Belarus is set to introduce online gambling in 2019. Although hopes are generally high for the sector, not everyone is overly optimistic.
History of gambling in Belarus
Belarus officially gained independence from the USSR on August 25, 1991, and it didn’t take the new government long to start introducing gambling-related provisions into the country’s laws. In October of the same year, the Council of Ministers introduced legislation to allow casinos set up in the state.
Casino operators could apply to the state for a license. And with this being an untapped market for operators across the world, they sat up and took a keen interest in developments in the region.
Strict gambling controls in Russia led to many wealthy Russians going to Belarus to fulfill their gambling needs. Gambling laws in neighboring Ukraine were almost identical to those in Russia. Hence Belarus became a popular destination for Ukrainians as well.
At the beginning of 2005, the president of Belarus issued a decree that placed a few restrictions on the gambling sector, namely tighter taxation regulations and increases in the associated taxes for gambling operators in the state.
In recent years, there have been indications that taxes for slots and casinos would be lowered but with little progress to date. Casino users must verify their identity before they can obtain their winnings.
The Sports and Tourism Ministry is responsible for gambling-sector licenses. There are four licensing categories: lotteries, slots, bookmakers, and casinos. The country is currently home to 30 casinos.
Recent moves to change the shape of the gambling sector have included a proposal, made in July, calling for the minimum legal age of gambling to be increased from 18 to 21. And a commitment for licenses to be issued for online casino operators in the state has been talked about for some time now.
Recent sector performance
Since 2009, gambling in Russia has only been allowed in four regions, which are off the beaten track. It was hoped that this would lead to a significant uptick in the revenues of gambling operators in Belarus.
With the introduction of some positive measures for its casino sector, it looked as though places like Minsk would become popular destinations for gamblers in the region.
With Belarus set to introduce online gambling in April 2019, the deputy Tax and Duties Minster has quelled excitement that this could be a catalyst for massive growth. While there has been no official word on how many online casinos will receive licenses, it will likely only be a handful.
Following the banning of gambling in all but four regions of Russia in 2009, illegal operators quickly set up shop, masking their activities as lottery clubs and internet cafés. This meant that gamblers in Russia could still get their fix in their home country, albeit illegally.
Russian gamblers can also access offshore online gambling sites, which means Belarus online gambling legalization is unlikely to have much effect on revenues from Russian players.
It will likely lead to increased revenues on a domestic level, as it will be much easier than before for locals to place bets. It certainly won’t be a monopoly on the market either, as multiple online casinos are set to be allowed.
Casinos and other betting venues will be given two years to arrange for the new licenses, as their current ones will no longer be valid. Advanced security systems are set to be introduced in readiness for online gambling going live in 2019, as they’re making a big thing about keeping players’ data safe and secure.
While it may not increase its Russian user base, Belarus is undoubtedly taking the right step by introducing legalized online gambling.