The rise of online technologies, increasing number of smartphone users and growing popularity of online gambling has changed the legal landscape for many European countries; but none more so than Estonia.
In the space of fifteen years, the country has moved from having no gambling, to legalising punting and adopting online gambling. In fact, it is now recognised as the ‘Las Vegas of Europe’ where online activity accounts for a quarter of the country’s growing gambling market.
So How Did This Happen?
Looking back at Estonia’s history, it’s amazing to see how quickly these sweeping changes took place. After its annexation by the USSR in 1944, all forms of gambling were completely banned and actively legislated against. The country gained independence in 1991 and the last Russian troops left in 1994, and suddenly a huge number of changes began to occur.
Wherever possible, strict Soviet laws were revoked; with anti-gambling laws being amongst the first to go. The first piece of law was the Lottery Act of 1994 which was promptly followed by the Gambling Act of 1995, allowing for lottery and physical gambling to take place across the country. Since then, Estonians haven’t looked back and gambling has gone from strength to strength. Casinos soon amassed in the country’s capital Tallinn and internationally raised its profile among keen gamers. Unfortunately, this reliance on physical gambling meant that the sector was profoundly damaged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2007-08, as the tourism sector took a massive hit.
Estonia was hit hard by the event which saw a downturn in casino revenue, but highlighted the international popularity of the online gambling sector. This saw the government introduce new legislation in the form of 2009’s Gambling Act which opened the doors to online technology and allow licensed operators to help capture additional revenue. Initial rollout was slow, and by 2010 there were still limits in place allowing access only to local sites. However, this ban was lifted a year later, on the provision that all non-local sites were able to obtain licenses from the local government. If a site is not able to obtain a sanctioned permit, they are considered illegal and will either be blocked or fined. If these laws are bypassed by punters using technology such as VPNs, both parties (the punter and the site) may be fined, prosecuted, or both.
As with most nations where gambling has recently been legalised, Estonia is extremely strict about the application of its gaming licenses. Even operators which have been fully vetted within the EU need to pass Estonian checks required to acquire licenses. This means that many larger-name operators are double-checked to confirm their validity, which has had the unfortunate knock-on effect of reducing the pool of available sites.
Where Can I Currently Gamble?
Although the range of sites currently available is small, it is actively growing. Not so long ago, online bets would have been solely placed with Spordiennustus, an online site owned by the state, but there are now several smaller sites which are vying for this business.
Some examples include:
Triobet: One of Estonia’s most popular sites, it offers punters a wealth of choice, including live betting, game streaming, casino and poker content. The site is straightforward to navigate and available in several local languages including English, Polish, Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian. It accepts a wide range of card types from Mastercard, Visa, Moneta RU and QiQi and works on a standardised ‘wallet’ based system.
In terms of games, the site will not disappoint, offering a full range of football, ice hockey, basketball, tennis and ‘American’ sports. However, the casino room is where they have placed most their focus, offering flexible ‘cash outs’. There is a particular focus on the poker rooms with Triobet being the official host for the Baltic Online Championships. Coupled with a well-reviewed online app, this is a site that wants to be a jack-of-all-trades and is currently pulling it off.
Optibet: The is a more stripped-down affair than Triobet, offering a generous €50 signing up bonus to draw punters in. Optibet covers a smaller range of sports from industry standards such as football and ice-hockey, and instead aims to attract casino gamblers with its poker and slot games. The site aims to draw in and retain punters with a generous ‘free spin’ casino-joining package and minimum deposits of just €3 to encourage bite-size play. They also do not require any client-side downloads to play any of the casino events or games and have optimised their site for mobile so gamers can choose to continue their plays through smartphone or android devices with minimal fuss.
What Information Should I Know?
Beware The Brexit Blues: It’s important to remember that the UK’s recent poll to leave the EU has left the entirety of the Eurozone in a state of flux. This makes it extremely likely that legislation will change around online sites and can potentially cause issues. For example, there have been a few cases where individuals have made deposits to their wallets on Estonia-only sites but after legislation changed, UK residents were no longer able to play and had some difficulty extricating their money from their online wallets.
Watch Your Wallet: With the wealth of offers and ‘free spins’ on sites, it can be extremely easy to burn through your freebies and start eating into your wallet without realising. While it is easy to get money into your account, withdrawing your cash can potentially be delayed and should be planned for as part of your cashflow. Also, remember that a number of bonuses are only applicable to a small number of European states, which can lead to tempting sign-up offers being invalid.
Check Your License: As mentioned, any site that is operating in Estonia must obtain both an activity licence and operating permit. As Estonia is part of the European Union, it is subject to EU rules and regulations, but it is worth fully checking online that the site you choose to place a punt with has been fully vetted and confirmed before you start regularly placing your bets.