Contributed By Asensi Abogados
The regulatory regime for gambling in Spain is aimed at reinforcing:
In this sense, the trend for protecting public health, minors, consumers and society as a whole has been clearly expressed and strengthened by the most recent and relevant developments in the sector, with the approval of one of the most restrictive regimes on gambling advertising through the entry into force of Royal Decree 958/2020, of 3 November, on commercial communications for gambling activities and the publication of the Royal Decree 176/2023, of 14 March, aimed at the development of safer gambling environments. This latter regulation seeks to offer a comprehensive protection framework for all participants in a game and establishes enhanced protection model for certain groups of players based on their specific characteristics.
Gambling Sector Growth
The online gambling industry, according to the latest quarterly report (Q2 2023) issued by the Spanish gambling regulator, saw a robust 2.75% rise in gross gaming revenue (GGR) from the preceding quarter, hitting EUR312.6 million. This represents a significant 55.06% increase compared to Q2 2022, signalling a noteworthy recovery from recent regulatory restrictions.
In addition, the land-based gambling sector, which suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, witnessed a profound rebound as well, with the total stakes in entertainment gambling such as casinos, bingo, and betting machines, soaring to EUR12.678 billion, marking an impressive 34% year-on-year growth.
Gambling regulation in Spain is divided between online gambling that is offered at a federal level, and land-based or online gambling that is offered within one region. Online games offered at a federal level require a federal licence that entitles the holder to operate online in the whole territory. However, land-based gambling or online games offered at a regional level (in one or several regions) require the relevant licence from the relevant autonomous region.
Therefore, online gambling in Spain is regulated at both federal and regional level, and the applicable regulation, and which gambling products will be legally approved, depends on whether these are commercialised at a national level or only at a regional level in one or several autonomous regions in Spain.
Online gambling at a national level is regulated by the Spanish Gambling Act (Ley 13/2011, de 27 de mayo, de regulación del juego), and each gambling product has its own regulation approved by a ministerial order. A game is not permitted if it is not regulated or is not covered under any of the regulations in force.
The following games have been regulated so far, and are therefore permitted to be offered at a federal level:
Land-based gambling and online gambling at a regional level are regulated by each of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Instead of a specific regulation per type of game, each autonomous region approves a catalogue of games that are permitted and can be offered.
There are some minor differences between the regions, but the following gaming products are generally approved and permitted:
It is important to highlight that the various formats of gambling products approved and listed above might be permitted in different forms, at both the federal and regional levels (different forms of blackjack, roulette, poker, etc).
Loterías y Apuestas del Estado (LAE) and the National Organisation of the Blind in Spain (ONCE) maintain the monopoly on lotteries offered at a federal level. Only charitable organisations can organise lotteries, which are therefore a restricted product.
Fantasy sports can be offered at a federal level if they fit under any of the single licences approved by the regulation. Depending on the autonomous region, they can also be offered at a regional level; in both cases, they are subject to licensing.
Social gaming is permitted, and these games are not subject to any licence, at a federal or regional level. Games of skill are outside the scope of the current Spanish regulatory framework and thus, are not subject to licensing.
Betting, poker, bingo, casinos and gaming machines are permitted and subject to licensing.
LAE and ONCE maintain the monopoly on lotteries offered at a federal level, and only some regions allow lottery operators.
As explained in 2.1 Online, land-based gambling (and online gambling at regional level) is regulated by each of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and therefore each autonomous region has its own catalogue of approved and permitted games. There are certain differences among the regions, but the following gaming products are generally permitted:
The key legislation for online gambling at federal level is as follows:
The key legislation for land-based and online gambling at a regional level is approved by each of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, so each autonomous region has its own Gambling Act and secondary regulations developing the Gambling Act.
The Gambling Act defines gambling as an activity in which amounts of money or economically measurable objects are put at risk on uncertain and future events, dependent at least to some extent on chance, and that allows these sums to be transferred between the participants, regardless of whether the level of skill of the players is decisive in the results or whether they depend wholly or fundamentally on luck or chance. The prizes can be in cash or in kind, depending on the type of game.
For clarification purposes, the definition contains three essential components, which are “chance”, “pay-to-play” and “prize”. If any of these elements is absent, the game will fall outside the scope of gambling, thus, the corresponding gambling regulation will not be applicable (for example, pure skill games will be excluded or prizes in virtual currency with no monetary value).
There is no specific or separate definition for land-based gambling.
The Gambling Act defines online gambling as games performed through electronic channels, IT and interactive systems, when any device, equipment or system is employed to produce, store or transfer documents, data or information, including through any public or private communication network. The communication network can include television, the internet, landlines, mobile phones or any other interactive communication system, in real time or recorded.
Given the regulatory distinction regarding the gambling sector in Spain, infractions and the related sanctioning regime are approved by the Spanish Gambling Act and by each autonomous region with respect to its territory and competence.
In both cases, administrative infractions are divided into three groups: very serious, serious and minor. Compiling the different regulations, the key offences can be summarised as indicated below.
Very serious infractions include:
Serious infractions include:
Minor infractions include:
Unlawful gambling is classified as a very serious infraction at both federal and regional level.
Unlawful gambling is sanctioned under the Gambling Act with a fine of between EUR1 million and EUR50 million. In addition to the fine, the regulator is entitled to revoke the licence of the entity carrying out the unlawful gambling, disqualify it from carrying out gambling activities for a maximum of four years, or close the media through which information society services were delivered and which supported the unlawful gambling activities.
Each regional gaming regulation – both online and land-based – approves its own sanctioning regime; however, in most of them, unlawful gaming is sanctioned with a fine of up to EUR600,000. In addition to the fine, regulators are entitled to revoke the licence or to impose a temporary removal of the licence for a maximum of five years.
With the regulation on online gambling advertising published in 2020 and the new Royal Decree on safer gambling published in 2023 , the legal regime for online gambling at federal level is now duly consolidated, without prejudice to the forthcoming regulations that are currently being updated or developed:
At the regional level, the most relevant pending legislation in most autonomous regions is still the regulation on advertising and responsible gambling.
The regulatory authority for online gambling at the federal level is the DGOJ. Since November 2023, this authority has been put under the umbrella of the new Ministry of Social Rights, Consumer Affairs and Agenda 2030 (prior to this, it was under the umbrella of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs for almost four years and under the Ministry of Finance before that) and is competent, at the federal level, to:
The regulatory authority for regional gambling – both online and land-based – depends on each autonomous region. These authorities are usually under the umbrella of the relevant regional departments of finance or the interior.
Before discussing the approach to gambling regulation in Spain, a differentiation should be made between:
Online gambling can be offered at a federal or regional level. Customarily, entities apply for federal licences since this way they can offer online gambling in the whole territory without having to apply for licences at a regional level.
The aim of the Gambling Act is to regulate all those types of games that take place at a federal level in order to protect public order, combat fraud, prevent addictive behaviour, protect minors and safeguard players’ rights, without affecting what is established in the regional regulations.
To offer online gambling in Spain at a federal level, entities must obtain a general licence for each category of game (betting, contest or other games) and a single licence for each type of game included in its general licence category.
The regulatory approach to land-based gambling is based on the licensing or authorisation regime approved by each autonomous region. The requirements and conditions vary depending on the region and type of licence that an entity is interested in applying for.
Please refer to 3.7 Recent or Forthcoming Legislative Changes and 6.5 Recent or Forthcoming Legislative Changes for discussion of developments in the Spanish gambling sector. Other than these, there have been no significant changes to the licensing and regulatory framework in Spain over the past year.
At a federal level, the available licences are classified as follows.
For example, an entity that wishes to commercialise bingo, baccarat and poker will need one general licence (other games) and three single licences (bingo, baccarat and poker). In other words, general licences per se are not valid to offer games; to do so, the entity will also need to obtain a single licence for each type of game within its category. General licences can only be obtained through a public tender process announced by the DGOJ. Entities can apply for single licences together with the general licence or at any other time, provided that they have already been granted and still hold the relevant general licence.
Each region has competence to establish its own licences and its own licensing procedure and regime.
There have been three public calls for general licences for online gambling at the federal level since the approval of the Spanish Gambling Act in 2011: in 2011, 2014 and 2017. None of the three public tenders limited the number of operators that could be granted a licence, nor the number of licences to be granted. In other words, all those operators that met the requirements established within the tender obtained the licence.
The Spanish regulation permits any interested party to request a new call for gambling licences at least 18 months after the previous call.
The processes for regional land-based licences are approved by each autonomous region and, depending on the type of licence and region, there can be limits on the number of licences available (for example, licences for betting shops in the Canary Islands) or the licences can be limited to one and subject to a public tender process (as is the case, for example, for licences for land-based casinos).
Online Gambling at Federal Level
General licences are valid for ten years, extendable by another ten. Single licences have a minimum duration of one year and a maximum duration of five, depending on the type of gambling product, and these are also extendable by successive periods of the same duration. The expiry of the general licence that the single licence is linked to implies the expiry of the single licence as well.
The duration of licences depends on each region and type of licence. Customarily, licences are valid for ten years, extendable by another ten.
Although there are differences between the application requirements for land-based operators (with slight differences among the regions) and online operators subject to the Gambling Act, the requirements are always divided into three sections to prove legal, economic and technical solvency.
The main application requirements are as follows.
The Spanish Gambling Act also requires the directors and shareholders of the applicant entity to disclose information about their relatives (spouse, cohabitant, ascendants, and descendants older than 18) in order to inscribe them in the registry of individuals linked to the operator, since these individuals cannot gamble on the relevant operator’s website.
The timing of the application process depends on the applicable regulation, type of licence and conditions approved by the corresponding public tender, if applicable. For instance, the last window to apply for general licences for online gambling at a federal level was opened for one year, with interested parties being entitled to apply for their licences between December 2017 and December 2018. The DGOJ had a term of six months from the submission of the relevant applications to issue or refuse the licences.
Initially, the licences are granted with a provisional nature. To obtain definitive licences, operators must submit the definitive certification report of the technical systems to the DGOJ within a maximum term of four months from the provisional granting. Once the certification documentation is submitted, the DGOJ proceeds with the review and the granting of the definitive licences within a maximum term of two months. Operators can start operating with the provisional licence.
The duration of regional licences depends on each regional regulation and, if applicable, on the conditions of the public tender process. Customarily, it takes between three and six months from the submission of the application for the regulator to review and proceed with the granting of the relevant licence.
For online gambling licence applications at a federal level, entities must pay the following administrative fees:
For regional licence applications, the cost depends on the region and the type of licence applied for.
For online gambling licences at a federal level, there is an annual fee of 0.075% of turnover, which operators need to pay by 31 January each year.
For regional licences, the ongoing annual fee depends on the region and type of licence.
Each region has its own regulation for each type of premises licensing: casinos, gaming halls, bingos and betting shops. Therefore, the requirements for licensing depend on the premises and the autonomous region in question.
While the approach in some regions – regarding requirements such as the number of slots/betting terminals, establishments or installations, or the minimum size (in square metres) – is more restrictive, in others it is more flexible. Also, in some cases, casino premises for example, licensing is subject to a public tender process.
Notwithstanding the above-mentioned regional variation, in general terms the requested documentation aims to prove the legal, technical and economic solvency of the applicant. The main requirements and differences that can be identified are as follows:
The land-based gambling sector is still implementing certain changes, with the aim of reinforcing the protection of vulnerable individuals and tightening the regulation of gambling advertising. The main changes in this regard are as follows.
Approval of New Regulations in Balearic Islands, Aragon and Galicia
On 3 April 2023, Law 9/2023 was approved in the Balearic Islands, which modified their previous Gambling Law. This positioned the Balearic Island at the forefront of regions pioneering measures to combat gambling addiction. With the application of the new Balearic regulations, slot machines will cease to emit lights or sounds, remain dormant when not in use, and incorporate a start-up screen that will ask the user about their legal age and warn them about the potential risks of addiction associated with the game.
On 23 March 2023, these same measures were incorporated in Aragon, following the approval of Law 9/2023, which modified their previous Gambling Law. Included among the significant changes in this new regulation is a provision requiring a minimum distance of 500 metres between gaming establishments and educational centres, as well as the prohibition on cash withdrawals from point of sales terminals with credit cards within the premises of gaming establishments.
On 4 July 2023, a new Gambling Law was issued in Galicia. This law dictates that leisure and dining venues, which do not primarily serve as gaming establishments, are now limited to two recreational machines each. Bars are permitted to host type A special (slot machines) and type B (betting) machines. Bingo halls can additionally include type B special machines, whereas casinos are allowed type C machines, which are entirely based on chance and offer larger prizes. In response to public concerns, the law has changed the distance regulations between gaming establishments and educational centres. The required distance has been increased from 150 metres to 300. Notwithstanding this, it should be noted that existing gaming establishments are given a 15-year grace period to comply, but must adhere to the new distance if relocating.
This new law is viewed by some as a missed opportunity and “lacking courage”, as it fails to directly address the issue of minors and gambling addicts betting in bars.
Distances Between Gambling Premises and Educational Centres
Spain’s regions have largely regulated the minimal distances between gambling venues and educational institutions. Valencia, for example, mandates a 500-metre separation between gaming halls, and an 850-metre gap between these and educational centres. Andalusia requires a smaller, 150-metre distance, while Barcelona enforces a larger 800-metre one. Further, by issuing Decree 19/2022, which modified Law 6/2001, Madrid also regulated the proximity of gambling sites to educational centres, imposing a 100-metre minimum distance between game-play venues and a 300-metre minimum distance between educational centres and game-play venues.
Recently, the Superior Court of Justice of the Valencian Community (TSJCV) submitted a consultation to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), to evaluate whether the stipulated distances in Valencia (500 metres between gaming halls and 850 metres from educational centres to gaming halls) possibly unfairly disadvantage private companies, and whether they comply with the principles of freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services, as defined by the European Union.
The implications are profound, with four appeals lodged by gaming sector business associations against these measures held in suspension. The path forward lies in the hands of the CJEU, whose verdict on the TSJCV’s query is eagerly awaited.
As a consequence of the approval of the Royal Decree on commercial communications for online gambling activities at a federal level in 2020, most of the regions in Spain announced their intention to proceed with the adaptation of their regulations to that Royal Decree. Valencia is the region with the most restrictive regulation on gambling advertising and, as a result, any type of gambling advertising or promotional activity has been prohibited.
Spanish gambling regulation does not distinguish between B2C and B2B licences, nor between the law applicable to the operations of one operator and another.
The definition of “gaming operator” states that an operator needs to obtain a licence in Spain if it:
Entities that meet the above requirements and also manage gaming platforms in which they are members, or that other gaming operators join, pooling together stakes coming from their respective users, will be considered as gaming operators and gaming co-organisers.
Spanish gambling regulation does not make any distinction between B2B and B2C operators.
The regulation provides a definition of “gaming operator”. If a B2B operator meets the requirements established by the regulation, it is subject to licensing and, technically speaking, will be considered a gaming operator.
Consequently, the inclusion of a B2B operator within the definition of a gaming operator, and its requirement to be licensed, depends on the services that said operator intends to provide within Spain, along with the conditions related to that service.
In practical terms, experience has shown that the Spanish regulator understands that a B2B company falls under the definition of “gaming operator” only in exceptional circumstances, such as when offering network jackpots, offering shared liquidity or providing all gaming services to a white-label company that only provides the “look and feel”.
Affiliates do not need to hold a licence in Spain as long as they do not register clients or maintain an agreement or gaming account with them.
White-label arrangements in a B2B scenario are permitted provided the provider operating behind the website is duly licensed, since in this case the B2B operator is categorised as a “gaming operator”. The new regulation on advertising establishes a new requirement by which an operator is prohibited from using brands or trade names that are not owned by said operator or by the business group to which such operator belongs, to identify and differentiate itself from other operators.
In addition to this, depending on the activity developed by the white-label operator (which provides the look and feel), an entity may also be categorised as a “gaming operator”. Consequently, it may also be subject to licensing.
Royal Decree to Regulate the Development of Safer Gambling Environments
Upon examination, among the most relevant changes implemented by Royal Decree 176/2023, of 14 March, it is crucial to highlight the introduction of new categories of players (ie, young players and intensive players). Alongside those exhibiting risky behaviours, these categories have become the prime focus of the regulator’s augmented protective measures.
Central to these adjustments is an array of notifications which operators are obligated to supply at specific intervals – for example, when certain predetermined thresholds or events are reached. The key objective is to ensure that participants have access to the necessary information to formulate educated judgements ahead of time and allow them to rectify their behaviour.
Additional noteworthy amendments include prohibitions placed on the aforementioned groups of participants, ranging from a ban on using credit cards to the prohibition of accessing VIP schemes and a restriction on receiving commercial communications.
Draft Law for Introducing a System of Joint Deposit Limits
On 1 September 2023, the DGOJ initiated a public consultation period on the draft Royal Decree that will amend Royal Decree 1614/2011, of 14 November, developing the Gambling Act 13/2011, on Licences, Authorisations and Gaming Registries, aimed at implementing a system of joint deposit limits.
The proposed modification is designed to establish a financial restriction on the cumulative deposits that an individual participant can submit across all gaming accounts associated with any of their user registries held with licenced gambling operators. This proposal aims to enhance the protection provided to participants holding gaming accounts with multiple operators.
Additionally, the document acknowledges the need to update certain key aspects of Royal Decree 1614/2011 due to the significant time that has elapsed since its establishment. Thus, the DGOJ will use this opportunity to revise Annex I of the Royal Decree, particularly regarding the amounts and legal form of the establishment of guarantees by gambling operators.
The period for public consultation, allowing the public to participate by offering suggestions, concluded on 16 October 2023.
Draft Resolution Approving the New Data Model and Modifying Annexes I of Two Resolutions
On 7 July 2023, the DGOJ initiated a public consultation period on the draft Resolution approving the new Data Model and modifying Annexes I:
The purpose of these modifications is to adapt the existing Resolutions to recent regulatory changes, most notably, the Royal Decree on Gambling Advertising and Responsible Gambling, which have imposed additional obligations onto operators which could be monitored by the DGOJ, through the introduction of the necessary changes to the data model of the monitoring system.
Among the numerous modifications proposed, amendments include the removal of the requirement for the ICS operator’s data storage to be based in Spain, allowing to be established anywhere in the EU, and the reduction of the ICS data retention period from six to four years.
The consultation, in which the public could participate with suggestions or concerns, concluded on 7 September 2023.
Draft Law Regulating Customer Services
On 27 April 2023, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the draft law regulating customer services, the main objective of which is to alleviate the deficiencies detected in the provision of this type of service by large companies and to better safeguard consumer rights.
The draft law arises from numerous consumer complaints centred around inefficient customer service, typically within larger entities. This regulation, also foresees the possibility that small and medium-sized companies and financially struggling companies will not be affected by the regulation, as they are not the main generators of these complaints. Notably, some online gambling operators, determined by annual income, may fall under this regulation. The draft law encourages consumer rights and establishes base-line quality standards for customer services across sectors including utility providers, transportation, postal services, conditional access to audiovisual media and electronic communications services. Companies are expected to maintain satisfactory services to inform, handle, and resolve customer complaints.
The regulation does not contain specific technical measures to protect consumers from unlicensed operators. However, the DGOJ is entitled to request that internet service providers and financial entities adopt blocking measures within sanctioning procedures initiated against illegal operators. In this sense, blocking access from Spanish IP addresses and payment-blocking are the most common measures. Indeed, the DGOJ has committed to continue intensifying the existing policy of domain name system (DNS)-blocking and monitoring payment traffic to identify the main black-market operators targeting the Spanish market.
Somewhat related to the above, the most recent modification of the Spanish Gambling Act incorporated the following new types of infractions:
The gambling sector is fully committed to the detection of participation in gambling activities by minors and vulnerable groups. The aim of the responsible gambling requirements is to prevent and correct the negative effects of gambling through the application of different measures.
Most of the responsible gaming requirements are compulsory for online operators. The requirements for land-based operators vary by region and premises, and some land-based operators apply additional responsible gambling measures in their businesses, at their own initiative.
Key requirements include the prohibition of loans to players, the need to provide clear and accurate information to participants, accessible customer service for player complaints, and the facilitation of a customer support hotline by online operators at the federal level. Operators are also obliged to inform players about the General Register of Gambling Access Bans (RGIAJ) and offer self-exclusion options. Responsible gambling tests are also mandatory to detect potential gambling issues.
In this sense, the regulation of gambling activities requires the following:
As explained in 6.5 Recent or Forthcoming Changes, the expected new Royal Decree 176/2023 on safer gambling environments was finally published on 14 March 2023.
The regulation includes the introduction of two new subcategories within the existing grouping of vulnerable participants. The first of these subgroups includes young participants below the age of 26. The second defines “intensive players” as per the DGOJ’s specifications, that is, individuals who have incurred net losses exceeding EUR600 for three consecutive weeks. As it pertains to young participants, net weekly losses for intensive players are those that equal or surpass EUR200 for three successive weeks.
Other distinctive constraints introduced by the DGOJ for these vulnerable groups include a credit card usage ban for intensive players and those exhibiting risky behaviour; barring access to VIP schemes for younger and risky players and limiting the extent of commercial communication for this latter group.
The main focus of the regulator during this regulation’s development has been its commitment to providing a comprehensive protective framework for all players and an advanced model offering users additional tools in order to be aware of their gambling habits and the options at their disposal. This concern is expressed in the implementation of measures such as the amplification of mandatory messages that operators must send to users under various circumstances. For instance, their classification as part of a vulnerable group, information on their gambling patterns, and in-session games allow users to maintain a thorough understanding of their gambling habits, time spent playing, and money expended.
Other proactive initiatives include the introduction of a new role, “the RG officer” tasked with overseeing the safe gaming regulations put into practice by the operator, the addition of the operator’s active measures plan on RG, and emphasising the compulsory staff training obligations regarding safe gambling imposed on gambling operators.
Additionally, this regulation has included a requirement to set up the gaming session with spending and time limits for all the games grouped under “other games” with the exception of poker tournaments due to their unique characteristics. This is a deviation from the previous regime, which applied these limits solely to slot games.
As detailed throughout 7. Responsible Gambling (RG), Also Known as Safer Gambling (SG), the Spanish authorities have created different tools for operators and citizens in order to promote responsible gambling.
Through an inscription in the RGIAJ, an individual is fully prohibited from accessing gambling activity (applicable to online and land-based gambling). The register is formed of the data of citizens that voluntarily do not wish to exercise their rights to gamble and of those that are declared incapacitated by a legal ruling.
Player Verification Service
The DGOJ offers online operators a tool to proceed with the ID verification of their customers resident in Spain. Operators can also check whether the customer is registered with the RGIAJ with this tool, and whether the data provided by the customer corresponds to a minor or to individuals included in the Civil Registry as deceased.
The DGOJ has launched a service addressed to all citizens in order for the operator to detect and communicate an attempt of activation of a user registration when the identity data provided matches the data of an individual who is registered with this service.
No specific AML guidance relevant to the gambling sector is available in Spain, nor has anything been published in this regard by the DGOJ or the Executive Service of the Commission for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Monetary Offences (SEPBLAC).
Given that the central state has competence over AML regulation, the main applicable AML regulation is composed of Federal Law 10/2010, of 28 April, on the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing, and Federal Royal Decree 304/2014, of 5 May, developing the regulation of the Spanish AML Act.
No recent changes have been published on this subject.
The Spanish AML regulation establishes the instructions, proceedings and duties that online and land-based gambling operators need to apply for the prevention of money laundering.
The main requirements and obligations are as follows:
Contrary to what happens, for instance, in the UK, in Spain there is no specific regulatory or supervisory agency for advertising.
In spite of that, in the case of online gambling at the federal level, the DGOJ supervises compliance with the applicable advertising rules by the gambling operators and sanctions them if they breach those regulations. For audiovisual communication service providers rendering services to gambling operators, the authority to launch proceedings and sanction lies not only with the DGOJ but also with the National Commission of Markets and Competence (CNMC).
Article 2 of General Advertising Law 34/1988 defines advertising as “any form of communication made by a natural or legal person, public or private, in the exercise of a commercial, industrial, craft or professional activity, in order to directly or indirectly promote the hiring of movable or immovable property, services, rights and obligations”.
Royal Decree 958/2020, of 3 November, on commercial communications for gambling activities defines commercial communications as “any form of advertising carried out by a natural or legal person, public or private, disseminated through any media or format, meant to promote, either directly or indirectly, the gambling activities defined within the scope of application of Law 13/2011, of 27th May, or the entities that carry out such communications. Broadcasting of game draws or the purely informative dissemination of their results shall not be considered commercial communications”.
The key legal provisions can be divided into the following groups.
Gambling operators must be duly licensed by the regulator to advertise their products. According to Article 7.1 of the Gambling Act, to carry out gaming activities on audiovisual programmes, news media or websites, gaming operators must have an authorisation (ie, the corresponding gambling licence). The same is true at regional level.
Advertising Providers’ Requirement to Check Licensing
Any advertising third-party provider must confirm that its client (gambling operator) is duly licensed according to Article 7.3 of the Gambling Act. This involves verifying that the advertiser, whether a media entity or service provider, confirms their client’s legitimate licensing from the DGOJ. Infringements in the Gambling Law fall into two categories:
Both infractions are qualified as serious infractions and are therefore subject to fines of between EUR100,000 and EUR1 million and to the suspension of activity in Spain for a maximum period of six months.
Each autonomous region individually approves sanctions for regional land-based and online gambling.
The current legislation applicable to the advertising of gambling operators – and their products – is as follows:
The most important restriction is that gambling products can only be advertised by licensed operators.
The present restrictions on gambling advertising aim to shield consumers. The main principles include legality, honesty, identification, veracity, societal responsibility, responsible gaming, underage protection, especially enforcing restrictions during watershed hours.
Royal Decree 958/2020 on commercial communications of gambling activities was introduced and implemented on 4 November 2020, following publication in the Official Spanish Gazette. Its regulation and requirements entered into force mostly throughout 2021.
The most relevant restrictions implemented by this Decree applicable to the online gambling sector include:
Please note that social gaming products can generally be advertised without the restrictions applicable to gambling products.
In terms of advertising for online gambling regulated at the federal level, Articles 40 d) and e) of the Gambling Act state the relevant applicable infractions, which are subject to the same sanctions:
Following its entry into force, the Royal Decree on commercial communications for gambling activities was challenged before the Spanish Supreme Court by key stakeholders such as the Spanish Association on Online Gambling (Jdigital), the Information Media Association and the Football League. This controversy led to the decree’s scrutiny by the Spanish Supreme Court on 20 July 2022, which questioned the constitutionality of Article 7.2 of the Spanish Gambling Act. This article, which governs the boundaries of gambling advertising, was compared to Article 53.1 and Article 38 of the Spanish Constitution, which mandate legislative regulation and guarantee the right of free enterprise, respectively. The Constitutional Court is set to scrutinise the legality of Article 7.2, critically affecting the decree’s validity. However, no resolution is expected within the next year, with the Supreme Court’s final judgment pending the Constitutional Court’s decision. Despite the ongoing dispute, the decree remains binding.
Furthermore, General Audiovisual Communications Act 7/2010 was repealed and replaced by Act 13/2022 on the 7 July 2023, which, among other restrictions, confined commercial advertisements on audiovisual media service to between 1am and 5 am. This rule aligns with the controversial decree’s significant restrictions on commercial gambling communications.
Acquisitions and changes of control are not subject to the prior approval of the regulator. However, it should always be taken into account that if, as a result of said acquisition, any of the conditions of the operator company that were disclosed to the regulator at the time of applying for the relevant licences were affected or changed (for instance, the solvency of the group, the intercompany agreements for the provision of services or the directors of the operator company), then the operator company will not only have to notify the regulator of the change of control (within one month from its completion) but also file the documents evidencing any of those material changes that have taken place as a result of the acquisition.
Despite the fact that a change of control does not require the prior approval of the regulator, it is always advisable to contact the regulator before completing the change of control to ascertain any possible concerns it might have regarding the transaction.
The relevant threshold is set around the concept of the “significant” shareholder, which is defined by the corresponding domestic law of the operator company. For instance, in Spain, a “significant shareholding” of a listed company would be 3% or more of the shares, and for a non-listed company it is a percentage with which the relevant shareholder could effectively, even directly or indirectly, control the company.
Any “significant” change of control shall be notified to the regulator within one month of its completion.
There is no distinction made for passive investors.
Regulatory bodies are legally allowed not only to impose economic sanctions but also to revoke or suspend licences. Regulators could even suspend gambling licences or seize any assets or documents related to, and needed for, the licensed activity as a precautionary measure.
Economic sanctions may be enforced through the exercise of the relevant guarantees submitted by the operators before the regulator to cover their liabilities and potential consequences that arise as a result of a breach of their obligations as operators. If these guarantees are not enough to cover a certain liability, the sanctions imposed by the regulator could be enforced through common civil remedies (the seizure of assets, goods, shares, deposits, etc).
Additional sanctions such as activity suspension and limitations on licence applications may be directly imposed by the regulator or the Ministry of Tax for severe infractions, without requiring further measures beyond the sanction’s announcement.
Since Q2 2022, the DGOJ has published any “serious“ and “very serious” sanctions against online operators on its website.
As mentioned in 11.2 Sanctions, financial penalties are normally first enforced by the execution of the guarantees deposited by the operator before the regulator, and by the seizure of assets of the sanctioned operator company if the guarantees are not sufficient to cover the relevant liability.
On 16 November 2023, left-wing parties were elected again in Spain. With this, a series of changes have taken place in the government, including changes in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, which is directly responsible for the DGOJ.
First of all, it should be noted that Mr Alberto Garzón, until now Minister for Consumer Affairs, has been replaced by Mr Pablo Bustinduy. The new Minister is known for having participated in the creation of the political party Podemos (which espoused an extreme left-wing ideology) and is now a sympathiser of the political party Sumar (also a party of the far left). Another notable change is the disappearance of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs itself and its integration within the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030. Therefore, the DGOJ is now under the umbrella of the new Ministry of Social Rights, Consumer Affairs and Agenda 2030.
For this new legislature, the programme of the Ministry foresees the approval of several laws, including the law on general contracting conditions and the law regulating customer services, which failed to be approved by the last legislature. On this basis, no major changes are expected in the future of the Ministry and in terms of the gambling industry, as both the former and current Ministers have a similar political approach.
Barring any surprises, the current regulator at the DGOJ, Mr Mikel Arana, will be replaced in the next few months.
The tax rate for online gambling at the federal level, subject to the Gambling Act, is 20% on GGR or the total amount of money wagered minus the amount won for all gambling products. This tax rate is 10% on GGR if the licensed operator at the federal level is domiciled in Ceuta or Melilla.
The tax rate for online gambling at a regional level, subject to each regional regulation, is 10% on GGR in most of the regions.
The tax rate applicable to the land-based sector is approved by each regional regulation and therefore varies depending on the region. As an example, in the region of Madrid, the applicable taxes are as follows:
The tax rate applicable to land-based casinos depends on the tax base:
In Andalusia, for instance, the applicable tax rates are as follows:
In addition, there are fixed rates that apply to operating betting terminals or automatic appliances that are suitable for the development of games. The amount depends on the applicable regulation, but the fee generally ranges from EUR3,000 to EUR4,000 per year for terminal type B/AWP and from EUR4,000 to EUR5,500 per year for terminal type C/casino machines.
On 16 November 2023, left-wing parties were elected again. Following this, a series of changes have taken place in the Spanish government, including changes in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, which is directly responsible for the DGOJ.
First of all, it should be noted that Alberto Garzón, until now Minister for Consumer Affairs, has been replaced by Pablo Bustinduy. The new Minister is known for having participated in the creation of the staunchly left-wing political party Podemos and is now a sympathiser of the political party Sumar (also of the extreme left). Another notable change consists of the disappearance of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs itself and its integration within the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030. Therefore, the DGOJ is now under the umbrella of the new Ministry of Social Rights, Consumer Affairs and Agenda 2030.
For this new legislature, the programme of the Ministry foresees the approval of several laws, including the law on general contracting conditions and the law regulating customer services, which failed to be approved in the last legislature. On this basis, no major changes are expected in the future of the Ministry and in terms of the gambling industry, as both the former and current Ministers have a similar political approach.
Barring any surprises, the current regulator at the DGOJ, Mikel Arana, will be replaced in the next few months.