The laws regarding interactive gambling in Germany are somewhat complicated and have undergone various changes throughout the years. At the moment of writing of this article, online gambling in Germany remains, for the most part, illegal, with horse racing and sports betting being the only exceptions to the rule. This is not the case when it comes to landbased betting since German residents are allowed to legally partake in gambling activities as long as these take place at licensed brick-and-mortar venues.
The legal landscape regarding online gambling in the country is rather tricky to explain due to the fact operators are prohibited from hosting unauthorized gambling websites in the country, but at the same time German players can still register and play at foreign websites that accept customers from Germany. The fact remains online gambling is a popular pastime of many German residents but more importantly, there are no known instances of German players being persecuted for placing bets over the internet.
History and Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Germany
Two decades ago, interactive gambling was not regulated in Germany but was proclaimed illegal on the territory of the country after the so-called Interstate Treaty on Gambling or ISTG was officially enforced at the turn of 2008. The said treaty led to German authorities insisting internet providers in the country to block the access of German players to foreign gambling websites. At the same time, the country’s government attempted to prohibit German banking institutions from processing transactions to and from gambling-related websites.
At the beginning, all 16 federal states in Germany agreed to sign the Interstate Treaty. However, since gambling-related activities in Germany are regulated on a state level, there was one state, Schleswig-Holstein, that decided in favor of opting out of the treaty as of 2012. After leaving the treaty, the state succeeded in creating its own legislature regarding gambling on the internet.
This resulted in Schleswig-Holstein issuing licenses to over thirty online gambling websites, where all German players (i.e. not only residents of this particular state) were allowed to register and bet at. Some of the foreign operators to receive licenses from the state were big players in the online gambling industry like PokerStars, Betfair, bet365, and 888casino. Unfortunately, German residents were not able to enjoy playing at the licensed websites for too long since the licenses granted by Schleswig-Holstein were revoked the very next year. After Schleswig-Holstein’s state government was voted out of office, a new governor was chosen and things took a turn for the worse.
Fortunately, the online gambling operators that had already obtained licenses from the old governance of the state were allowed to keep them until they expire in the beginning of 2018. While the licenses are still valid, the foreign operators are permitted to provide interactive casino games and poker only to players residing within the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Presently, there is no way for other online gambling operators to receive licenses allowing them to provide interactive casino games to German players.
However, this by no means prevents Germans from partaking in gambling activities at the websites of operators that are regulated outside the country. As was mentioned earlier, a good number of licensed and trustworthy web-based gaming providers are more than willing to accept registrations from customers whose permanent domicile is Germany. More importantly, there are no known cases of players facing fines or persecution for betting online at offshore gaming websites.
The good news is many renowned and well-known gambling websites in this industry try to further the convenience and flexibility of their players, and Germans are not excluded, either. Established online casinos typically allow deposits and withdrawals to be processed in a variety of currencies and the EUR is also present among the accepted options. More importantly, German players are able to choose from a range of secure methods of payment, including the online banking service Giropay that is reserved exclusively for customers holding bank accounts with participating German (or Austrian) financial institutions.
The Future of Online Gambling in Germany
Germany has been rebuked by the European Union for its rigid laws regarding online gambling. According to the EU, the course the country has taken is in violation of the established rules the Union has set for competition and free trading. Things got rather heated when in February 2016, the European Court of Justice pronounced the current online gambling laws in Germany were “illegal” due to their very restrictive nature.
The ruling of the European Court of Justice prohibited the country from penalizing or even restricting the access to the websites of foreign gambling operators that accept players from Germany due to the fact that it was the German legislation that has made it impossible for these operators to apply for and therefore, obtain licenses to legally provide their services.
Interestingly enough, this is not the first time German authorities face legal actions because of their stringent stance on online gambling. The Austrian company Bwin Interactive which owns and operates the online poker platform partypoker attempted to sue the state twice but to no avail. This was followed by Bwin trying to appeal the case to the German Supreme Court with the argument that Germany should comply with the existing laws of the European Union, which all other member states are expected to follow. Things were eventually settled in favor of the gambling provider.
As the licenses issued by Schleswig-Holstein are about to expire in the beginning of 2018, the German lawmakers have already proposed various changes to be made to the current online gambling legislation so that it can comply with the rules the European Union has set forth. Some of these amendments include issuing sports betting concessions for over thirty online operators that meet the outlined criteria for a concession.
Most of the proposed changes have to do with sports betting in the country but nevertheless, this might be interpreted as a good sign that amendments are soon to be made to the legislation, concerning virtual casino games as well. If accepted, the changes are expected to come into force no sooner than the beginning of 2018. Meanwhile, German casino enthusiasts have no other option but to keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best.