a Polish language version of their site.
Despite the current state of the law, online gambling in Poland appears to have something of a bright future ahead. The European Court of Justice ruled against the government in 2012, upholding a complaint that the country had failed to notify the EU commission of new regulations that could have an effect on the wider European market - the case has now been handed back to the national courts, and a similar challenge is expected to be launched in response to the Gambling Act 2011. What's more, there are also signs that the existing licencing authority is starting to open up the market, with a licence recently granted to Totolotek, a Polish subsidiary of Athens-based gambling firm Intralot.
Negotiations between the government and a number of gambling firms have in fact been going on since 2009, and real breakthroughs are thought to be just around the corner. Until then, Polish citizens are still accepted by sites such as bet365 and Mr Green, who are even offering Polish language versions of their sites in an attempt to capture a slice of the lucrative €1billion market.