New Austrian gambling laws do little for internet operators

Revisions mainly concern land industry…and avoiding EC hassles

Motivated largely by European Commission compliance considerations and taking more than two years to finalise, the revised Austrian gambling laws published mid-June do little to improve the position of foreign online gambling operators in a promising market.

Little appears to have changed regarding internet operating restrictions, whereby only Austrian companies can acquire licensing, and only Austrians are permitted to play on their internet sites, a situation perhaps reinforced by the apparent trend towards national regulatory regimes exemplified by France and Italy.

Bookmaking services are handled differently, and are viewed as an extension of state-licensed land-based operations through which license holders are permitted to offer services via remote channels.

Austria has also come under pressure for excluding foreign licensed internet gambling companies from advertising in-country, whilst permitting its own licensed companies, and even EU-based licensed land gambling companies, to advertise.

Even in the land-based context, the revisions have stirred up contentious debate on everything from player protection to the potentially adverse impact on independent slot gambling operators.

The number of casino licences awarded has been increased from 12 to 15, but these will be harder to acquire and more restrictive regarding wagering limits and prizes, machine numbers and location.

However, the availability of slot machines will be spread wider than the old regime, under which this form of gambling was confined to only four provinces - Vienna, Styria, Carinthia and Lower Austria. The sting in the tail is that arcade licenses are limited to one for every 1,200 people (or one for every 600 in Austria’s capital city of Vienna), and there must be a minimum distance of 15 kilometers between each arcade (or 2km in Vienna).

Industry observers predict that the new law will set the scene for an end to the monopoly enjoyed by Casinos Austria; it appears that other EU land casino operators will be able to apply for the additional licenses.

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