The gambling sector is heavily regulated in Poland, with only limited business opportunities available for private operators. Several types of gambling games may only be offered by the state-owned lottery operator, and strict regulations govern the private sector of the market, with a rather restrictive stance taken by the regulator. It is also often unclear whether a specific game should be considered gambling, and the laws in this regard are ambiguous.
Despite these challenges, the gambling sector in Poland, comprising mainly casino and betting operators, seems to be enjoying a period of spectacular growth, particularly in the betting sector, where operators’ turnover has doubled in the last three years, and the number of licensed operators has doubled in the last two years.
A major revision of the Act on Gambling Games came into force in 2017, and its effects are still resonating in the industry. The new law introduced a blocking mechanism for unlicensed gambling websites, which seems to be diminishing the market reach of offshore operators. Still, it is estimated that unlicensed operators constitute about 50% of the online betting market (although that figure used to be significantly higher).
The new law also introduced certain new forms of gambling to the Polish market, although the right to conduct the majority of these was only granted to the state lottery company. These new products, such as online casino games, may be considered to be competition against private operators in the sector.
In Poland, as a general rule, private entities are not permitted to conduct gambling games online. A state-owned company, Totalizator Sportowy, operates the only legal online casino, and offers games such as roulette, card games (poker, blackjack and baccarat – only in their single-player variants) and slot machines.
The only exceptions to this rule are betting and promotional lotteries, which may be organised by private operators holding a relevant official permit.
Non-gambling games, such as contests where participants’ skills or knowledge are tested (where the outcome is not based on luck), can be freely organised, with no official permit required.
Under Polish law, it is often difficult to distinguish clearly whether a particular activity should be considered a form of gambling. This is so with fantasy sports, which may often resemble betting, and online social games, if their result is not skill-based. These types of games are not explicitly regulated by Polish gambling laws, and an assessment of whether they are a form of gambling or not may depend on the details of each game.
The Minister in charge of public finance may on request issue individual decisions that determine whether a particular game should be considered as a specific form of gambling.
To conduct land-based gambling games, private operators must obtain an official permit or a licence (depending on the type of game), or, in the case of certain forms of charity lotteries or bingo, they need only notify the authorities in advance.
The Act on Gambling Games of 19 November 2009 (the “Act”, or, in Polish, ustawa o grach hazardowych) is the main legal act regulating the gambling sector. It covers topics such as the regulatory requirements related to specific types of games, licensing obligations, procedures, fees, gambling tax rates and administrative penalties for gambling operators.
Some violations of the Act are also criminal offences, and these are regulated in the Fiscal Criminal Code.
Gambling operators are also subject to other applicable legislation, such as that regulating data protection or anti-money laundering (AML) matters.
There is no definition of gambling per se in the Act. The Act covers organising “gambling games”, defined as “games of chance, betting, card games, and slot machine games”. Each of these categories is described further in the Act, and each category consists of specific types of games. “Games of chance”, the widest of these categories, comprises “games, including games organised via the internet, played for cash or in-kind prizes, whose results depend in particular on an element of chance”. This definition is very broad, and there is controversy over how to determine the degree of the “element of chance” necessary for a game to be considered a gambling game. Moreover, contradictory court judgments exist on whether the list of the types of games of chance that follows after the definition in the Act is exhaustive or non-exhaustive. Because of this, new games that may not be clearly classified as any of the specific types of games featured in gambling laws, but still feature an element of chance, are difficult to evaluate from the perspective of compliance with gambling laws.
Land-based gambling is not defined in the Act in any way, and the majority of the provisions of the Act apply the same rules to land-based and online games, with only certain specific rules being applicable only to games “organised via the Internet network”.
There is no separate definition of online gambling or online games in the Act, and the majority of the provisions of the Act apply the same rules to land-based and online games, with only certain specific rules being applicable only to games “organised via the internet network”. The right to conduct the majority of online gambling games is exclusively granted to the state-owned lottery company.
For gambling operators, the key offences that can be committed concern:
Each of these acts may be subject to administrative and/or criminal liability.
Participating in unlicensed gambling, or in any form of gambling conducted abroad with the participant being located in Poland, and in some cases even the possession of a slot machine, are also prohibited.
In most cases, operators violating the Act receive an administrative fine. The amount of the fine depends on the type of the violation, which in some cases may be adjusted to reflect the severity of the violation. The fine for offering gambling games without a licence or permit is fixed, and in most cases amounts to five times the official licence/permit fee.
A licence/permit may be revoked as a penalty for a gross violation of its terms.
Conducting unlawful gambling games is also subject to criminal liability for fiscal offences. Depending on the type and severity of the act, the criminal penalties include imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine (the amount of which depends on factors such as the severity of the act, the perpetrator’s income, and their personal and family circumstances). Only natural persons (eg, officers or directors of a company) are subject to criminal liability, but for acts committed by persons acting on behalf of a company, the company is also obliged to pay the fine (auxiliary liability), and additional measures may be taken against the company under the Act on Criminal Liability of Collective Entities for Punishable Offences.
Participants of unlicensed or foreign online gambling games may also be fined under fiscal criminal liability.
There are no significant pending legislative changes that would specifically affect the gambling sector.
There is no dedicated regulatory body responsible for the gambling sector in Poland. The duties typically associated with such a body are delegated to the Minister in charge of public finance. The Minister is responsible for issuing casino licences and betting permits, and may order operators to remedy breaches of the terms of their licence or permit. The Minister may issue decisions determining whether a specific game should be considered as one of the gambling games as described in the Act.
In addition, the National Revenue Administration authorities are responsible for some other duties, and for enforcement measures, including issuing the majority of administrative fines.
The Minister’s approach is often considered restrictive. It may seem that the regulator’s primary goal in this is to secure funds for the state treasury. The Minister tends to interpret gambling laws in ways that limit the scope of what operators are allowed to do, and at the same time, through sometimes controversial readings of the Act, strives to expand the scope of activities that in his view are either prohibited or require a permit or a licence.
There are two basic types of gambling licences available: a licence (koncesja) and a permit (zezwolenie). Under Polish entrepreneurship laws, a licence is required for economic activities concerning areas relevant to state security or an important public interest, where the business must be supervised by the authorities. Under gambling laws, licences are issued for casinos.
Permits are issued where a lesser degree of supervision is necessary, and a permit is required for all major forms of gambling other than casinos, including bingo parlours, betting and promotional lotteries. A permit only covers one kind of activity or a single promotional lottery, with online and land-based betting also requiring separate permits.
In respect of poker tournaments, minor raffle lotteries and raffle bingo, prior notification describing the details of the undertaking is required. No licence or permit is issued in such cases.
Only a limited number of casinos may operate in Poland: only one casino is permitted for every 250,000 inhabitants of a city, and the maximum total number of casinos depends on the population of each province (voivodship). When there is more than one applicant for a licence (which is usually the case), a public tender is held.
Similar limits are in place for bingo parlour and slot machine parlour permits, but in reality not a single bingo parlour is operating in Poland at this time, and only the state-owned operator can run slot machine parlours.
Other gambling permits are available without restriction.
Casino licences, bingo parlour permits and betting permits are granted for six years. They may be extended once for another six-year period.
Other permits are issued for the duration of each raffle bingo game or lottery, but for no longer than two years.
In the case of casinos, bingo halls and betting (both land-based and online), only a limited liability company or a joint stock company may conduct such games. The company either must have its registered office in Poland, or – in the case of companies having their registered office elsewhere within the European Economic Area – they must set up a branch office in Poland or appoint a representative here.
The basic application process is similar for all types of games where a licence or a permit is required. It comprises of submitting an application, along with all the necessary paperwork, to the relevant authority. In the case of local lotteries or raffle bingo, this would be the director of the Revenue Administration Chamber, and for other games, the Minister in charge of public finance. While reviewing the application, the authority may request additional information or documents from the applicant. After the review has been completed and the applicant has met the statutory requirements for obtaining the licence or permit, the authority issues a decision granting it.
The specific requirements for the contents of the application vary for different types of gambling games, but in general the following must be submitted (among others).
Members of the management board, supervisory board and the audit committee of each company applying for a casino licence or a bingo hall or betting permit must not have been convicted of an intentional crime, and no proceedings concerning criminal offences related to money laundering or the financing of terrorism may be pending against them in the European Economic Area. The same obligations apply to shareholders of at least 10% of the share capital of the company.
In addition, such shareholders must prove that they obtained the shares using disclosed sources of income.
There are no significant differences between the application requirements for land-based and online games, but an applicant for an online betting permit must submit additional documents, such as the technical documentation of the website planned to be used for betting.
In theory, a licence or permit application should be considered within six months from its submission, while for promotional lotteries, raffle lotteries and “audiotex” lotteries, this period is shortened to two months. Unfortunately, the authorities are not bound by these timelines, and in practice it often takes longer to obtain a decision (up to one year for a betting permit).
The application itself is free of charge, but the granting of a licence or a permit is subject to a fee. The fee depends on the type of game, and the specific amount is different each calendar year, as the Act makes it a multiple of a “base amount” (ie, average monthly salary). The fees are as follows.
In addition, in the case of several types of games, gambling operators are also required to provide guarantees, which are intended to cover the handing out of prizes, customers’ claims or unpaid gambling tax. Depending on the type of game, the guarantees may be in the form of a bank deposit or a bank or insurance guarantee. The amount of the guarantee is different for each game; in the case of a promotional lottery, it should cover the value of the prizes, and for a casino, it is fixed at PLN1.2 million.
With the exception of gambling tax (see 13 Tax for details), private operators are not subject to any ongoing fees related to holding a gambling licence or permit. The state-owned lottery operator is obliged to pay “surcharges”, a form of an additional quasi-tax used to support various state funds related to resolving gambling-related problems, promoting sports, or culture.
Each gambling premises (a casino or a betting point) must be compliant with certain requirements outlined in the Act. For example, each casino must have a CCTV system that records the progress of each game, and an independent power source to ensure that the games are not interrupted by power outages. The premises used for gambling must be listed in the casino licence or betting permit, but no separate licences for premises are issued.
Starting from mid-2018, the state-owned lottery company, Totalizator Sportowy, began launching slot machine parlours throughout Poland. This is a de facto reintroduction of this type of gambling game to the Polish market. Small, privately operated parlours used to be quite popular, but after the current Act came into force in 2010, technical approvals for their slot machines were not renewed, which made parlour owners unable to continue business legally.
Currently, slot machine parlours may only be operated by Totalizator Sportowy. To an extent, this sector may compete for customers with private, land-based betting operators.
The only forms of online gambling available for private operators are promotional lotteries (which are not typically associated with gambling) and betting websites. Conducting betting online requires a permit (for an outline of the licensing requirements and process, see 4.6 Application Requirements). Licensed betting operators only provide services to consumers.
Entities such as gaming software providers are free to operate without the need for any licence, and no such licences are in fact stipulated in the Act. Of course, they may not conduct gambling games by themselves, as a B2C licence would be necessary for that.
As licensed betting operators may be advertised online (although there is some controversy about this, see 9.4 Restrictions on Advertising for details), using affiliates is also fine in general. Affiliate marketing is still a form of advertising, and must follow all the guidelines applicable both to advertising in general and to the advertising of gambling games. In particular, any form of advertising must be clearly identified as such, since covert advertising is considered an act of unfair competition. Affiliates must also comply with all the rules on the advertising of gambling games, such as the prohibition to advertise a large set of games, and they must adhere to the obligations on the content of ads (see 9 Advertising for details).
Polish gambling laws do not recognise white-label providers as such, and there are severe restrictions on what activities related to conducting games may be entrusted or outsourced to third parties, especially online. Basically, third-party providers may only act as contractors providing services to online betting operators (such as software licensing), and should not interact with customers or influence the outcome of games. This makes it impossible to operate as a white-label provider in the typical meaning.
In December 2018, Totalizator Sportowy launched its online casino, which is the only online casino legally accessible in Poland, since private entities are not allowed to conduct casino games via the internet. The operator claims that the casino is a success. Its operation may impact on the business of online betting operators, as for some players it may be a competing product.
The websites of unlicensed gambling operators have been blocked in Poland since 2017. Internet service providers (ISPs) operating in Poland are obliged to reroute their customers who wish to access blacklisted websites’ URLs to a website hosted by the government, where information on the risks of unlicensed gaming are presented. A “DNS blocking” technique is used. As an additional measure, Polish payment service providers are obliged not to provide their services on blacklisted websites.
Blacklisted websites’ URLs are available in a publicly accessible online register. Website owners may appeal against blacklisting, but they are not informed of their website being blacklisted. Some offshore gambling operators are currently trying to fight the blacklisting mechanism in the courts, stating that it is not in line with the EU freedom to provide services, although so far the Polish courts have been dismissive of these claims.
Online gambling operators, as well as the state-owned operator of slot machine parlours, are obliged to implement responsible gaming policies, which include an age verification check mechanism, measures allowing participants to control their activity (such as the possibility to introduce limits on the funds that may be used for gaming) and the obligation to provide information on the risks associated with gambling. The responsible gaming policy must be approved by the Minister in charge of public finance.
Online gaming operators and the state-owned operator of slot machine parlours are obliged to provide certain gambling management tools, such as measures for customers to control their engagement in gaming, by limiting the time that may be spent playing (a “time-out”), or setting the maximum amount of money that may be spent during a specific period. Operators are also obliged not to allow their customers to play when there are no funds in their account (they may not accept gaming on credit).
There is no regulation on any self-exclusion schemes. A criminal court may impose a penal measure of a prohibition for an individual to participate in gambling games and enter gambling premises. This may be imposed alongside a conviction for a crime committed in relation to conducting or participating in gambling games.
Gambling operators are subject to AML regulations, particularly the Act on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism, which sets out the main AML-related obligations for all “obliged institutions”. There is no AML guidance applicable specifically to the gambling sector.
AML compliance is one of the prerequisites for obtaining a casino licence, a bingo parlour permit, or a betting permit. If an officer of a company holding a licence or permit becomes convicted for money laundering, the regulator is obliged to revoke that licence or permit.
All “obliged institutions” under the Act on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism, including gambling operators, are required to employ financial security measures, which include obligations to:
Among other AML obligations, it is also required to report to the General Inspector of Financial Information any cash payments made or received that exceed the equivalent of EUR15,000, and certain transfers of funds exceeding EUR15,000.
There is no dedicated regulatory or supervisory agency responsible for advertising of gambling specifically, although the body granting a licence or a permit for each specific gambling operation is equipped with a general right to instruct an operator to remedy any violations it finds, and it is also possible to consider irregularities in advertising as such.
Radio and TV advertisements are supervised by the National Broadcasting Council, but only broadcasters would be responsible before the Council if, for example, a betting ad was shown before 10pm.
Moreover, violations of advertising laws in the gambling sector are fiscal crimes, and may be prosecuted before a criminal court.
The Advertising Council is a self-regulatory body of the advertising sector. It considers complaints on advertisements, and may rule that an ad violates the Code of Ethics in Advertising, although such a decision is not binding.
A very broad set of actions constitutes “advertising” or “promotion” of gambling games under the Act. Any public display of trade marks of gambling operators, or other graphical symbols related to such games, as well as information on the possibility of participating in gambling, is considered advertising. Even the advertising of non-gambling goods or services whose “advertising image”, name or logo is similar to those of gambling services or operators falls within the category of the advertising of gambling games.
Moreover, acts including public presentations of gambling games, giving out any merchandising items or coupons, selling them, as well as other forms of public encouragement to participate in gambling games all constitute the “promotion” of such games.
The Act also regulates a specific form of advertising defined as “informing about sponsorship”. Here, betting operators may display their name and/or another identification mark (such as a logo) to inform that they finance or co-finance the activity of individuals or entities. Including any advertising content other than the name and logo, such as marketing slogans, is prohibited for this type of communication. Despite these restrictions, this form of advertising is popular among betting operators, with several sports clubs and national teams being sponsored by them.
The Act defines what constitutes the advertising or promotion of gambling games, and specifies what types of games may not be advertised at all (with certain exceptions), and the extent of advertising permitted.
Advertising gambling games in contravention of the law is a fiscal crime, and sanctions for it are provided in the Fiscal Criminal Code.
As a general rule, advertising and promoting almost any kind of gambling game is prohibited, unless specific provisions of the Act state otherwise.
Only licensed betting operators are allowed to advertise on a larger scale, but there are also restrictions concerning the placement and content of their ads. In particular, betting advertisements may not be presented:
As to their content, betting advertisements have to include warnings about the risks associated with gambling, the consequences of participation in illegal gambling and a reference to the operator’s permit. They may not feature minors or be addressed to them, and may not include statements or themes such as presenting refraining from gambling in an unfavourable way. Betting ads cannot invoke associations with certain topics, such as relaxation, sexual attractiveness or professional success.
Only “public” forms of advertising or promotion are prohibited. Advertisements may be displayed on the premises of casinos or betting points, or on online betting operators’ websites.
There are no restrictions on advertising lotteries (as well as number games) and bingo.
The Act does not specify any direct sanctions for violations of advertising rules, although the authorities responsible for issuing licences and permits may, as a measure of supervisory power, instruct an operator to cease broadcasting an ad the regulator has found to violate the Act.
Advertising gambling games in contravention of the law is a fiscal crime. It is also a crime to receive benefits from such advertising. The penalty for each of these acts is a fiscal fine. The amount of the fine depends on factors such as the offender’s earnings, other personal circumstances and the severity of the crime. The court may consider the act of such advertising as only a misdemeanour, and then the penalty would be significantly lower.
Only natural persons may be subject to criminal liability, but if such a person is found to have acted for a company, then the company is jointly liable along with the perpetrator for the payment of the fine.
The Minister in charge of public finance must be notified of every change in the capital structure of a company engaged in running a casino, cash bingo, or betting where such a change results in exceeding 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on, of the number of votes at the general meeting of shareholders or of the share in the share capital.
The Minister must also be notified of any change in the composition of the management board, supervisory board, or the audit committee of such companies, as well as “other changes concerning the company” (such as a change in the address of the company’s registered office).
The Minister does not currently approve such changes (this used to be the case until 2015), although if new shareholders or officers do not meet the respective legal requirements (such as those outlined in 10.3 Passive Investors Requirements), then this may be grounds for the revocation of the licence or permit of the company.
Gambling laws do not specify what should be considered a change of control, as this issue is not regulated directly. It is important to be aware that a licence or permit is not transferable by itself; it may only be acquired by asserting control over the company holding it, or acquiring it as a whole.
There are some requirements that investors holding more than 10% of the share capital of the company must meet. In particular:
A failure to meet these obligations is a violation of the statutory requirements for conducting activity in the gambling sector, and the company’s licence or permit may be revoked accordingly.
The authorities are allowed to conduct inspections on compliance with gambling laws.
The regulatory bodies may issue fines for non-compliance with the Act or the terms of a licence or permit. They may also summon operators to comply with the Act or the terms of the licence or permit, and if they fail to observe a summons, or in cases of gross violations and certain other cases, the penalty is the revocation of the licence or permit.
In addition, because conducting unlawful gambling games is also subject to criminal liability, such acts may also be punished under criminal laws (see 3.6 Penalties for Unlawful Gambling for details).
The blacklist of unlicensed gambling websites is also among the regulator’s enforcement measures.
According to the government report on the implementation of the Act, 811 inspections concerning gambling operators were conducted in 2018, and irregularities were found in 100 cases.
In addition, the authorities are actively enforcing the ban against private operators running slot machine gaming outside casinos. Over 10,000 machines were confiscated in 2018.
According to the government report on the implementation of the Act, the total value of administrative fines imposed by final decisions in 2018 was approximately PLN337,000, while no data is available concerning the number of cases resolved.
In 2018, the criminal courts imposed fines for fiscal crimes related to gambling on 2,953 perpetrators, and the total value of those fines was approximately PLN29 million, although the vast majority of them were probably related to operating illegal slot machine parlours, which the authorities seem to focus on.
Social games, where participants do not receive cash or in-kind prizes, are typically not considered gambling, although the confusing definition of a “slot machine” may lead to a different conclusion, depending on the design of a specific game.
One of the trends that is clearly visible is the increasing influence of gambling mechanics in online games: loot boxes and similar themes are becoming common in non-gambling video games, which may lead to increased pressure to regulate this issue under gambling laws (so far, the Polish regulator has declared that loot boxes are not gambling, but only a non-binding press statement about the topic was issued).
The eSports sector is enjoying a time of significant growth in Poland. Thousands of spectators attend major eSports events and follow tournaments online, and the media and businesses seem to be slowly embracing the phenomenon. The Polish Football Association has recently announced plans to establish a Polish national e-football team. The majority of betting operators currently accept bets on the results of eSports events in the same way as for “traditional” sports.
Fantasy sports leagues are not directly regulated by gambling laws, and it is not entirely clear whether they should be or not; this may also depend on the terms of a particular game. Promoters do not seem to be introducing fantasy sports to Poland on a larger scale. The reason for this may be the current, restrictive approach of the regulator. Nevertheless, the top Polish football league has launched a fantasy sports league, and considers it a non-gambling contest (a skill game).
Skill games are not gambling games under Polish law, and the restrictions applicable to gambling do not apply to them. Because of this, some manufacturers of slot machines have been recently trying to introduce machines where – according to their claims – the outcome of the game is not random, but solely depends on the participant’s skill. The authorities seem to be taking a dim view of this, and have been confiscating such machines. It seems that the courts will have final say here.
Blockchain does not seem to be having any impact at present on the gambling market in Poland. The strict laws on online gambling are likely the reason for this because there seems to be no legal "leeway" for licensed operators to use blockchain in their business.
The government has not unveiled any plans to introduce any significant changes to the Act soon. Some effects of the 2017 reform of the Act are still being introduced; for instance, the state-owned online casino was launched in December 2018.
Betting operators have been campaigning to lower the gambling tax applicable to them. In several countries, the gambling tax for betting is a percentage of the gross gaming revenue (GGR), the difference between the sum of wagers placed by participants and the amount they win. In Poland, the tax is based on the sum of wagers placed, which makes it difficult for betting operators to compete with offshore (unlicensed) competitors. To date, local operators’ appeals for GGR-based tax have not met with the government’s approval.
Gambling operators, with the exception of promotional lottery promoters, are obliged to pay gambling tax. The tax rate and tax base vary for each gambling game: