The Czech gambling industry is nervously awaiting the final text of new regulations due to take effect at the start of 2024, with the promise of legal live dealer games as the most industry-friendly of a mixed bag of changes.
Widespread changes to gambling regulations were first published by the Czech government in March, but a final version of the rules has yet to emerge.
The new rules largely take effect from January 1, 2024, but the amendment bill has been making its way through the political process since March and the industry is nervous about not having time to prepare for compliance challenges it presents, said Petr Kozák, a lawyer and secretary general of industry group the Institute for Gambling Regulation.
“It’s quite uncomfortable for everyone that the legislation is not yet published,” he said, speaking at the GamingTECH CEE conference in Budapest on Tuesday (September 26).
Among the expected changes is a ban on certain types of bonuses.
Offers that put players in competition with each other to gamble more will be outlawed, as will restrictions on withdrawals during the completion of a bonus offer.
A planned requirement to force players to wait 24 hours after claiming a bonus before they can use it has been dropped, said Kozák.
However, these changes will require secondary regulations to be written by the Ministry of Finance, which is currently in the final stages of reviewing them.
“[Operators] will have one or two months maximum to implement these changes,” said Kozák.
The lawyer and trade association boss also warned Czech operators not to seek workarounds to the new bonus rules, which might violate the spirit of the law and thereby aggravate lawmakers.
Secondary regulations, he cautioned, are easier to amend than primary legislation, and the Ministry of Finance will be prepared to act if it thinks the bonus restrictions are not having their desired effect.
“It’s on the market how they will handle this and if they will behave,” he said.
There are also nerves about the requirement for all operators to provide a so-called “panic button” that will allow players to instantly exclude themselves from gambling.
A transitional period running until July 1 next year will give the industry time to adapt, but it remains one of the more opaque compliance challenges in the new regime.
The amendments will also bring opportunity to the Czech market, primarily in the form of live dealer games, which are being legalised for the first time.
Kozák characterised the reforms as a lobbying victory, after an initially sceptical government was convinced by comparisons with other markets where these kinds of products are regulated.
Streamed table games will come with restrictions, however. All games must be broadcast from within the Czech Republic, and from studios built inside existing land-based casinos.
The studios do not have to be owned and operated by the casino itself, said Kozák, but forcing them to exist within already licensed premises gives the regulator greater control over the new sector.
Its creation poses a challenge to suppliers, however, who are still waiting on details of how to properly certify games and face an uphill struggle to absorb the new rules after they are published in time for the market to open, said Kozák.
Tax rates are also set to increase from next year, thanks to changes already implemented via separate budget legislation. Sports-betting rates will rise from 23 to 30 percent of gross gambling revenue (GGR), while slots taxes remain at 35 percent of GGR.
Gamblers in the Czech Republic will also need to deal with a new winnings tax, which applies to all gambling winnings above the approximate equivalent of €2,000 ($2,100). Players face the prospect of having to keep their own record of winnings across the year to ensure they are not dodging tax.