Internet Togel Singapore betting off-limits for Czechs
The Czech Republic’s big betting businesses have taken to offering simulated and incomplete online services as they struggle not to lose too much revenue to foreign competitors who simply ignore the domestic gambling regulation that Czech firms must abide by.
“For the moment, we offer online betting in a virtual form, meaning a client can bet fictive money resulting in nonfinancial credits,” said Lubomír Ježek, spokesman for Czech betting chain Tipsport.Ministry of Finance officials repeatedly state they would like to bust what they regard as unlawful Internet gambling options offered here by nine foreign companies, but all the ministry’s initiatives have been held up by police and state attorneys in the face of claims from the non-Czech operators that their operations are protected by European law (see q&a).
Foreign firms say online betting is an unstoppable phenomenon, and the domestic rivals’ demands that they should be allowed to share in some of the rich pickings it produces seem unlikely to be met any time soon since the ministry is investing energy in preparing a new law that would further restrict online betting.
Fortuna, a betting company that’s part of Czech-Slovak private equity group Penta Investments, partly guards against shedding business to online alternatives by offering its Telekonto telephone betting service. In March, daily Hospodářské noviny reported that Fortuna might launch online betting services for Czech customers via an entity established under a license obtained in Malta by Penta. But Jana Studničková, Penta’s spokeswoman, said the license was only sought in order to discover if obtaining such a permit involved a complicated procedure. The process turned out to be quite simple but nevertheless Penta and Fortuna haven’t drawn up any specific plans to launch an Internet betting project targeted to the Czech Republic, she said. “We definitely don’t want to be the pioneers who will end up as the ones who are persecuted,” Studničková said.
Largest Czech lottery company Sazka said it could just about offer online betting services tomorrow should the law be changed overnight. “If Internet betting was permitted, we would go ahead and run it as well. We have it prepared and we’re awaiting the next legislative development,” said Zdeněk Zikmund, Sazka spokesman.
Feasting on the market
With the Czech betting companies’ online hands tied, the foreign rivals continue to enthusiastically eat up the domestic market. However, Jindřich Rajchl, the Czech and Slovak republics attorney for strongest market player bwin Interactive Entertainment, said he had information that BetWay—part of Gibraltar-based Carmen Media Group—and Malta-based Expekt.com, had decided to stop marketing activities on the Czech market.
Rajchl, who said bwin now held some 70 percent of the Czech market, said both companies are set to terminate their Czech marketing activities around the end of June. “This practically means they are leaving as Internet betting is reliant on advertising,” Rajchl said, estimating the Czech online betting sector’s total turnover at around Kč 4 billion (€ 141.6 million).
Expekt.com, however, dismissed Rajchl’s claim. “We’ve no plans to change the way we approach the Czech Togel Singapore market. We actually plan to further improve and add to our services in coming months,” said Per Widerström, CEO of Expekt.com. Expekt.com is the largest Internet bookmaker in Scandinavia. Its service is available to users in 18 languages and reaches customers in more than 130 countries.
Similarly, Tomáš Kuna, the Czech Republic manager for Betway, rejected Rajchl’s assertion.
Other online operators remained upbeat about Czech market prospects. “The Czech Republic is a fairly new market which we entered in February of last year. As it is part of the European Union, and Unibet is licensed and pays taxes in several EU countries, we see no reason to withdraw,” said Inga Lundberg, investor relations head at Malta-based Unibet Group. The group says it has a customer base that extends across more than 150 countries, but Lundberg would not provide any figures regarding Unibet’s Czech market share, in line with the stance taken by all the companies approached by CBW.
The Ministry of Finance’s line toward online betting is that while the current betting law doesn’t prohibit online gambling, at the same time it doesn’t permit it. Petr Vrzáň, director of the ministry department that oversees the betting sector, said that the ministry hadn’t issued any permission at all for potentially hazardous online betting. Any person found to be using one of the unauthorized foreign services could be fined up to Kč 50,000, he said.
“Domestic betting offices face unequal conditions because of the fact that the foreign operators don’t have to fulfill the severe requirements of the law nor pass on administration fees and obligatory sums for public interest purposes. Czech sport, culture, art, health services and charity are therefore losing significant financial amounts on a yearly basis,” said Sazka’s Zikmund.
In contrast to the Czech official line, the European Commission (EC) has taken action to dismantle obstacles to online sports betting services in Hungary, Denmark and Finland (see “EU criticizes Hungary on gambling“, CBW, April 2, 2007) in response to repeated complaints from various companies.
Meanwhile, in March, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the precedent-setting Placanica case that “the Italian criminal penalties for the collecting of bets by intermediaries acting on behalf of foreign companies are contrary to [European] Community law.” The case involved British sports betting company Stanley Leisure. Three Italian agents of the company—Massimi-liano Placanica, Christian Palazzese and Angelo Sorrichio Placanica—were charged with pursuing organized bet-collecting activity without the police authorization that was required by local law. Obtaining such authorization was, however, impossible, server Euractive.com reported.