Austria has produced an impressive roster of great minds: Freud, Mozart and, perhaps their greatest mind of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A true polymath in the classical sense, Arnie's colourful career has spanned the gamut of talents from bodybuilding and acting to business and politics. This stern "Terminator" brand of genius might glean a little insight into the Austrian government's view on gambling laws, which is one of complete, muscular control. A stretched analogy? Perhaps, but not any more stretched than Arnie's quads at the gym, which are very stretched indeed.
A few years ago, in response to a perceived danger in the rise of gambling addiction, Austria's government decided to tighten its legal reins on the industry in an attempt at returning to the gambling rates of the early 2000s. While slot machines, poker, card games and sports betting remain legal in casinos throughout the nation, these are strictly regulated. The situation in Austria is unique in that the government distinguishes between "proper" gambling, with large amounts of money, and "Kleines Glüksspiel," or low-stakes card games and slot machines. The latter is permitted anywhere, whereas the former can only exist within permitted casinos.
Confusingly, amendments to the Gambling Act differ across the country. Vienna, for instance, is allowed fewer casinos per person than other states due the density of its population.
The online gambling laws dictate that Austria-based companies are eligible for online gaming licences via the internet, mobile phones and interactive television, but only Austrian residents are allowed to use them. Foreign operators who hope for Austrian patrons will encounter discouraging bureaucratic and legal roadblocks such as a supervisory board and a registered, domestic office. Bet-at-Home was found guilty in 2011 of not respecting these laws because it operated in the country with a Maltese gaming licence, and the gambling website was promptly issued a "Hasta la vista, baby" verdict.
As with most European countries, football is Austria's most popular sport, and football betting is naturally extremely popular. The domestic league, though, isn't particularly competitive due to the Viennese clubs' domination. The neighbouring German Bundesliga is therefore widely covered in Austria, and residents tend to follow and bet on it a great deal.
Given its climate and mountainous environment, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding have an equally impressive fan base. Ice Hockey is also widely played; the domestic league could perhaps best be described as "up and coming." Austria's sporting successes are generally restricted to the winter months, and the Winter Olympics subsequently attract far more bets than the Summer Olympics.
There's a big appetite for poker in Austria, despite the fairly limited amount of actual casinos in which to play it. Vienna boasts the largest poker hall in Europe, but otherwise most players play online. The most successful online player from Austria is Nikolaus Jedlicka, who made over $3 million in 2007 but has since failed to replicate that kind of success. Over 14 billion Euros were wagered in 2012 alone, with internet casinos and sportsbooks seeing a 7% year-on-year rise in revenues and offline sports bookies an 11% rise. On the other hand, slot machines have seen a heavy 10% decrease in revenues.
The European Court of Justice recently ruled that Austria’s state gambling control is essentially legal by EU law, despite numerous legal challenges from online betting companies attempting to break national monopolies. Casinos Austria, formed in 1967, is one of the largest casino operators in the world, with 40 land-based casinos in 16 countries, 8 shipboard casinos, 15 slot parlours, and one online gambling platform.
The Austrian government has also come under fire from some quarters for failing to protect its citizens from both gambling addiction and gambling corruption. There has also been a rise in gambling addiction arrests, again leading to many wanting stricter monitoring systems in place in order to help those with gambling problems.
Gambling thus has a future in Austria, but a regulated one - and one that non-Austrians definitely aren't invited to.