Germany is a country with an established connection to gambling.
In fact, historians argue that the very first casino in the world was set up in Germany, all the way back in 1720. The insanely popular game of poker takes its name from the German word “pochen,” which means to “brag.” Germans had been introduced to gambling games all the way back in the times of the Roman Empire, which makes it all the more bewildering why the country has such a curious relationship with the pastime.

Gambling in Germany Today

The laws surrounding gambling laws and regulations in Germany have been a little hard to define for some time. Land-based casinos are fully backed by the German authorities, yet slot arcades and games houses and smaller casinos have taken a massive hit over the years.

In essence, some gambling is acceptable, yet other forms are not. This confusion has led to various bans, court battles, and rulings which are still no closer to clearly defining the gambling landscape in the European super-power. This has led to many German casino and sports betting enthusiasts having a dilemma when it comes to playing their favorite games online, and in many cases, in brick-and-mortar casinos throughout the country.

As it stands, German players can access many online casino sites from outside the country. This provides them with the means to play games and win money, but with zero legal recourse or protection if an online betting company were to withhold their winnings or simply refuse to pay out.

The German public can play on sites which are licensed and regulated in countries outside of Germany. As there are some illegal casinos operating from countries in the Caribbean, for example, they are often at the mercy of these operators given that there is no infrastructure or legal way to play in Germany. While many of the more reputable betting sites and companies accept German players, others prefer to go down a different route: get their betting and gaming kicks in a state-sponsored casino.

Even then, the 12 states of Germany had a say in how they would monitor and manage their citizens’ gambling activities. The confusion regarding gambling in Germany can be traced to a treaty which came into effect in 2008. Prior to this treaty, there was minor intrusion into players’ ability to bet or play casino games, especially online.

Online Gambling Outlawed in Germany

Online gambling is illegal in Germany today. That is the official line, at least. That line does tend to blur a little when we look at the state of play when it comes to German gambling as we approach the third decade of the 2000s.

Online casinos and almost all other online betting agencies were essentially outlawed on Jan. 1, 2008, in Germany. The country brought into effect its Interstate Treaty on Gambling (ITG) for the purpose of preventing citizens from activities related to internet betting. This meant that those living in the country would not have any access to sites which allowed the use of slots, roulette, poker, blackjack, and betting on sports.

Curiously, horse racing was excluded from the treaty and is supported by firms which are licensed by the German state for gambling purposes. State lotteries and the majority of the larger, land-based casinos were also not affected by this “outlawing” of gambling, which led to some stinging criticism regarding the move. While it polarized the German public, there were some who were simply outraged.

At the forefront of those who were unhappy with the ruling were major betting companies, who stood to lose hundreds of millions in revenue. The European Gaming and Betting Association also argued that the treaty had impacted European Union rules, essentially violating them without justification. German courts and the European Court of Justice took the action to demand that Germany open up their own “monopoly” on state-owned gambling.

Further Changes in 2012

In 2012, gambling laws could be argued to be a responsibility of each state of Germany but overseen by the government. This was down to the amendments of the treaty of 2008, where all but one German state would be affected.

The initial treaty was seen as a little too full-on. Campaigners had a small victory when it was amended in 2012. The changes saw the German government slightly soften its stance on gambling in the country, indicating that it would be slowly eased with time. As part of these changes, 20 licenses for sports betting were up for grabs. Naturally, there was a lot of competition. Licenses were granted, with a condition being that 5% of annual revenue was payable to the government.

In this year, we also saw the province of Schleswig-Holstein in the north of the country provide 50 licenses to online sports bookmakers, as well as online casinos and poker sites. The decision to “go renegade” earned the region the International Masters of Gaming Law’s European Gaming Regulator of the Year award to Guido Schluetz, who acted as the senior government official for Gambling Regulation and Supervision in Schleswig-Holstein.

While the move was bold, it wouldn’t last. Schleswig-Holstein would be back in the treaty the following year. Although this was the case, the German government was unable to cancel those 50 licenses that had already been granted. This added to the confusion even more so, with the companies who had purchased the licenses potentially looking at legal action for their troubles. Eventually, it was announced that the licenses would stand for their six-year terms.

Germany, a country with a population of over 82 million, had a lot of envious players who looked at those in Schleswig-Holstein as beyond lucky. Rather than having the freedom to bet in Germany in a safe manner, other Germans have to look elsewhere. And this is a problem.

How the German Laws Affect Gamblers and Outlets

While gambling in most parts of Germany is outlawed unless the outlet you are using has a license, players who cannot get to a casino can find other options. In Berlin, for example, there are many casinos littered around the city which are illegal, but the government for whatever reason cannot afford to shut these down.

This leaves many players who play at these establishments unprotected and without any real rights if anything happens to their money. Just like playing online with casinos which have shady licenses and questionable regulations, there is nothing to stop them from complaining, but the chances of their complaints yielding any results are slim to none. This is a problem which has not gone unnoticed.

German laws have also led to a large number of (what were once considered safe) betting halls being closed down. Laws state that these halls cannot be within a certain distance from schools, for example. These laws have caused major confusion and are in desperate need of change.

Protecting gamblers is important. Germany’s regulated gambling revenue is worth approximately €35 billion, which is an astounding amount of money. Many argue that this is one of the reasons why the government is so keen to keep things as they stand.

How Can Players Bet in Germany?

Given the very confusing betting laws in Germany, players who want to place certain sports bets can do so through a government-approved betting outlet. Land-based casinos are also open to the general public, although these are generally the bigger outlets in comparison to the smaller businesses that operate under the same name.

Many gaming terminals are also found in cafes, bars, and small restaurants around the country and are popular with many players. The rules and regulations of how these terminals should be treated are clear in the sense that they are illegal. They still continue to be used, however, as German authorities do not have the manpower to close them all down.

When it comes to online betting and casinos, players can still access many sites from around the world but must know that, while it is not illegal to do this, the German government’s attitude may change in the future.

Some players who do still play online casino games on sites which are licensed and regulated outside of the country use virtual private networks (VPNs), but this is something which we neither condone nor recommend. Many of the more reputable online casino operators are aware of the laws and regulations in Germany, and as such, they will block the access of German players who use their sites.

The Bottom Line

Germany’s gambling laws and regulations have caused a number of headaches for both players and operators in the country. While the German government has a monopoly on legalized gambling activities, lotteries, and bingo games, players who want to play online casino games are restricted in their choices.

Given that their options are pretty much limited to playing in government-approved casinos or with online companies – many which hold dubious licenses and regulations – many will still go online. This can be dangerous to players, as they have no legal recourse or rights if something goes awry. Winnings can be withheld, and they can have their accounts closed down by shady operators who take advantage of German anti-gambling laws.

More needs to be done to provide a fair and even playing field to sports bettors and casino game and poker enthusiasts who want nothing more than a fair shake. Germany looks set to make some more changes to its existing laws and regulations on gambling, which are hoped to bring the country more in line with other European states such as the UK and Ireland.

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