Prague gambling rooms set to vanish

Laws are taking a bite out of gambling machines and online betting

Some 69 gambling rooms were closed in Prague by the end of 2016. In total the Finance Ministry began 184 administrative proceedings before the end of the year. A law in effect since Jan. 1, 2016, has limited gambling machines to casinos. This laws was joined Jan. 1, 2017, by a separate gambling law setting high tax rates for online gambling operators and allowing for unlicensed gambling websites to be blocked.

Of the 200 administrative proceedings against gambling rooms started since the beginning of 2016 some 115 have resulted in decisions of first instance, which can be appealed. Decisions in the second instance have definitively closed 69 gambling rooms. According to a document approved by city councilors, the city is in the final stages to close all 212 gambling rooms in Prague.

The ministry cannot remove existing licenses to operate gambling rooms, but the number of rooms is continuing to fall as licenses become invalid and are not renewed.

Gambling rooms have disappeared completely in some part of the city, especially where people had been complaining about noise at all hours from intoxicated patrons of the establishments, which tended to be open 24 hours a day and also served alcohol in addition to having gambling machines.

Gambling machines began to be regulated in 2008. The city administration reduced the number of authorized slot machines from 8,358 to 2,724, and reduced the number further in subsequent years.

Aside from limiting gambling in brick-and-mortar establishments, online gambling has also been targeted by legislation. Czechs currently bet an estimated $6 billion per year, according to gambling experts.

The online gambling reforms bring laws more in line with EU regulations by opening the market to foreign operators. But the new tax rates are high, at 35 percent of gross gaming revenue on top of a 19 percent corporate tax rate.

There is also a provision that prevents online poker bets from exceeding Kč 1,000 while winnings in any specific game, including tournaments, are capped at Kč 50,000.

The Finance Ministry of announced Dec. 6 that just 12 companies, all domestically based, had been licensed to offer online gambling.

The new law also requires internet service providers to block unauthorized gambling sites, but the specific details of how that will work have not yet been specified.

News site Al Jazeera in September reported that the Czech Republic had double the average number of gamblers per capita than in other European countries and may have as many as 110,000 “pathological gamblers,” citing Czech government and EU statistics.

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