As Polish authorities continue to combat illegal slot operators, prosecutors and tax officials have ordered the arrest of seven top managers of the former largest unlicensed slot operator in the Polish market, Fortuna Ltd.
The company, whose assets at peak level were estimated at about 30,000 slots across the country, allegedly continued to operate slot halls even after such activities were banned by the state.
The now-defunct company was based in Ostróda, Northern Poland, and it was not related to the Czech Republic’s Fortuna Entertainment Group, which is active in the Polish market as a licensed bookmaker.
The Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Gdańsk has charged the seven managers with laundering around PLN330m (€71.4m) between August 2016 and June 2017.
The managers could face up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors said they are also investigating the group's activities in subsequent years, which could spur further charges.
In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said the arrests are related to its joint investigation with the Warmia-Masuria Customs-Tax Office in Olsztyn, focused on illegal slot operations and related tax and customs crimes.
The arrested managers allegedly “carried out and organised illegal gambling across the entire country’s territory in more than 9,700 locations”, the statement said. The group “introduced several hundred millions of zloty originating from criminal activities to the legal economy”.
“The related companies were treated as a single company. They employed about 800 persons, including more than 40 persons employed in a company that dealt with human resources and accounting,” the statement said.
The arrested managers include three members of the family of the late businessman Sławomir J., who in the years preceding his death in 2019 established his business as the country’s leading slot operator, according to the information obtained by local business daily Puls Biznesu.
As part of their investigation, Polish prosecutors identified a number of related companies based in Poland, as well as in Cyprus, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, which shared capital or had the same persons in their management boards.
The group used these entities to perform its activities and “prevent, or at least make it significantly more difficult, to determine the criminal origin of this [laundered] money”, the statement said.
The latest development is part of the Polish government’s campaign against unlicensed slot operators.
Poland’s amended gambling law that entered into force in 2017 designated the state-run lottery operator Totalizator Sportowy as the only entity allowed to operate slots outside casinos.
Article 89 of the law introduced financial penalties for those who “host gambling activities without licenses, permissions or without submitting the required application”.
For slots, the penalty is set at PLN100,000 (€21,600) per device.
Despite these potential fines, Polish law enforcement continues to seize unregistered slots across the country.
The group’s activities prior to 2017, when the amended legislation entered into force, were also investigated by the prosecutors.
This is because by April 2016 the Polish Supreme Court ruled an earlier amendment to the gambling law banned companies such as Fortuna Ltd from operating slots wrongfully registered as low variance devices in spite of the then regulations on maximum betting amounts.
Data provided by the finance ministry to local media indicate between 2017 and 2019 Poland’s tax authorities imposed a total of PLN972.9m (€210.4m) in fines on gambling-focused companies and entrepreneurs, predominantly on owners and operators of unlicensed slots.
That said, the authorities have managed to collect just 4.6 percent of that or PLN44.5m (€9.6m).