It seems like only a few years ago most of the world’s governments were oblivious to the presence of online poker and online gambling in general. The complete lack of any regulation had its drawbacks, but when governments finally woke up to the industry that was making millions every day, regulation started popping up all over the world.
When it comes to online poker, bad legislation is bad for everyone, including players, companies and governments themselves. Sometimes governments got it right, creating a safe environment for players and companies to conduct business. Some, however, managed to turn a thriving industry into a dying one within a matter of years. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seven countries where you should not consider a professional poker career in the future.
The beautiful country of Norway can quickly turn into hell for a professional poker player. Gambling in Norway is illegal for the most part and poker is no exception.
When it comes to online gambling, only two state-owned companies, Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto, are allowed to offer online casino games to Norwegians and poker is not on the menu. Fun fact, both companies operate under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and Church affairs (what?).
Even though poker is popular in Norway, you’ll have a hard time finding a live game since live poker is banned. That, of course, does not stop online pros from playing in international Internet rooms, which is technically also illegal. Even so, players who win substantial amounts of money need to pay taxes that will equal approximately 30% of their winnings.
Over the last several years, a number of professional Norwegian poker player have been sued by the government for failing to report their winnings and pay taxes on them. In most cases, the courts ruled in the government’s favor. Furthermore, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. So, unless you play high stakes and don’t mind paying huge amounts of taxes on your illegal winnings, Norway is not the place for you!
If you are a professional poker player from Belarus, life is easy and hard at the same time. When it comes to online poker in the last European dictatorship, it’s obviously banned, with fines being handed down to offenders.
On the bright side, Belarus is as dysfunctional as any dictatorship. With no effective way to enforce the ban, local poker pros don’t have problems playing in any international poker room. No taxes need to be paid and with the average monthly salary being just $200 in Belarus, you can live comfortably there on rakeback alone.
So, if you are comfortable living in a Soviet-style dictatorship where the KGB still exists and may come knocking on your door at any time, then Belarus just might be the place for you!
Italy is another example of a country that has a high tax rate which is crippling the poker industry. The current tax rate stands at 27% for tournaments and 25% for cash games. Despite the tax rates being fairly reasonable to online poker rooms, the industry it still struggling.
Even though rake is somewhat similar to the industry average, the Italian online poker market has been declining every year by about 20% since the new regulations went into effect. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the complete segregation of the player pool. Italians can’t play in international player pools and international players can’t play on Italian sites, which makes for a stagnant market.
So, if you are a poker pro still living in Italy, you should know that one of the best places for professional poker players, Malta, is just a few flight hours away.
Spain just can’t seem to catch a break lately and poker is no exception. Online poker legislation was introduced a few years ago, segregating the Spanish player pool and introducing high tax rates, which has crippled the Spanish market.
With tax rates of around 30% on both operators’ earnings and players’ winnings, only the biggest companies like PokerStars have been able to survive in the Spanish market, while others have abandoned the declining market entirely. Recently, a report on the state of the Spanish online gambling market was published, stating that due to the high tax rates imposed by the government, the market lost nearly $100 million last year alone.
As for Spanish professional poker players, they are now practically an extinct species. Dealing with a segregated player pool, dwindling market, ridiculous tax rates, 30% or higher rake and virtually nonexistent rewards systems is just too much to overcome for the vast majority of online pros.
Along with Italy and Spain, France has also imposed heavy regulations on the online gambling market. Despite only partial segregation that allows players residing in the European Union to play in French online poker rooms, there is not much incentive for anyone to do so.
Along with a heavy tax burden for players who have to pay around 30% taxes on their winnings, the most absurd part of French regulation are the taxes imposed on online poker rooms. All of them have to pay 2% of every real money pot (even if no flop has been seen) and tournament prize pool.
This has caused the French rooms to increase their rake to 6.5%, a rate that is 60% higher than the industry average, which basically turns poker into a game of chance. Very few players can sustain a good win rate while being raked to death and taxed heavily on what’s left.
A number of countries have ridiculous laws when it comes to poker taxes, but none has passed a dumber law than Greece. In what looks like an effort to squeeze every last penny out of the industry, the Greek government passed a law requiring online poker rooms to withhold taxes directly from players after each session.
Any profits in excess of €100 in a single session are taxed at a rate of 15% (and no, losses from other sessions are not deductible). If you happen to end a session with a profit of over €500, the tax rate increases to 20%.
The only good thing about the regulations is that the Greek player pool is not segregated.
Three years after Black Friday, the most successful pros have long ago fled the crackdown on online poker in the US and moved to countries like Mexico and Canada. For those who stayed behind, a career as an online poker professional without the need to move to another country seems as bleak as ever.
With regulation efforts struck down on a federal level, the state-by-state approach has been the only way for legislation to move forward. While in the long run this approach will inevitably bring regulation to many states and likely pave the way for federal legislation, so far only a handful of states have actually passed laws regulating online poker within their borders.
While this is a crucial first step, the current environment is completely unsuitable for people looking to make a living playing online poker. Only a few states can actually support a decent player pool and there are currently no plans to merge player pools across state lines, which means that pre-Black Friday games won’t be back in the US for a while.